The Scrum Guide states that a sprint backlog “is the set of Product Backlog items selected for the Sprint, plus a plan for delivering the product increment and realizing the Sprint Goal. The Sprint Backlog is a forecast by the Development Team about what functionality will be in the next Increment and the work needed to deliver that functionality into a “Done” Increment.”
We expect to find requirements, enhancements and even fixes in the sprint backlog, but is that it?
Remember that one of the three pillars of Scrum and a key principle of most agile approaches is transparency. Meaningful, significant work should be visible to all as agile doesn’t encourage hidden factories. If we don’t surface all major work being done by the team, it is understandable that a Product Owner or other stakeholders might assume that there isn’t a lot of work being done in a sprint or that the team isn’t being productive.
We can separate work which is worth being made visible into three broad categories:
- Work items which directly add customer value to the product. Features, requirements, enhancements and fixes fall into this bucket. Learning activities such as spikes would also qualify.
- Work items which indirectly enable or are required for product delivery. Environment support, deployment management, regulatory documentation are examples of this category.
- Work items which improve the delivery process. Improvement ideas from retrospectives are one type of such work item
By sizing, prioritizing and tracking work items across all three of these categories, a Product Owner and team will gain a complete understanding of what they expect to work on in a given sprint. This encourages healthy trade-off conversations during sprint planning and will help the team identify opportunities for improvement which might otherwise have been missed. For example, if some team members are spending significant effort in keeping build and test environments operational, the Product Owner or other stakeholders might be more inclined to understand why this is needed and what they can do to reduce that effort.
There is a fourth category which you may not want to include in the sprint backlog, and that’s the activities performed by the team which are completely unrelated to the product or project. This could be year end employee performance assessments, town hall meetings, operational work or (hopefully not!) even supporting another project. Assuming team members have some insights into how much of their availability over the next sprint will be consumed by this unrelated work, they should communicate that to the rest of the team during sprint planning to ensure a reasonable sprint commitment is made.
So, with thanks to Capital One, what’s in YOUR sprint backlog?