Sunday, June 15, 2008

The Nokia Test (5): A prioritized Product Backlog is essential

We started a series on The Nokia test some time ago. This is the fifth explanatory post about the test. To find the others, search above (left). And here is the original post.

The second item in the second section of the Nokia Test is this:
  • There is a product backlog prioritized by business value
Seem obvious? Well, maybe you don't want to say so quickly.

First, if we are doing Scrum, we must have a Product Backlog. A Product Backlog is a list of all the work items the team is expected to work on. If the Team is doing software, most of them will be features at a high or low level of granularity. In Agile, the growing preference is to put these Product Backlog items in User Story format.

This part of the Nokia Test does not require you to use the User Story format. Or any particular format.

"Prioritized": Ummm. What does that mean?

Well, I think it means that the Product Backlog has been put in order of Business Value.

The Nokia Test does not give us any hints about what Business Value is. My opinion is that this itself is a complex topic. But I think the implication is that the Product Owner (who owns the Product Backlog, and makes all final decisions about it)...the Product Owner will put the items in business value order.

Does the test imply that Nokia always wants to work the highest business value items first?

This is open to some debate. My view is that one can still pass the test if one also uses "cost" (or story points as a proxy for cost) and dependencies/risks as additional factors (bits of information) in helping the Product Owner to order the work.

Let's put this some other ways.

The technical team does not have the final decision about what order to do the work in. Sometimes it is better to be inefficient and get some high Business Value item(s) out there in production.

Since all Product Backlog items are not of the same size (let's call this "amount of work" for now...although one must tread carefully here), and not of the same Business Value, the Product Owner must do cost-benefit analysis to determine (implicitly at least) business value per unit of work for each PB item.

Why do we prioritize by business value? We are always trying to discover and release business value (eg, increase customer satisfaction). Quickly. Only if we use Pareto's 80-20 rule can we do the most important stuff first. Ordering the PB items puts Pareto's rule into play.

And I think the Nokia Test says the Product Owner cannot cop out and say each PB item has the same amount of Business Value.

Similarly, this part of the test does not prohibit some team members (developers), where they have useful knowledge, from influencing the Product Owner about business value and about the order of the work. (Still, Scrum says the Product Owner gets the final say.)

* * *

Well, that's a start on the implications from this one part of the Nokia Test.

Please see our other posts on the Nokia Test.

Note: The picture of the story card above was stolen from here:

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