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July 4, 2023
8 min read

Should Scrum Teams Estimate Product Backlog Remotely in 2023

Considering the shift of work culture from on-premises to remote, Scrum teams can now also estimate product backlog remotely. But how effective is remote backlog estimation compared to on-premises estimation? Let's discuss its benefits and drawbacks in detail and come up with a conclusion.
Anton Versal
Anton Versal
Lets look how to Estimate Product Backlog Items in Scrum

Scrum is the most popular agile framework for software development that encourages iterative-based development, continuous collaboration, and frequent releases. One of the crucial stages in Scrum is managing and estimating product backlog for effective prioritization of work and making collaborative decisions accordingly.

In most cases, Scrum teams get together for a physical meeting to estimate and prioritize the product backlog. However, with the growing popularity of remote working, many are doubting the effectiveness of on-premises product backlog estimation and thinking of remote estimation as a better alternative. So, let's explore in detail whether remote-based product backlog estimation is an effective choice for Scrum teams in 2023.

Importance of Estimation in Scrum

Before we head into the discussion of on-premises vs remote product backlog estimation, it is important to clarify why we estimate product backlog. So, below are some of the key points that reflect the importance of estimation in Scrum:

  1. Better Visualization and Prioritization: When the Product Owner develops the product backlog, the development team cannot immediately guess the efforts. Plus, there are chances that some backlog items are irrelevant to the product. So, when the Scrum team estimates, they can better visualize all the product backlog items, discuss the required efforts, and re-prioritize the backlog in a mutually agreed way.
  2. Pinpoint Complexities and Challenges: During estimation, the team members can also pinpoint complexities or uncertainties in the task that are not clearly evident. So, if the team had proceeded with the development of the backlog without estimation, those uncertainties could have caused trouble, such as a stressed environment, delayed delivery, etc.
  3. Increase Team's Productivity: Estimation helps team members have a clear glimpse of what they have to accomplish and where all their efforts will lead to. This results in more productivity and better outcomes.
  4. Increase Collaboration: Estimation is a collaborative activity and lets everyone contribute to effective decision-making. This also helps newcomers or shy team members to increase their communication skills and get more involved with their teams.

Overall, product backlog estimation not only helps to have a better-prioritized backlog, but also encourages team collaboration and productivity, resulting in more quality and timely deliveries.

Challenges with On-Premises Product Backlog Estimation

In on-premises product backlog estimation, the development team, Product Owner, Scrum Master, and a few key stakeholders get together to discuss and estimate the product backlog. To do estimates, they use one of the estimation techniques, such as Planning Poker, T-Shirt Sizing, Dot Voting, Affinity Mapping, etc. Mostly, the Product Owner presents the user story, the development team discusses the story, and then the team estimates the required effort.

Although the on-premises product backlog is an effective way to collaborate and estimate, it does come with some challenges, as follows:

1. Accommodate Everyone's Schedule

Since on-premises product backlog estimation requires the physical presence of all members, the meeting schedule is set by accommodating everyone's schedule. This can lead to scheduling conflicts, which can delay the estimation process.

Even if everyone agrees to one mutually-agreed schedule, it is not guaranteed that everyone will reach on time. So, if a few members reach after some time, then everyone has to wait for them until they can begin the session. In short, there are plenty of concerns when it comes to scheduling on-premises estimation meetings.

2. Time-consuming

On-premises product backlog estimation consumes more time than it should, especially when there are plenty of backlog items to estimate. Normally, an on-premises product backlog estimation meeting lasts 2-4 hours, but the time can extend if there are many backlog items or the team conducts lengthy discussions.

When a team spends hours in estimation meetings, the process becomes less productive, and estimates become less accurate. Moreover, it also delays other important tasks of team members. Therefore, on-premises estimation is a more time-consuming way of estimating backlog, which can negatively impact estimation accuracy.

3. Inefficiency

Although on-premises product backlog estimation encourages collaboration, it often results in inefficient environments. Sometimes team members have to engage in lengthy and conflicting discussions to reach a consensus, which can decrease productivity. Similarly, some members need more time to understand backlog items before providing estimates. So, if they have to provide estimates at the same time as others, they might not provide the right estimates. In short, there are plenty of loopholes in the on-premises estimation that can impact its efficiency.

4. Unintentional Biases

When all the team members sit and discuss backlog items for estimation, there are chances that senior members might unintentionally bias the estimates. For example, the team is discussing one backlog item, and one senior member unintentionally provides his final opinion, such as “I think this way is the best”. Such opinions impact the creative thinking of other members, as they also start agreeing with senior members' opinions.

5. Interruptions

On-premises product backlog estimation is prone to interruptions. Team members can get distracted by phone calls or other work-related tasks. Interruptions can break the flow of the meeting, which can impact the estimation accuracy or increase more time in completing the process.

