Scrum is a popular framework agile teams use to deliver high-quality software products collaboratively and iteratively. According to the latest State of Agile report from Digital.ai, 90% of agile teams use Scrum.
Scrum's laser focus on iteratively producing usable increments of value is part of what makes it stand apart from a traditional project management approach. Managing a tight Product Backlog is integral to delivering that value.
Scrum is often used for software product development. Many Scrum Teams responsible for developing new features for software are also responsible for their production support. Production support refers to the activities involved in maintaining and ensuring the smooth operation of a software application or system in a live or production environment. It involves monitoring, identifying and resolving issues, and providing support to end-users. The primary goal is to minimize downtime and disruptions, address incidents and problems, and ensure that the system is functioning as intended.
The dilemma is, any time that the Developers spend answering a support question or kicking off a batch job takes time away from other Product Backlog work. And yet, production support is necessary to the smooth functioning of the software product. So, what do we do?
The Product Backlog is the single source of work for the Scrum Team. Sometimes when I am working with a new Product Owner, they say something along the lines of, “Production support is the Developer’s problem.” This is not the case. Production support is part of product support, which the Product Owner is usually accountable for.
Let’s explore four ways Scrum Teams can manage production support in Scrum effectively.
#1 Add new Product Backlog Items
The Product Owner should spend time in refinement working with the Developers to identify new Product Backlog Items (PBIs) that could reduce the time that Developers need to spend on production support. For example, are Developers spending a lot of time answering stakeholder questions? If so, perhaps the Product Owner could add PBIs to the Product Backlog to create documentation for stakeholders or end users that will reduce support questions directed to the Scrum Team. Or, if the Scrum Team is spending a lot of time on production defects, the Product Owner may work with Developers to identify PBIs that address known production defects. By proactively addressing the root cause of Production Support, the Product Owner can help lift the burden off of Scrum team(s) supporting the Product.
#2 Update the Definition of Done
The Definition of Done is a shared agreement that describes all of the work required for each PBI before it can be considered completed. For example, for software products, the Definition of Done might include activities such as “code review” or “update work instructions.”
If the Scrum Team is spending a lot of time on production support, they should review their Definition of Done. They might need to add elements to the Definition of Done that address common product support issues. For example, if there are a lot of product defects, the Definition of Done may need to expand to include additional regression testing for each PBI. Or, the Scrum team might include additional code reviews in their Definition of Done. Teams could also consider adopting extreme programming tactics such as pair programming or other practices to address quality issues. A robust Definition of Done can prevent the creation of new production support issues.
#3 Make production support work visible
If a Scrum Team conducts a lot of production support, the Product Owner sometimes has an agreement with the Developers about some types of routine items going directly to the Developers without first ordering them on the Product Backlog. While this can reduce administrative burden on the Product Owner and Developers, the Scrum Team loses some transparency and visibility into the type and volume of production support work. To add greater transparency, the Scrum Team may consider revisiting their processes to determine a size threshold above which items should be added to the Product Backlog for the Product Owner’s review (e.g., “If a task will take more than X amount of time or effort, we will work with the Product Owner to add it to the Product Backlog). Or, the Scrum team may consider adding all production support work to the Sprint Backlog for a single Sprint just to add some transparency to the amount of Production Support work which is really happening.
I once worked with a Scrum Team that was spending more than 50% of their time on production support work without even realizing it! When the team started visualizing all production support work for a single Sprint on the Sprint Backlog, they realized how much time they were losing. They were able to discuss this in their next Retrospective. As a result, they started to push back on stakeholders requesting feature development under the guise of production support, and the Product Owner was able to work with stakeholders to order all work on the Product Backlog. Don’t let production support get away from you and take up all of your Scrum Team’s capacity.
#4 Leave some capacity free
Another way that Scrum Teams can manage production support is by not assigning some team members to any PBIs or leaving some team capacity free when planning the Sprint. This way, the team can dedicate some Sprint time to managing production support work For example, if the team has four members, they might only allocate three to PBIs and leave one member to focus on production support tasks.
This approach allows the team to reduce interruptions, but the downside is that it may reduce the impetus for the Scrum Team to proactively work on ways to reduce the production support burden in the long term. Note the team must ensure that the person(s) assigned to production support tasks still collaborates and communicates with the rest of the team on product-related issues.
Managing production support tasks in Scrum can be a challenge, but the Scrum Team can use the framework itself to help them tackle it. By adding fixes to common production support issues to the Product Backlog, the Scrum Team can reduce their own production support burden. By updating the Definition of Done to address the root cause of common production support issues, the Scrum Team can prevent the creation of new production support work in the future.
Production support is necessary to keep customers and stakeholders happy and to ensure that the product operates smoothly. By managing production support effectively, the team can reduce its burden while also increasing product quality.
Do you want to enhance your Scrum Team’s effectiveness? Contact Rebel Scrum to learn more about private Scrum training options customized for your organization.
Scrum Day 2023
Scrum is a framework that helps teams practice continuous improvement. It requires constant focus and sometimes we all need a reminder that Scrum is a team sport. We rely upon each other to continue to focus on how to get better every day. That constant focus needs a little bit of momentum. Get excited about Scrum at Wisconsin's first Scrum Day conference, scheduled for September 14, 2023, in Madison, Wisconsin.