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How Effective is Remote Product Backlog Estimation in Scrum?

Remote product backlog estimation is a rescue for distributed and remote teams that cannot conduct on-premises estimation sessions. In fact, it can also address challenges with on-premises estimation. Find out more in this article.
October 28 · 5 min read
Let's explore how effective remote product backlog estimation in scrum can be

The product backlog is a list of prioritized tasks that the Scrum team is meant to work on in the next few weeks/months. Most Scrum teams estimate the product backlog to have a better view of the required efforts, the targeted goals, and customer expectations. The common practice of doing product backlog estimation is to have an on-premises estimation session where the development team, product owner, scrum master, and other key stakeholders are involved. However, the scenario has changed a bit ever since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and the rise of remote working.

Today, organizations are acknowledging the benefits of remote workspace and trying to make it a regular part of their business operations. This implies that there will be situations where the product backlog estimation and other meeting sessions need to be conducted remotely. So, the question is that whether remote product backlog estimation is as effective as on-premises product backlog estimation. Let's discuss this point in this article, including how remote product backlog estimation is conducted, why it is necessary, and the best toolkit to do remote estimation effectively.

How Remote Product Backlog Estimation is Conducted?

There are a variety of methods that Scrum teams can use to estimate product backlog remotely. Commonly, it seems like a conference call where the development team members, product owner, scrum master, and other key stakeholders join, discuss, and estimate user stories. However, a video call session cannot provide effective product backlog estimation because it involves describing user stories (product backlog items), gathering members' estimates, and finalizing estimates. Therefore, remote product backlog estimation is also conducted through special remote estimation methods. One such well-reputed and widely used method is "Asynchronous Planning Poker".

The Asynchronous Planning Poker method is a consensus-based estimation technique that involves all the team members in the estimation session but does not require an on-premises meeting session. Following are the different steps carried out in the Asynchronous Planning Poker technique:

  1. The moderator (mostly product owner or scrum master) sends the lists of user stories with detailed written descriptions to all the members to estimate. The moderator also mentions the deadline when they have to send their estimates.
  2. Team members read the user stories at their own pace when they find time and then provide their estimates.
  3. Once the moderator has received all the estimates, he/she then sees if the estimates of every member match. For stories where there is a major deviation in estimates, the moderator arranges a quick video conference session where the team discusses the issue and then reaches a consensus.

This way, Scrum teams can easily do remote product backlog estimation. Each member gets enough time to read, understand, and estimate user stories, while the team's discussion is left for only those user stories where there is a major deviation in estimates.

When does Remote Product Backlog Estimation Become a Must?

The COVID-19 pandemic is just one reason why organizations practicing Scrum methodology started shifting to remote product backlog estimation. There are many other reasons that encourage Scrum teams to practice remote product backlog estimation. Some of the key ones are as follows:

Distributed Teams

One of the first reasons to use remote product backlog estimation is having a distributed team. If team members are located at different geo-location, then they cannot easily come to one common place to do estimates. In addition, if members are also located in different time zones, then a video-conference-based estimation session is again challenging. So, this type of situation not just makes remote product backlog estimation a must, but also requires special estimation methods, like Asynchronous Planning Poker, to have effective estimates.

Busy Members

If all the Scrum team members are present within the same premises, it is again sometimes difficult to agree on one time to have an estimation session. Some members might be too busy with other tasks that they don't have time for or don't want to shift their focus from the current work. In that case, physical or video-based estimation meeting becomes a challenge. Here again, Asynchronous Planning Poker comes as an effective estimation technique.

Long Waiting

Some members cannot guarantee a timely appearance at the estimation meeting. For example, the product owner was supposed to join the meeting room by 4 PM, but he got stuck in other activities. What this means is that all other participants of the meeting have to wait till the product owner joins the meeting. This results in plenty of time wastage that the Scrum team could utilize in other productive activities. Remote product backlog estimation helps to overcome this issue and gives freedom to every member on estimating at their own pace.

Difficulty in Estimating Right Away

Not all team members are skilled to provide the right estimate with one listening. Since Planning Poker is one of the most commonly used on-premises estimation techniques, let's take it as an example. In Planning Poker, the product owner reads the user story, the team members discuss the story, and lastly, they provide estimates. However, there are mostly some members who often need some extra time to understand the story and provide estimates. Failing to get the right time, means inaccurate estimates. This is very well addressed in remote estimation done via the Asynchronous Planning Poker technique, as it provides the time members need to estimate without any pressure.

Better-Written Story Description

Often in on-premises estimation sessions, the user stories are narrated verbally. Even if the story is written in text, the content is mostly very brief. This is allowable if the user story is straightforward. However, if the user story is complex, then it is not easy for team members to extract all the key points from the verbal or brief text description. Remote estimate sessions are mostly powered with a well-written story description that contains all the information members need to provide estimates with no to minimal questioning.

Long-Hours of On-Premises Sessions

On-premises estimation sessions are mostly lengthy because the target is to complete the estimation of all the product backlog items. So, it usually takes a couple of hours to complete the estimates. This means that members have to remain focused during the whole period. Remote product backlog estimation eases this struggle by allowing the members to estimate at their own pace. In the end, if there are some major deviations in estimates, then they can have a quick video call session to discuss and re-estimate. This session is usually short because everyone knows the user stories, so they can quickly reach a consensus.

The Best Way to do Remote Product Backlog Estimation

Now that we know what remote product backlog estimation is all about including the areas where it comes as a must, it's important to learn how to do remote estimation effectively. Asynchronous Planning Poker is considered the best remote estimation technique, but you need a dedicated toolkit that can help you send user stories to members, receive their estimates, and finalize estimates. This is exactly what Async Poker has to offer.

Async Poker is an Asynchronous Planning Poker based toolkit that provides a fully functional issue preview with images, links, comments, and attachments. Its intuitive user-friendly interface makes it easy to add issues to games, assign members, provide estimates, write comments, and do a lot more. Moreover, it is integrated into the Jira Mobile app, making it easy to estimate via your smartphone. To sum up, it is the one-stop complete remote product backlog estimation technique.

Wrapping Up – Is Remote Product Backlog Estimation Worth It?

When it comes to picking between on-premises or remote product backlog estimation, then you have to consider various factors. Above, we have discussed situations where remote estimation becomes a must. From there, you can see that remote estimation is not only required for distributed or remote teams, even on-premises teams sometimes need to do remote estimation to conduct accurate estimates. So, remote product backlog estimation is definitely worth it and should be considered when on-premises estimation becomes a challenge.

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