Scrum Rules: The Product Backlog Changes Every Sprint

July 9, 2020
4 minute read

The Product Backlog reflects the current state of the Product Owner’s understanding of the future of the Product. Unless the product is being discontinued, the future state will always include change. The Product Backlog should never be “signed-off” or “frozen”. Doing so represents a deep fundamental misunderstanding of Scrum.

A frozen Product Backlog means that the Product Owner cannot maximize the value that the Scrum Team delivers each Sprint, and it means that the Scrum Team cannot adapt to feedback about the product. Since these two problems are at the heart of what Scrum is trying to fix, it is antithetical to Scrum to have an unchanging Product Backlog.

If your Product Backlog is static, it is probably because someone is trying to use Scrum to deliver a project. Conceptually this is not impossible and it may even be a better way to deliver a project than the alternatives available. However, it is the incorrect application of Scrum. Scrum is for product development not project management. It is like trying to use a hammer on a wood screw – it’s probably better than using your hands to twist a screw in, but it’s really the wrong application of the tool.

The first step in solving the problem of a static product backlog is to find out if your projects are actually part of a product development or enhancement effort…. In which case, the Scrum Team should be officially re-tasked to be responsible for the product not the project.

The second step is to educate those who want signed-off Product Backlogs about the dangers of this approach: loss of adaptability, sub-optimal business results, slow response to competition, etc. As well, these stakeholders should be educated about what Scrum really is and what it is for. This includes the important concept that if they want “projects”, then these stakeholders should consider each Sprint to be a separate project in a larger product development program! This neat little conceptual twist is often the key to getting these stakeholders to buy in to the new approach.

A Product Backlog is never complete…. 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 a product is used and gains value, and the marketplace provides feedback, the Product Backlog becomes a larger and more exhaustive list. Requirements never stop changing, so a Product Backlog is a living artifact. Changes in business requirements, market conditions, or technology may cause changes in the Product Backlog.

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Bruce Power
Capital One
Equitable Life of Canada
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