Static Backlogs, Delivery Dates and “Done”

Getting to know our product manager over the last couple weeks, I got the impression he was a bit overwhelmed with all the favors, bugs and feature requests he was faced with every day. So, I asked him where he maintained all these different things and he pulled up a spreadsheet. When I asked him where this was saved he said on his local hard drive.

I then asked him how often he reprioritized these tasks with all the various customers (internal & external) and he replied that he did it right when he created the list – a few months ago. Whenever a new task came in, he reprioritized the entire list either by “feel” (knowing for instance that the business had stopped chasing after feature X) or by merely asking the responsible person how important bug Y still was for them.

I told him it would be more helpful for him (and the rest of the company) to look at this list together more frequently, so that everyone would be on the same page when it came to setting priorities. Plus, it would be interesting for everyone to get an update as to which task might actually even be finished soon.

Delivery And “Done”

He then mentioned that he was really missing some way to figure out how much work our offshore development team could actually accomplish in a week’s time. Sensing blood, I gave him my story point estimate for a new feature request we had just been given that afternoon. I then explained to him why I used that number and guessed how many developer days it would take to implement.

This was an interesting exercise for him, because he immediately countered that if it was going to take so long we’d obviously have to find a different way of doing it. I suggested not going for the “whole shebang”, but perhaps just a prototype implementation that would already give us an idea as to how well such a feature would perform across the entire site.

We finished our conversation by agreeing that if he would get me the minimal business tasks with the appropriate prioritization, I could begin to give him reliable “done” dates. Pivotal Tracker came to mind as a quick (yet extremely addictive) tool to help us begin working toward these ends together.

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