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February 17, 2023
6 min read

3 Roles to be Present in Scrum Estimation of Product Backlog

Estimation of product backlog items helps teams have a better view of the required efforts, pinpoint challenges, re-prioritize the product backlog, and have a more committed team. Therefore, it is crucial that the right set of people are involved in the estimation process.
Anton Versal
Anton Versal
Learn which roles are present in Scrum Estimation.

Scrum, one of the well-acknowledged project management methodologies, is the most widely used Agile methodology. As per the survey of Digital.ai, 66% of Agile adopters are using Scrum actively. Scrum has many unique elements to focus on, but today we will emphasize specifically the estimation of product backlog items.

The product backlog is a prioritized list of tasks such as new features, bug fixes, updating of existing features, and similar other tasks that are required to be completed by the team in the next few weeks/months. Estimation of product backlog items is a common practice conducted by most teams, as it helps to evaluate the required efforts, pinpoint challenges, re-prioritize the product backlog, and have a more committed team. However, estimation of product backlog can also turn into a complete time wastage if it is not done rightly. Therefore, it is crucial to have the right set of people during the estimation session so that the estimates are more accurate and effective. This article will discuss in detail the 3 roles that must be present in Scrum's estimation of the product backlog.

Estimation in Scrum

Scrum does not offer a specific framework to estimate product backlogs. Different Scrum teams use different estimation techniques depending on what suits their business model. Planning Poker, T-Shirt Sizing, Async Poker, Bucket System, Affinity Estimation, and similar others are the common types of estimations. However, Planning Poker stands as the most widely used estimation technique. So, before we shift our discussion to the 3 main roles, let's take a quick look at how Planning Poker works and then see why those 3 roles are needed for effective estimation.

Planning Poker is a consensus-based relative estimation technique that uses poker cards with values 0, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, and so on to estimate the size of the user story (product backlog item). In this estimation technique, the Product Owner narrates the user story to the team. Afterward, the team discusses the user story, clarifies the doubts, and pinpoints any hidden complications. Once done, everyone picks one poker card and they all show their cards simultaneously. If everyone shows the same card, then that is declared the team's final estimate. Otherwise, the company re-discusses quickly if there are some variations in cards and then re-estimates to reach a consensus.

From the above quick overview of the Planning Poker estimation technique, you must have noticed that teams can only do estimates rightly if they understand the user stories properly, pinpoint all the challenges with the stories before estimating, and provide the right size to the user stories. However, if the team involves 1-3 members that are not helpful in the estimation process but still estimate, then their input can cast a negative impact on the accuracy of the estimation. Similarly, if the team does not call the right members in the estimation session, then the estimation again might not be accurate and can lead to issues when the development team actually starts working on that story. Therefore, it is crucial to have the right set of people participate in the estimation session.

3 Main Roles to be Present in Product Backlog Estimation

The 3 main roles that should be present when estimating product backlog are as follows:

  1. Development Team
  2. Scrum Master
  3. Product Owner

Mostly in a Scrum team, there is only one Scrum Master and Product Owner, while there are many members inside the development team. Now let's discuss in detail each of the above three roles and find out why they are needed for accurate estimates.

1. Development Team

The development team in Scrum comprises 3-9 members that work collaboratively to develop the product. Scrum development teams are both self-organized and cross-functional. Self-organized means that the team can manage everything themselves. Similarly, cross-functional means that the team composition is such that it has all the skills required for product development.

During the estimation of the product backlog item, it is important that all members of the development team are present in the estimation session. Product backlog estimation is all about estimating the efforts required to complete the work. Since the development team is the one that is going to deliver the product, its presence is a must. However, there is a misconception that why all development team members should be present when some don't have much to contribute. The reason is that the development team members have always something to contribute. For example, there is often a scenario where a member says something and it triggers a thought inside the other member about something that the team skipped to discuss. For example, a tester says something and it unintentionally helps the programmer to realize that we have overlooked something.

In simple words, the development team comprises members of different skill sets that are best at what they do. But this does not mean that they cannot contribute some valuable information when that work is going to be done by someone else. Therefore, the development team with all members should be part of the estimation session.

2. Scrum Master

Scrum Master is the one that keeps the team on track, holds and leads meetings, helps overcome obstacles, and acts as the team leader and supporter. Overall, the Scrum Master is the one that is responsible for keeping the development team work in an optimal way and ensure that they follow the Scrum principles.

Since the Scrum Master acts as the supporter and facilitator for the development team, his presence is a must in almost all team meetings. Since product backlog estimation is one of the crucial sessions, the presence of the Scrum Master is vital during that session. Scrum Master can provide both the moral and technical support members need for accurate estimates. But here you might think of one question, i.e., whether the Scrum Master should participate in estimating product backlog items.

If the Scrum Master qualification is of programmer, designer, tester, analyst, or similar others, then the Scrum Master can participate in the estimates. However, the recommended practice is that Scrum Master should prevent participating in the estimation process until the development team asks him to do so. Only then is the Scrum Master's participation in the estimation process feel right.

3. Product Owner

The last and crucial role in product backlog estimation is the Product Owner. A Product Owner is the one responsible for the outcome of the projects. He understands the needs of the product from customers' viewpoints and market trends. Talking specifically about the product backlog, the Product Owner is the one that creates the backlog and prioritizes the backlog items.

A product backlog estimation session cannot function without the Product Owner's involvement. In the Planning Poker estimation technique, it is the Product Owner who reads out the user stories in front of the team and also addresses questions raised by development team members, like what, if, why, etc. The Product Owner helps the team to clear all their concepts around the backlog items so that they can estimate more accurately.

Just like Scrum Master, should the Product Owner also participate in estimating? The answer will be the same as in the case of Scrum Master. If the Product Owner has a technical background and understands the technicalities and depth of backlog items, then he can estimate. However, again it is much better that the Product Owner only participates in estimating backlog items if the development team asks to do so.

Wrapping Up

Product backlog estimation provides the team with a rough guess of how much effort they have to do to complete the backlog, including the key challenges they are going to face. That's why it is very important to do accurate estimates. Development team, Scrum Master, and Product Owner are essential roles that must be present during the estimation session. Missing out on a single role can cast a negative impact on the accuracy of the estimation. So, keep those 3 roles intact, pick the estimation technique that fits your business model, and start doing estimates of your backlog items.

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