I recently was sitting on a flight to Dallas to watch a few baseball games for the weekend. Baseball, beers, hot dogs, summertime — doesn’t sound like a bad weekend. I was lucky enough to start the weekend with some sacred space on a plane – having no ‘middle-seat passenger’ – which meant more room for me and my aisle-mate, who happened to be a pilot. Storms were called-for across the U.S., and as I looked over, this pilot was reviewing the weather radar, speculating where our flight was heading to avoid turbulence and keep us smooth, while getting us there fastest.
It reminded me of something that many of us would like to do, but often don’t take the time to do, which is groom: the art of evaluating what we know and what we don’t know, identifying what we need to do and layering in small chunks of work to accomplish the goals of the project. Note: the small chunks is important, as we’ll discuss later-on.
When we start a project, we have an idea of what the work will entail — usually we discuss how the customer experience needs to change, determine what KPIs need to change to make the most impact, and pop-in a few unicorn / “blue-sky” brilliant ideas (which may or may never get done). And using these factors, we deduce how much time and money may be needed to successfully run the project. But through that process of brainstorming, we make a lot of assumptions without evaluating or even breaking down a set of stories (building blocks or digestible features of a project for any plain-English folks reading) to understand who needs to be involved, how much work is truly required, what other platforms or day-to-day operations are impacted, and if the decision being made about features or integrations are even feasible or make good business sense.
It’s about time we smarten up, put the brakes on just a little (don’t stop mid-air, just slow your speed a bit to save fuel), and meet with your team – product owners, designers, architects – whomever is going to contribute to making your project a success – to discuss the features in your backlog and get your groom-on.
Here are some tips to help out with backlog grooming, and if you’ve never done it before, and want to do it with us, contact us here. We don’t have to do the work — we look forward to helping you get organized and ready to run — like having a tailwind at 50mph that gets you to your destination 45 minutes early.
- Have a tool ready to use to organize yourself, and your team.
We prefer JIRA, but there are loads of tools out there – some free, the better ones often paid. With backlog/grooming tools, you can add estimates, assign tasks, prioritize, add attachments, and more.
- Allocate dedicated time with a cross-functional team to create or review stories.
If you’re around the people who can make decisions, have the experience/knowledge to design or implement an experience, and people who understand the business, you’ll make a lot more progress when creating, reviewing and prioritizing features. Try not to leave the room with a vague or ambiguous backlog — you’ll be back doing the same activity a few days later.
- Ensure the stories/features make sense and have enough detail to be actionable, but are also small enough to accomplish.
If it doesn’t have business-value or even enough definition, it shouldn’t be in the backlog. Update, rewrite it, or sometimes, delete it. And make sure you’re not trying to do too much in a single ticket; never be afraid to break it out into smaller ones — you’ll feel more accomplished that way too.
- Understand what an MVP (minimum viable product) can be according to your business, and prioritize.
Don’t boil the ocean. Consultant-speak, we know. But trust us: make your project a few months long, not a few years-long. Determine if the business can support the feature in your backlog, or if it’s a pipedream. Ensure your product owner(s) are aligned on what’s most important. Think about what’s going to have the most impact to the business right way. And don’t be afraid to write a “companion” ticket that is related to, but not dupliciative – this allows you to iterate and improve a feature for a future release, perhaps when the business is ready to support a capability. Through iteration, you can improve your site, add new experiences, pivot based on customer or internal feedback, and that all happens over-time, rather than making your investment wait and letting fatigue set-in.