Scrum Rules: Any Stakeholder Can Suggest a New Product Backlog Item

July 7, 2020
4 minute read

The Product Backlog is a list of potential work to be done for future Sprints. This list is most vibrant when as many people as possible contribute to it. Those directly connected (stakeholders such as the Team Members, users of the systems, etc) have a stake in the product’s growth so they also have plenty of ideas that may benefit its value.

Adding a Product Backlog Item (PBI) is like brainstorming where all ideas are welcome. Then it is the responsibility of the Product Owner through conversations with others to order the list based on the most value for the least effort (and sometimes to reject PBIs if they are too outside the product vision). If the creation of PBIs is limited to just a few individuals, or even just the Product Owner alone, it is likely that many great ideas will not surface and will be lost. Also by having all stakeholders contribute PBIs, the Product Owner builds collective ownership in the work of the Scrum Team which helps the team overcome obstacles and become supported by a larger group.

The Product Owner has the primary responsibility to actively work with all stakeholders to solicit new ideas for the Product Backlog. In particular, during Sprint Planning, the Scrum Team may generate new ideas that cannot be handled in the current Sprint; likewise, during Sprint Review, the stakeholders are likely to provide feedback which can be immediately captured and placed in the Product Backlog. During the rest of the Sprint, the Product Owner can solicit ideas for Product Backlog Items from many groups: users, technical staff, marketing, sales, customers, potential customers, etc. A Product Owner should have techniques to enable stakeholders to collaborate and discuss Product Vision, features, requirements, etc. Some known techniques include:

  1. Innovation Games
  2. Lean Startup
  3. Impact Mapping
  4. Collaborative Estimation & Planning

Scrum Masters often have experience and skill facilitating group activities, negotiation, and consultative decision-making. Product Owners may request their help if needed.

This rule is expressed in the Scrum Guide indirectly in the following references:

The Product Backlog evolves as the product and the environment in which it will be used evolves. The Product Backlog is dynamic; it constantly changes to identify what the product needs to be appropriate, competitive, and useful. As long as a product exists, its Product Backlog also exists.

…As a product is used and gains value, and the marketplace provides feedback…Changes in business requirements, market conditions, or technology may cause changes in the Product Backlog.

The Scrum Guide

The intent, clearly, is that usage of the product leads to new information about the marketplace, technology, and business requirements and the Product Owner, responsibly, is receiving that information from a variety of sources and stakeholders.

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Bruce Power
Capital One
Equitable Life of Canada
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