Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Tools for building the product backlog

I’m opposed to using tools to automate the daily scrum. These tools detract from full team collaboration that needs to take place to be successful with Scrum. However there are strong benefits to using tools to help facilitate the gathering of user stories into a product backlog. Epics and stories are not a scattered collection of ideas for a game. They form a hierarchy of requirements that are disaggregated and updated throughout the life of the project.

Many tools can store and maintain a hierarchy of data. A simple database can be constructed to do what you need quickly and inexpensively. However, there are a number of features to look for when choosing or even designing a tool for this purpose:
  • Graphical display - It’s best to display the hierarchy on a projector during a story gathering workshop. This shows the big picture of the product backlog and where new stories are being added in the hierarchy.
  • Dynamic editing and display of branches - Sometimes entire branches of the tree will be moved or deleted during the workshops. It’s best if this can be done by right-clicking or dragging the branch you wish to change. Sometimes the group will want to focus on a single branch in detail. It’s very useful to be able to collapse all the other branches and just display the branch the group wants to discuss.
  • Graphical options for individual stories - Stories may be prioritized, flagged for attention or have additional information attached to them during the meeting. A tool that is extensible and allows meta-data attached is beneficial.
  • Flexible - The tool must not impose too much structure. It should allow the creation of sections such as a “parking lot” for future story ideas, etc.
  • Powerful export capabilities - The tool should be able to export data to a variety of popular and readable formats for sharing with customers who do not wish to buy or learn the tool. Export formats like Word or Excel are a must.
The one thing to be careful of with any tool is that the person with the mouse who is making the changes does not take charge of the meeting. Don’t let the product owner near the laptop in the meeting. If the person with the mouse starts to filter everything they hear, then their voice will naturally dominate the discussion. The mouse gives them the illusion of control. It will dampen the contribution of everyone else at the meeting.

I have used mind map tools such as MindManager and FreeMind for building and tracking product backlogs in the past and can recommend them.


Anonymous said...

Good advice about the person with the mouse and control of the meeting. One thing we do is that whomever has the keyboard, mouse, dry erase marker, Sharpie, repeats, OUT LOUD, anything they write down, asking the team if this indeed captures their thoughts.


Clinton Keith said...

Good advice in return! Your team sounds like it is executing nicely (based on previous comments as well). I'd like to chat sometime. Please send my a note at my contact address.