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May 3, 2023
8 min read

8 Tips to Improve Your Product Backlog Estimation Posture in 2023

Accurate product backlog estimates result in a more focused development process, a prepared mindset, and timely and quality deliveries. So, this article discusses a few key tips to improve your product backlog estimation posture in 2023.
Anton Versal
Anton Versal
Improve your backlog estimation posture in 2023

Over the past few years, the demand for software firms has skyrocketed. So, to address emerging customers' demands and ensure faster time to market, software firms are actively using the Scrum framework for project management. There are many aspects of the Scrum framework that organizations have to follow to utilize the framework fully and build quality emerging products. One such aspect is efficient product backlog estimation, as it can lead to more effective product development. Therefore, this article intends to assist Scrum teams and provide some effective tips that can improve their product backlog estimation posture in 2023.

Product Backlog & The Need to Estimate Backlog Items

Before we start discussing the tips to improve backlog estimation, let's quickly clear our concepts around the product backlog and the need to estimate backlog items.

Product backlog is a prioritized list of tasks that the development team has to execute to complete the product release. Backlog items can be about fixing bugs, adding new features, enhancing existing features, technical improvements, and similar others. In short, the product backlog contains all the work required to complete the project.

The estimation of product backlog items helps teams have a clear view of what are the key outcomes they intend to achieve and what are the challenges. Some of the benefits of estimating backlog items are as follows:

  • Better decision-making in a collaborative environment
  • Better time management
  • Better glimpse of expected challenges
  • Focused team with improved efficiency
  • Credibility with stakeholders
  • Improved backlog prioritization
  • Streamlined sprint planning

Overall, product backlog estimation helps Scrum teams have a complete know-how of all the main tasks they are going to work on in the next sprints and what are going to be the results of their efforts.

8 Tips to Improve Product Backlog Estimation

Product backlog estimation seems like a simple activity where members join a meeting session, discuss the backlog items, and estimate. However, it is often seen that estimates made by the team turn out to be inaccurate, resulting in more delays and stressed workloads.

Therefore, let's commit in 2023 to improve our product backlog estimation into more accurate estimates. So, below are the 8 most important tips that can help improve the efficiency of backlog estimation:

1. Backlog Items turned into User Stories

Before the team begins the estimation meeting, it is important to turn the description of backlog items into something that is easier to understand and presents the purpose clearly. User stories are seen to offer the best way of describing backlog items.

A user story is basically the description of the backlog item from the user's perspective. It describes the type of user ("who"), what the user wants ("what"), and why the user wants ("why"). For example, “as a manager, I want to view the daily team's performance, so I can see the daily progress and shortcomings”.

When backlog items are presented in the form of user stories, it becomes a lot easier for the development team to understand the purpose of the specific task. With a clear understanding, the team can do more accurate estimates. Therefore, if the Product Owner is not currently creating user stories, then make a change this year. Try estimating backlog items via user stories and see yourself the improvements in your estimation accuracy.

2. Minimal Product Backlog Length

Since the product backlog is meant to present the list of all the tasks the team has to do to complete the project, the length of the product backlog often becomes extremely large. A large product backlog is always challenging to estimate and also demotivates the team. The team might remain focused during the initial few estimations of the items but will soon get tired.

Some experts believe that backlog length should be such that it gets completed in 2-4 sprints. So, it is recommended that the length of the product backlog is set as manageable. If the Product Owner has a long to-do list, he can create two separate lists. One can be the main product backlog that the team will estimate, while the second list contains less crucial items that can be added afterward during backlog grooming meetings. This way, the length of the product backlog remains confined, resulting in more focused sessions and quality estimates.

3. Estimation with the Right Technique

Product backlog estimation requires the use of the right estimation technique to make the process streamlined and effective. There are multiple estimation techniques used by different organizations depending on their business model. Below is a glimpse of a few popular estimation techniques:

  • Planning Poker: It is a consensus-based estimation technique in which participants first discuss the user story and then provide separate individual estimates using poker-styled cards. Afterward, the team's estimates are finalized by consensus.
  • Async Poker: It is an Asynchronous Planning Poker estimation technique in which a moderator sends the user stories to participants. The participants read and estimate the stories individually and deliver the estimates back to the moderator before the deadline. Afterward, the moderator gathers all estimates and finalizes the team's estimates.
  • T-Shirt Sizing: It is a relative estimation technique in which t-shirt sizes (XS, S, M, L, and XL) are assigned to user stories to reflect the efforts required to complete them.
  • Dot Voting: It best suits small-sized backlog items, as the user stories are placed on the wall or table, and members do voting by placing dots on those stories. The more dots a story gets, the more effort it requires.

