Product Backlog Transparency

Last post 03:40 pm February 9, 2016
by Andrzej Zińczuk
12 replies
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06:54 am October 20, 2014

Hi there,
I have a customer where I introduce Scrum.
I am the Product Owner for a product which every employee uses.
We use Jira Agile for Product Backlog Management.
We configured it to be visible for everyone in the company without login, because I have learned the Product Backlog should be transparent and we have a limited license for Jira.
Executive management asks me if it is possible to hide specific Product Backlog Items.
The reason why they want to do this is that there are specific things they want to be done, but they do not want everyone to know. That's why I cannot post here what it is they want to hide.
But to give an example: Think of a company which plans to outsource jobs to India and needs functionality in an internal product for that. They do not want to communicate it to the staff yet.
Of course, technically it is possible to restrict the access, but this business need is in conflict with the Scrum principle of transparency.
What can I tell the customer?

05:29 pm October 20, 2014

Hello Ludwig,

I´m not an experienced product owner, but curiously today I started a trhead in linked-in with a question that may provide an answer for your question (if the people answer it):

https://www.linkedin.com/groupItem?view=&gid=49087&type=member&item=593…

I think that the Product Owner must have the entire organization respect, and this include the decision on the product backlog visibility politics. If you as a Product Owner decide that all itens on the product backlog will be visible to the entire organization, this decision must be respected.

Maybe, those strategic itens could be handled by another backlog for example with a program backlog that isn´t visible to all.

Best regards.

09:58 am October 21, 2014

> Executive management asks me if it is possible to hide specific Product Backlog Items

Do they want to hide specific PBI's from certain members *within* the Scrum Team, or do they wish to hide them from parties who are external to the team?

10:07 am October 21, 2014

They want to hide them from parties external to the team (employees are users are stakeholders).
Hiding them from the team is not possible if they want them to get done :)

10:34 am October 21, 2014

Transparency facilitates the inspection and adaptation of product and process. If *all* team members can see the PBI's it begs the question who *else* would need to see them, and why. After all, the people who own the delivery process...and who are responsible for inspecting and adapting it along with the product...have the visibility they need. Why should anyone else need to see the Product Backlog Items?

Of course, acase can be made for general transparency within an organization. Non-team members can occasionally spot something or help remove an impediment even if they aren't actual stakeholders. That's not really essential to the process of inspection and adaptation however, and the benefits to be gained must be weighted against wider risks, including those to privacy and security.

Perhaps it is time to develop a more nuanced view of transparency than the Jira configuration currently allows?

12:29 pm October 21, 2014

Ian,
thanks for your answer!
My understanding was that the Backlog should be transparent not only to the Scrum Team but to all stakeholders. But now that I read your answer, I realize that this is not necessary. The only thing the Product Owner has to make transparent to the stakeholders is the progess towards a goal.
Thanks again!

07:24 pm October 21, 2014

Some quotes from the Scrum Guide to consider:

Under PO responsibilities:
"Ensuring that the Product Backlog is ", transparent, and clear to all, and shows what the Scrum Team will work on next;"

"The Scrum Master’s job is to work with the Scrum Team and the organization to increase the transparency of the artifacts."

05:17 am October 22, 2014

Charles,
thanks for the quotes. How do you interpret "all"?
1) All members of the Scrum team
2) all stakeholders
3) all people within the organization
4) all people around the world?
My interpretation was: 1 and 2, and in my case 2 includes 3. That's why I raised the question.
Now my understanding is 1-ish, and 2 is optional.
I would clearly exclude 4, because if Scrum demands 4, it is not suited for products which need a certain level of privacy and security.
What do you think?

10:01 am October 22, 2014

All people who have interest in the product.

01:44 pm October 22, 2014

Ludwig, good point!

I've turned your question into a suggestion for the Scrum Guide. See this post for what I think "all" means:
http://scrumguide.uservoice.com/forums/241958-general/suggestions/65966…

09:08 am October 24, 2014

Hi Ludwig,

wow, your question provoked really good thoughts.

But I have still some doubts if the proposed solution is the best:
Do you think you can satisfy your stakeholders if you interpret "all" with mainly 1)? I'd be afraid that they could be discontent with the Product Backlog prioritization or with the velocity of implementation. And what would you do if a stakeholder was an expert in Sprint Planning Meeting part II? Is the Development Team informed about which Product Backlog Items are to be hidden? What will the stakeholders do when the Product Backlog Items are implemented and can no longer be denied? Won't it cause a whole lot of conflicts?

All in all, my gut instinct says it would be better, if your management could find a way to communicate all Items to the Stakeholders.
Though, of course, if it's management, perhaps you just have to do what they say... :-(

12:21 pm October 28, 2014

Thank you Charles for giving me an estimation of my learning level ;)
And thank you Anke for sharing your thoughts. You are right, they are the ones who pay me so they are key stakeholders, and raising a flag for the Scrum principles should be the Scrum Master's job.
However I'm not only the PO but also in the role of an agile coach, so I need to keep challenging the organization. It is not as easy as telling the management to communicate all items to the other stakeholders. I think you understand "Kommt Zeit, kommt Rat" ;)

03:40 pm February 9, 2016

I understand 'make it transparent' in bit wider form - not only having backlog where interested people can see it. I think about it in terms - do all people, I think as PO need to know about, are aware of it, aware of my plans and activities because maybe this is opportunity to get some new insights. Sometimes backlog may also not be enough and some additional level/form can be useful to share thoughts