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The importance of Transparency and the Sprint Backlog (07)

February 2, 2023

Scrum is founded on empirical process control, and transparency is one of the three pillars.

Each of the Scrum Artifacts exist to bring transparency to the Scrum Team and the stakeholders. If you feel that there is a lack of transparency for any aspect of your initiative, have a good look with your team at your Artifacts.

Note: transparency is way more than bringing “visibility”. It is about reaching ”a common understanding”.

Let’s take the Sprint Backlog.

Common understanding about what? 

Why are we even doing this Sprint?
It is important for a team to know why they are investing time and effort in something. Understanding the goal for a Sprint allows the team to take ownership. It allows them to take decisions (e.g. wait with this item as it is less important for our current goal, but we need to add that item because without it the goal will not be reached).

What Product Backlog Items are selected for this Sprint?
Have you ever had that it is not really clear what needs to be delivered to achieve a goal? Then here you go, bring more transparency through your Sprint Backlog. Have a clear view on which Product Backlog items are needed to reach the Sprint Goal, the WHY, for this Sprint.

What work do we see to deliver the Product Increment and the Sprint Goal? How will we approach this?
I often see Scrum Teams selecting Product Backlog items that are important to reach the Sprint Goal. Yet the team does not discuss and agree how they will deliver these items. What areas of the product have to change? Are there attention points in these areas? Are there new modules to be developed? How should these integrate with the current product version? Etc. The result of not discussing this HOW, is often that items are not delivered, not integrated, or not finished according the expected quality levels. Agree on this. And show it in your Sprint Backlog.

What process improvement will we address during this Sprint?
The Sprint Retrospective is normally just finished (well maybe you had an evening or weekend in between). Take the agreed actionable improvements with you. Don't overlook this is work for the team. Make these items visible. Through your Sprint Backlog. We all know what happens with work that is not made visible... It doesn't happen.

What is work remaining for the Done Increment and the Sprint Goal?
If the earlier points are addressed, this is a matter of keeping the Sprint Backlog up to date and you're just fine.

Show trends of remaining work day after day. This brings transparency in the likelihood of achieving this goal by the end of the Sprint. And day after day is the lowest frequency. I prefer that teams update their Sprint Backlog whenever something changes. For example, if a work item is finished, then immediately make this visible in the Sprint Backlog. If work on a new item is started, then make this immediately visible. If there is a blocker on an item, don't wait to make it visible on the Sprint Backlog.


Common understanding amongst who?
Amongst the entire Scrum Team.
Note though that it is expected that only the Developers make the necessary updates. A Product Owner should be able to understand the progress during the Sprint, but is not expected to - on his own - start adding or removing items from the Sprint Backlog. Same goes for the Scrum Master.


Now have a look at the earlier posts about Transparency during the Scrum Events. During which of the Scrum Events will you use your Sprint Backlog to raise transparency? Really, probably during all of them, yet certainly during Sprint Planning and the Daily Scrum. 


Prompt: With your entire team, including the Product Owner, have a look at your Sprint Backlog. What does it tell you? What do people understand about what's coming in the next Increment of your product/service? What does your Sprint Backlog tell about the progress toward this next Increment? What do you agree as one team to improve the understanding about the Sprint Backlog?


Your Sprint Backlog is expected to bring a common understanding about the remaining work to implement your next Product Increment, and this for the entire Scrum Team.


Have a conversation with your team about

  • What does Transparency mean to you and your team?
  • And how do you and your team raise Transparency using the Sprint Backlog? How can you improve on this?


I hope you find value in these short posts and if you are looking for more clarifications, feel free to take contact.

If you want to take a deeper dive into the core concepts we are covering in this blog series, then surely check out our Professional Scrum MasterY workshop. We have some scheduled in the coming period.

Don't want to miss any of these blog posts? Have the professional Scrum foundations series weekly in your mailbox.


How the Sprint Backlog supports Transparency

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