So, evaluate the above estimation techniques and any other you like, and then decide which suits your Scrum team best. To help you out, Planning Poker is the most widely used estimation technique for on-site estimation, while Async Poker is the best pick to have remote and time-efficient estimates.

4. Estimate Efforts, not Time

Estimation of product backlog items should always be done in terms of "efforts", not "time". The time-based estimates often bring stress and unhappy stakeholders if the tasks take more time than anticipated. It is because time-based estimates often don't include the delays that could occur due to uncertainties or challenges in the task.

Alternatively, if the estimates are based on efforts instead of time, then the team can have some margin of time to tackle hidden challenges that might show up during the development phase. In addition, efforts-based estimates have proven to be more accurate because the focus of estimates is to know the effort required to complete the task and look for any dependencies or complications that might pop up.

5. Encourage Collaboration

The estimation accuracy is influenced greatly if the participants actively participate in the discussion rounds. The discussions around the user stories should not be influenced by senior members, but the rest of the members should also be given the confidence to speak up about their thoughts.

When the meeting environment is collaborative and supportive, it gives the courage to hesitant members to raise concerns or doubts that others might not be seeing currently. Therefore, this results in more efficient discussions and accurate estimates.

6. Right Participants Only

Product backlog estimation is a crucial stage during the start of the project. So, often organizations include a large number of participants in the meeting. However, backlog estimation mostly relies on the effort of the development team. Therefore, only the right participants must be invited when an estimation meeting is called.

In most cases, the complete development team should be invited, including developers, testers, and others. If there are members of the development team that are not going to work on the backlog items, still their presence and valuable inputs can help. Other than the development team, Scrum Master should be present to serve as a facilitator. In addition, the Product Owner is also a must participant in the meeting.

Other than the above, some key stakeholders can also be invited, but they should not be allowed to interpret the session. Similarly, the Product Owner and Scrum Master should only contribute in the estimation rounds if they have the technical background and the development team needs their input. This way, the right set of participants will result in effective discussions and productive sessions.

7. Timeboxed Backlog Estimation Session

A backlog estimation session requires the development team and key stakeholders to spare time and brainstorm backlog items. So, spending hours estimating the backlog does not seem the right strategy. It results in more loss of productivity, which the team could utilize in other fruitful activities.

It is recommended to timebox the backlog estimation session. Generally, the duration of the estimation session should be under 2-4 hours max. Moreover, long in-depth discussions should be avoided, as they can lead to more time. However, if the development team is not in a position to spend a few hours in on-site backlog estimation, then they can opt for the Async Poker technique. As discussed above, this technique eradicates the time spent on on-site estimation sessions and lets members deliver estimates at their own pace.

8. Re-Prioritize Backlog

As the last tip for today, this tip emphasizes the importance of re-prioritizing backlog after the estimates. Before the estimation session begins, the Product Owner creates a backlog and prioritizes the item. However, once the team has completed the estimates of all the backlog items, there might be new insights about some tasks, like dependencies on a few lower-priority tasks, uncertainties that make the task challenging, and similar others.

Therefore, once the Scrum team has completed the estimation process, they can collaborate with the Product Owner to re-prioritize the backlog based on new findings. This will eventually help the Scrum team during sprint planning and more quality deliveries.

Wrapping Up

An inaccurate backlog estimation can lead to many complications, such as unexpected challenges, incorrectly prioritized backlogs, unsatisfied stakeholders, delays, unproductive teams, and much more. Since no team denies the need for backlog estimation, it must be done correctly. The above tips are found to be effective in doing accurate estimates. To sum up the discussion, we would say that make a resolution in 2023 that you will ensure accurate backlog estimation that offers more value to time.

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