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Remove Waste From Your Backlog with the Priority Game

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The priority game is an exercise to make large backlogs manageable. Michael Franken did this exercise at GOTO Amsterdam 2013 where he involved the audience by taking roles as as product owners and stakeholders to build a backlog, prioritize it, and removing things that will not be done. Introducing the game he talked about long unstructured backlogs that some projects or teams have, lists with much text which can become difficult to handle. Having such backlogs is not what you imagined when you started with Scrum, Michael said. He showed how a large part of the features in products is often not used, and stated that Scrum should help you to focus and remove waste by not making things that are probably never used by customers.

After the introduction he did an exercise with the attendants. He divided the audience into groups, and asked them to think of 6 to 8 improvements that can be implemented within 3 months. All items were collected and put on the wall of the conference room, resulting into a large backlog. Next the items were clustered by the attendants. Although this already helped by bringing structure into the backlog, there were still many items on the wall. Michael told the attendants that they are the stakeholders, and he gave each of them 2 dots to vote on the cluster that they think is most valuable. The voting was done fast, while Michael explained that this can also be done with customers who do not know agile or Scrum.

After everybody has voted, he started removing the ones with zero votes from the wall, and also the ones with just a few votes. He read some of those items out loud, told the audience that it could be good thing to do, but since it didn’t get enough votes it wont be done. Next he destroyed these items in front of the audience! He asked if people felt annoyed by this, and some said they did, but many said they liked it. This is when Michael explained that deciding to remove things from the backlog early helps you to get focus. It prevents having things on the backlog that most probably never will be done, and wasting time discussing them over and over again. When you remove and destroy things from the backlog with with customers they may feel annoyed, but it is better to have this discussion up front with them then to do at the release of a product.

People rather have a “no” answer early which makes clear that they will not get it in stead of a expectation which turns out to be false at the end, Michael explained. In the rare case that you destroyed something that was really important, it will probably come up again later, and can be added at that time.

InfoQ covered the GOTO Amsterdam 2013 Conference, which was held from June 18-19. News has been published on Linda Rising talks about incentives, experiences from educational technology startups, Martin Fowler about agile essence and fluency, simplicity for building the right thing and remove waste from your backlog with the priority game.

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