Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Postagile: A large Scrum backlog is like a big pile of underpants

We were used to getting shit done … then they told us about Agile.


If your product backlog contains more than 50 Stories, there probably are inconsistencies due to lack of comprehensiveness.


In his talk "Co-making Great Products" Jeff Patton draws a hilarious analogy between an anti pattern in Scrum and the Underpants Gnomes in South Park:

The business plan of the Underpants Gnomes looks like this:

Gnomes plan

If you think about it, then the business plan of the gnomes is not all too different to an excessively collected and groomed backlog in a Scrum project:

Screen Shot 2013 05 28 at 12 17 12 AM

Let's remember what Agile is about:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Responding to change over following a plan

Lately it seems that many incarnations of Scrum (typically flavours of "Scrum in the Enterprise") have lost their Agile roots.

In my opinion excessive grooming and estimating of a product backlog beyond the next two sprints is waste. Of course this depends on the definition of "excessive". A backlog should represent an idea where the product is heading, but demanding an exact and fully estimated backlog to plan and forecast efforts and deadlines of a whole project is just not what Agile was all about. In fact, with an idolized  backlog in Scrum there is not much difference any more to a phased waterfall approach … or to an ingenious gnome scheme of fervently collecting with the belief in subsequent profit...

In all the cases where I have seen this antipattern of an idolized backlog the pressure came from management which took the idea too far by striving for the perfect backlog. In most cases the urgent need for the perfect backlog is a result of overusing planning and monitoring tools: it doesn't matter if it is the handcrafted excel-sheet of the project leader or a sophisticated report-dashboard in Jira or TFS. All those tools imply that there is value in a more complete, more detailed and more accurately estimated backlog … but that was already the fallacy of the waterfall, wasn't it?

However it might be that all of this is just the return of an ancient and evil conspiracy:



Update 2013-06-01: I just watched "You Are Not a Software Developer! - Simplicity in Practice" which has a quote that fits totally in the context of this post:

For planning we need a roadmap, not a road! A roadmap is about option and choices, a backlog is not a roadmap.

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