Reestimate the backlog

By now the team has workshopped, estimated, and won the project. In an ideal scenario, the team members who own delivery were in the original workshop. In a realistic scenario, only some of these people were there on account of allocation, travel availability, and other reasons.

A great exercise to follow the internal kickoff is backlog review and reestimation. When working on a multirelease roadmap, the team can focus on V1; when the whole project ships at once, the team reviews the entire backlog.

Now that the full project team is assembled and the product manager has reviewed all assets from the proposal (vision, assumptions, stories, etc.), schedule a working session of two to four hours with the whole team. The PM reviews the backlog before the session looking at the INVEST principles (especially independent, small, and testable). Clearly written stories keep the team focused and engaged. If elaborate explanations are necessary, then it is likely that the stories are too big and too complex.

It is acceptable to have a list of stories with short descriptions (workshop results fit here perfectly) as long as the product manager has the necessary context to verbally present and answer team questions.

  • The product manager presents the backlog item by item and explains the value of each individual story. Set a time constraint to fit the stories within the designated schedule (e.g., fifty stories, five minutes per story for a session of three hours).
  • Individuals on the team ask questions necessary to understand and reestimate the story.
  • The “game” of reestimation is played with poker cards.
  • Any estimate noting large deviations is discussed by the whole team.

The story is reestimated one more time after explanations are provided.

The product manager should not refine the backlog throughout this meeting; doing so could cause the focus of individual team members to drift. Remember that this is an expensive meeting since the whole team is participating. There are many benefits to this exercise:

  • The PM has a chance to evaluate how well the problem and scope are defined.
  • Additional assumptions can be written down and discussed with the client as a follow-up.
  • The whole team engages in understanding the scope through playing the game of reestimation. Actively participating and asking questions leads to each individual owning the project.
  • The process provides an opportunity to validate the original estimate provided for the SOW, revisit expectations around release dates (are they still realistic?) and understand the margin of error that the project can tolerate.
The Secret Source by Aurimas Adomavicius

About the author

Aurimas Adomavicius is the president and co-founder of Devbridge. When not in the trenches working with clients, Aurimas is an active speaker and writer on product design and engineering best practices.