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September 7, 2023
7 min read

9 Tips for New Teams to Optimize Backlog Estimation

For new teams that are struggling with backlog estimation or want to optimize the estimation process, this article presents the top 9 tips that can lead to rewarding estimation sessions.
Anton Versal
Anton Versal
Lets learn how new teams can Optimize Backlog Estimation

Backlog estimation is a crucial aspect of the Scrum framework that helps teams to plan and deliver products efficiently. Since Scrum is a different development framework from traditional development approaches, new teams often find backlog estimation an overwhelming and daunting task. Owing to that, they are unable to extract fruitful outcomes from the estimates. So, this article is meant for new teams who are struggling with backlog estimation. Here we will present some of the best tips that can optimize backlog estimation and increase accuracy and productivity.

What Valuable Outcomes Come with Backlog Estimation?

Before we begin discussing the tips to optimize backlog estimation, it is important to learn the valuable outcomes of backlog estimation. Only then can the team realize the importance of backlog estimation and show more dedication in the process.

Product backlog estimation is meant to estimate the time/effort required to complete the backlog items and understand what needs to be done. With backlog estimation, a team can gain many valuable outcomes, as follows:

  1. Well-Informed Team: The team estimates the product backlog before beginning the development phase. This helps the team have a clear picture of the key tasks and expected outcomes.
  2. Increased Productivity: With backlog estimation, the team knows where all their efforts will lead. This results in more focused efforts and increased productivity.
  3. Better Planning: Backlog estimation helps the team to plan sprints effectively, resulting in timely and quality releases.
  4. Collaboration: Backlog estimation brings all members together to discuss and estimate backlog items. This collaborative effort improves team members' understanding and positively influences their teamwork capabilities.
  5. Detect Uncertainties: Backlog estimation helps to detect potential risks and uncertainties in backlog items that might cause trouble during the development phase. This helps the team prepare for those challenges beforehand.
  6. Quality Releases: Backlog estimation streamlines the development phase, thereby improving the quality of iterative releases.

In short, backlog estimation is an important and valuable aspect of the Scrum framework that leads to many valuable outcomes.

9 Tips for New Teams to Optimize Backlog Estimation

For new teams, backlog estimation might seem a challenging and time-consuming process. However, new teams can optimize their backlog estimation sessions and extract valuable outcomes with the right approach. In this perspective, below are the nine tips for new teams to optimize backlog estimation:

1. Use Relative Estimation

It is common that we intend to estimate everything based on how much time it will take to complete it. However, estimating backlog items on a time scale is not recommended because potential risks/uncertainties can delay the release, which the time-based estimate does not factor in. Therefore, it is recommended to use a relative estimation strategy in which the team estimates the size and complexity of the item relative to other items in the backlog.

Relative estimation helps the team to estimate effort to complete the backlog item relative to others. There are many relative estimation techniques new teams can use, such as Async Poker, Planning Poker, T-Shirt Sizing, Dot Voting, etc. So, new teams should opt for relative estimation and use one of the techniques that suit them best to have more accurate estimates.

2. Keep the Estimation Session Focused and Time-Boxed

Since the backlog estimation session involves many team members, there are chances that it can become more time-consuming than it should be. The members might begin deep discussions or get distracted. Similarly, a large backlog can also result in lengthy sessions.

Normally, it is recommended that the estimation session should be completed in 2-4 hours. The best strategy for new teams is to time-box the session. For example, they can set 3 hours as the maximum time until they complete all the estimates. In addition, they should ensure that members remain focused and that discussions are only relevant to the backlog items. This way, they can optimize the estimation session, resulting in more focused members and accurate estimates.

3. Break Down Large Backlog Items

A large backlog item is often difficult to understand and estimate. If team members are forced to estimate large backlog items, it can take longer and lead to inaccurate estimates. For large backlog items, it is recommended to break them into smaller, manageable tasks. This will make estimation a lot easier, as members can understand the smaller chunks easily and provide more accurate estimates.

4. Set Clear Estimation Guidelines

Another important tip for new teams is to set clear estimation guidelines. These guidelines will provide a detailed explanation of all the key aspects of estimation, such as:

  • How the estimation process should be conducted
  • How to use the estimation technique
  • What are the estimation units, such as story points
  • What will be the duration of the estimation session
  • Definition of done

In short, estimation guidelines can help members understand the whole estimation process. This ensures that members are working towards the same goal, thereby optimizing the estimation process and improving the estimation accuracy.

5. Closely Monitor the Dependencies between Backlog Items

The dependencies between backlog items refer to the interdependencies and relationships that exist between different items in the backlog. These dependencies are important to monitor because some items cannot be completed unless their dependencies are completed. Ignoring the dependencies between backlog items can lead to inaccurate estimates and release delays.

To optimize the estimation process and have more accurate estimates, teams should prioritize backlog items by monitoring the dependencies. The dependencies should have a higher priority level to ensure they don't impact other backlog items. Once the backlog items are prioritized based on dependencies, the estimation process becomes more accurate and streamlined.

6. Look for Potential Risks and Uncertainties before Estimating

When team members are discussing the backlog item, it is important that members look for potential risks and uncertainties. Some backlog items have hidden risks or uncertainties that can cause trouble later. By identifying risks and uncertainties early in the estimation process, teams are able to look for how to mitigate those challenges during the development phase and set the estimates accordingly.

To identify risks and uncertainties, the team should value every member's opinion and conduct a risk assessment by thoroughly reviewing the requirements, design, and development plans. This way, they can ensure more accurate estimates, minimize delays, and ensure high-quality, on-time product releases.

7. Avoid Senior Members' Biases

Senior members are valuable assets for any team. They bring expertise and experience to the group. However, new teams often get into a trap of unintentional senior members' biases in the estimation process. For example, while discussing a backlog item, a senior member might unintentionally provide an opinion about the item. Now the newcomers or members new to the Scrum framework might also agree with that opinion to avoid any conflict. This is opposite to what the estimation process demands.

For accurate and effective estimates, teams must encourage open discussions where everyone can contribute their ideas and opinions. For that, the best choice is relative estimation techniques with a touch of consensus-based estimation, such as Async Poker and Planning Poker. Such techniques encourage individual estimates first and then lead to a team's estimate by consensus.

8. Keep Re-estimating Backlog with New Data

The product backlog can keep updating with new items or data as the team completes a few sprints. In fact, the "Backlog Grooming" meeting is meant to refine the backlog and add/edit/remove items from the backlog.

Once the backlog is updated, it is important to estimate new backlog items. This not just helps to identify how much effort is required to complete those items but also helps to identify potential risks or dependencies.

9. Reprioritize the Backlog After the Estimation

This tip is useful after the estimation session but can also contribute to the accuracy of the estimation process. Once the team has estimated all the backlog items, they should spare a few more minutes and reprioritize the backlog. It is important because the team knows all the dependencies, risks, efforts, and challenges associated with all the backlog items. So, now they can prioritize the backlog more effectively. Once the backlog is re-prioritized, the upcoming sprint planning becomes a lot easier.

Wrapping Up

It is essential for new teams to optimize product backlog estimation, as it leads to increased productivity, better planning, collaboration, and high-quality products. Above, we have discussed the nine worth-knowing tips that can help new teams optimize their backlog estimation process. To sum up, product backlog estimation is key to successful sprints and high-quality deliveries. Therefore, emphasize optimizing the backlog estimation process for more accurate estimates and extracting valuable outcomes from it.

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