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Why it is Essential to Estimate Product Backlog?

Product backlog estimation helps a team have a better understanding of project needs, align priorities, discuss challenges, and have effective team discussions.
October 18 · 5 min read
Let's learn why it is essential to estimate product backlog

It is hard to find a Scrum team that can deny the importance of product backlog for effective and timely delivery of a project. The product backlog includes all the features, but it is more than just being a to-do list. A clear product backlog with the right estimation is one of the best time-saving tactics for Scrum teams. In fact, the success of product development processes is highly associated with how product backlog is defined and estimated.

Since product backlog holds tremendous importance in Agile, let's explore in depth all the key reasons that make it essential for Scrum teams to estimate product backlog. Lastly, we will also discuss the best product backlog estimation technique. So, let's get started!

Product Backlog – A Brief Overview

Before we jump towards the importance of estimating product backlog, let's quickly take a look at what product backlog is all about. A product backlog is a prioritized list of work that the development team is meant to deliver. It is derived from the roadmap and its requirements and presents the most important items at the top. This way, it ensures that the team is focusing on the most valuable and important features, fixing critical bugs, or doing other crucial tasks.

The most common element of a product backlog is user stories, which are general, informal description of a software feature that is written from the end-user perspective. In most cases, not all user stories are equal, as items usually have different importance levels, different sizes, and description levels.

5 Reasons Why Product Backlog Estimation is Important

A well-prioritized and estimated product backlog not just streamlines iteration and release planning, it also lets the team have a clear picture of all the things on which the members are going to spend time.

When a team sits together and starts estimating product backlog items, they are basically getting all the know-how of the list of prioritized works that they are going to work on from now onwards. So, what makes product backlog estimation essential can be understood from the below 5 reasons:

1. Better Team Discussion and Decision Making

Not all team members can depict the complexity and challenges of product backlog items. Some members are more experienced or they have a better understanding, so they can pinpoint hidden complications associated with the tasks that others fail to detect.

Therefore, one of the reasons to estimate product backlog is to have better team discussion so that all aspects of the backlog items are discussed before the development begins. This way, the team can interact more focused, newbies can learn from seniors, and better decisions can be made effectively.

2. Better Prioritized Tasks

It is the duty of the product owner to design the product backlog and prioritize the items rightly. However, there are always chances that some items might not be set at the right priority level. For example, the product owner might set one feature to be part of the minimum viable product (MVP), but it could have been delayed till the next release. Similarly, there might be some features/bugs that need urgent attention compared to others.

So, when a team gathers for estimating product backlog items, they will also evaluate the importance of items for the product's success. The individual discussion on the product backlog items and their estimations will make a clear picture of what items should be on the top of the priority list. This way, the product backlog can be set in a more prioritized form that is in line with the team's interest and the product's success.

3. Better Time Management

Estimating a product backlog requires team members to gather together for the estimation session and carry out an estimation of the product backlog items. So, it might give a sense of time wastage, as members are forced to take part in estimation. However, the reality is a bit different.

When a team gathers and carries out product backlog estimation, it is basically setting a mutually-discussed path for project completion. They are prioritizing the tasks, discuss the efforts/time needs, and all other aspects associated with the project. Overall, it increases team productivity and focus, thereby causing a positive impact on time management and timely deliveries.

4. Increase Efficiency

It is a common concept that you remain more focused on any work when you know its outcomes. The same implies to the Scrum team. The efficiency of the team can increase if they know what are the goals they are targeting to achieve.

With product backlog estimation, the team becomes familiar with the main goals behind the project, the complications/challenges they have to deal with, the efforts they have to input, and the estimated time of completion. This way, all the members become familiar with all the minor to major details of the project and are in a better position to carry out iterative development stages more focused.

5. Align Expectations

The product backlog is more like a visual representation of the current development process. When a team estimates product backlog, it is basically creating a mutual understanding of the project and the tasks it is meant to complete.

So, another benefit of product backlog estimation is that it helps in aligning members' expectations via a single source of data, which assists them in better collaboration to achieve common objectives.

Best Product Backlog Estimation Technique

It is not always easy to estimate product backlog because every team member has their own views on the particular item and a mismatch in thoughts can sometimes make a troublesome situation. However, challenges associated with product backlog estimation can be addressed effectively with the right estimation technique.

Out of many available product backlog estimation techniques, Planning Poker shines as the best one. Planning Poker is a relative estimation technique based on the consensus that involves a numeric scale, which is mostly modified Fibonacci sequence (1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 20, 40, and 100). How planning poker works can be very well understood from the below steps:

  1. Team members join the product backlog estimation session. They are provided with poker-style cards that contain the numeric value that they will use later for estimating stories.
  2. Once all members are present, the product owner presents the story and lets the members discuss to clear their concepts.
  3. After discussion, every member gives the numeric value to the story based on what they think best reflects the efforts required to complete it.
  4. If all members have picked the same value, then that is declared the team estimate. However, if there is a mismatch, then members that have assigned the highest and lowest values are asked to present their reasons. Afterward, the discussion is carried out until a final team consensus is reached.
  5. The team follows the above steps again and again until all the stories (product backlog items) are estimated.

Planning Poker encourages a collaborative approach, which results in accurate estimates and a more committed team. The only concern with Planning Poker estimation is that it requires a team to sit together at once and complete all estimates. So, if some members are unable to attend the session or there are newbies on the team, then the accuracy of estimates is a concern.

If teams face the above challenge, then they can opt for a modified Planning Poker technique, i.e., asynchronous planning poker. Async Poker or Asynchronous Planning Poker technique is best to deal with remote or distributed teams. Following are the steps involved in this technique:

  1. The moderator emails the stories to be estimated to all the members and give them the deadline to provide their estimates.
  2. Members read and understand the stories at their own pace and then provide their estimates.
  3. Once the moderator receives all estimates and the values are close to each other, then those estimates are declared the team's final estimates. However, if there are mismatches, then a quick session is conducted either on-premises or online to clear doubts and reach a consensus.

This way, Asynchronous Planning Poker elevates the whole estimation process, reduces time spent by members, and gives everyone the time to read and understand stories at their own pace.

Wrapping Up

Product backlog holds tremendous importance in Scrum projects. It is the stage from which the rest of the project direction is oriented. Therefore, product backlog estimation holds tremendous value for the Scrum team. When a team carries our product backlog estimation, it is basically developing a solid grip on project needs, efforts and time required to complete tasks, and the overall project outcomes. In a nutshell, product backlog estimation sessions cast many rewarding impacts on the Scrum team, which then turn beneficial for timely and quality product deliveries.

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