How can Remote Product Backlog Estimation be a Game-Changer?

Considering the concerns of on-premises product backlog estimation and the growing trend of remote or distributed teams, there is a growing talk around remote product backlog estimation. To help better understand remote estimation, let's discuss it using the Async Poker estimation technique, which is the best estimation technique for remote product backlog estimation.

Async Poker or Asynchronous Planning Poker is a consensus-based estimation technique that estimates the efforts required to complete backlog items by assigning story points using the Modified Fibonacci Sequence (0, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 20, 40, and 100). It is similar to Planning Poker, but the main difference is in its execution.

Async Poker is an estimation technique for remote/distributed teams that do not require participants to have on-premises meetings. In this technique, the members estimate the backlog items individually at their own pace and deliver their estimates to the moderator. Below are the steps involved in an Async Poker estimation session:

  1. The moderator (Product Owner or anyone else) picks the members that will participate in the estimation process and then sends them all the backlog items (user stories) they have to estimate before the specified deadline.
  2. Every member can read, understand, and estimate the backlog items whenever they get the time and deliver the estimates before the deadline.
  3. The moderator gathers estimates from all members and finalizes the team's estimates. If there are major variations in estimates, then the moderator can call a quick online meeting. Members can discuss the misunderstanding in this meeting and reach a consensus by re-estimating them.

That's it! This way, teams can easily execute Async Poker and estimate product backlog items remotely.

Benefits of Remote Product Backlog Estimation

Now that we know what remote product backlog estimation is, let's discuss its key benefits. Below are the top 6 benefits of conducting product backlog estimation remotely:

1. No Physical Presence

Remote backlog estimation's first and prominent benefit is no need for physical on-premises meetings. There is no need to check everyone's schedule to find a common free spot to schedule an estimation meeting. Every member receives the backlog items and the deadline, and they just have to deliver their individual estimates before the deadline.

2. Time Efficient

Remote backlog estimation saves time in many ways compared to on-premises estimation. First, members don't have to leave everything aside to join the meeting. Secondly, every member is free to estimate when they get time. Even if they have to meet up to reach a consensus, the meetings are mostly brief because everyone already understands backlog items. This way, they can quickly address misunderstandings and reach a consensus.

3. Efficient Process

Remote backlog estimation improves the overall efficiency of the estimation process. It eradicates long discussions that can impact productivity. Members only discuss when there is a prominent mismatch in individual estimates. In addition, it gives every member enough time to read and understand backlog items without rushing to provide estimates. Therefore, the whole estimation process becomes more efficient.

4. Unbiased Estimates

Remote backlog estimation also removes the chances of unintentional biases from senior members. When members are providing individual estimates in an isolated environment, there are no chances of any biases in the estimates.

5. Written Descriptions

For remote backlog estimation, members get a written description of all backlog items in the form of user stories. Compared to the verbal description in the case of on-premises backlog estimation, the written description provides a deeper understanding of the requirements and includes all the information members need to provide estimates. Therefore, written descriptions further improve the accuracy of estimates.

6. Minimal Members

For remote backlog estimation, the moderator can invite only those members whose contribution is important for the estimates. The moderator can even invite just a few development team members to participate in the estimation instead of the whole team. This way, if only the concerned members are involved in the estimation process, then the estimates can be more accurate.

Drawbacks of Remote Product Backlog Estimation

Remote product backlog estimation provides plenty of benefits and seems an ideal estimation approach in the current hybrid work culture. However, it also does have a few drawbacks, as follows:

1. No Collaborative Discussion

Remote backlog estimation eradicates collaborative discussion between team members before providing estimates. This discussion is important, as members understand backlog items collaboratively, which leads to accurate estimates.

2. Limited Answer Questions

Since there is minimal in-person interaction, the members are not able to ask questions openly and clarify doubts. So, they might estimate backlog items without resolving their queries, which can lead to inaccurate estimates.

3. Lack of Focus

When members are given free hand to estimate backlog at their own pace, they might get less focused. This can again negatively impact their productivity, thereby resulting in inaccurate estimates.

Wrapping Up – Remote vs. On-Premises Product Backlog Estimation

Product backlog estimation is a vital activity in Scrum, and both remote and on-premises backlog estimation can serve the job effectively. However, remote backlog estimation has many advantages over on-premises backlog estimation, such as freedom of estimation, no conflicting meeting schedules, unbiased estimates, minimal members, and many more. If done rightly, remote backlog estimation can provide more accurate estimates and save significant time.

So, if you are looking for more time-efficient, less stressful, and more efficient estimates, then remote product backlog estimation definitely wins. To sum up, Scrum teams should try estimating backlog remotely in 2023 to see how well it works for them.

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