Scrum is a Framework
The Scrum Guide tells us that items in a Product Backlog need the attributes of a DOVE. That’s Description, Order, Value and Estimate. But it doesn’t tell us how to produce those attributes and that’s because Scrum is a framework, upon which you apply your preferred techniques. If you like an analogy, Scrum describes the “rules of the game” and your techniques consist of things like team formation and style of play.
There are many techniques for calculating the Value for a Product Backlog item. There is no one ‘perfect’ technique and I encourage you to experiment and find something that works for you. I’ve known organizations that have created algorithms to do their calculation but, in this article I’m going to cover just one, simple, technique that has worked well for me.
Create a Scale
The first thing I like to do is to create a Value scale. I usually start with the value 100 (low value) and increase in multiples of 100 up to 1000 (high value). I write these values onto separate Index Cards and place them on a table in a long row. This has the effect of creating column headers. (In the photo below, I’ve worked in multiples of 200)
Value the Product Backlog items
I call a meeting with stakeholders and the Scrum Team and ask them to find the most valuable Product Backlog item and place it in column ‘1000’. I then ask them to find the least value item and place it in column ‘100’. Having identified the two extremes of our scale, our next job is to put all the other Product Backlog items into the appropriate column so, agree a time-box and set to work. Because all we’re doing is valuing one item, relative to others in the Product Backlog, the work is simple and rarely takes more than an hour, even for large Product Backlogs.
I’ve come across two issues when using this technique. The first one is where members begin to squabble about whether a Product Backlog item belongs in one column, or the adjacent column. They usually reach consensus by agreeing to create a new Value, such as 750. I have no issues with this as it doesn’t affect what we’re trying to achieve.
The second issue I’ve come across is where members, usually stakeholders, declare that all Product Backlog items are high value. Because of this, they don’t want to separate them in to columns. Somebody much wiser than me once said “If everything is high priority, then there is no priority” and this applies to Value for Product Backlog items as well. I have found that putting everything in the low-value column can galvanise a response.
Try it Yourself
Hopefully, I’ve convinced you how simple it is to calculate Value for a Product Backlog item, using the above technique. Why not try it yourself? Or, to really bump-start your Scrum adoption, ask a scrum coach (like me!) to help you.