All the projects I’ve worked on over the past few years I’ve used a two board set-up for visualising the work. The board on the right is the delivery board and the board on the left is used to visualise and manage the backlog. The delivery board is pretty straight forward and I’ve pretty much got this down to a fine art.
However, the board on the left has always puzzled me. Working with various Product Owners over the years I’ve noticed they often struggle to visualise the backlog. I initially thought it was because the chaos of the board reflected the reality of their focus on the backlog, or rather lack of. Visualising the backlog in the form of a parking lot diagram has always appealed to me but I’ve never found an effective way to translate it into a card wall. I’ve seen teams come up with many schemes for helping Product Owners organise the backlog but it wasn’t until very recently that my colleague Nikhil Joshi introduced me to the following approach:
Doh! It seems so obvious?! The board is laid out by functional area in columns and releases by row. The Product Owner organises the stories (in collaboration with the delivery team) into the various releases. When I’ve visualised the backlog in the past I’ve moved cards from the backlog board onto the delivery stream board. The difference with the new approach is we create a copy of the card to be ‘played’ and place it into the input column on the delivery stream board. We use various indicators to communicate the current status of the roadmap:
- Big Red Cross – this signifies the story has passed through the delivery stream and is now live.
- Happy Cog icon – this is a laminated happy cog symbol stuck on a card with blu-tac which indicates the story is currently in progress on the delivery stream board.
- Green corner – indicates the story is new since we produced our initial product backlog. This reflects the amount of learning about the problem domain and is a good thing.
We have found the board provides all stakeholders (not just the Product Owner) with a very clear and easy to understand overview of where the product is and where it’s going. We are lucky to be working on a small enough piece of software that we can fit the product roadmap on a single board. But saying that I don’t see why you couldn’t have a mixture of stories and epics represented on the board.
This works really well for an individual product / delivery stream but what about scale? What happens when you have multiple delivery streams in your organisation? In the next post I’ll discuss how we can scale this concept up for multiple delivery teams.