Increasing Transparency with Index Cards - The Product Backlog

Photo by Chris Campbell

Photo by Chris Campbell

Years ago when I was a relatively new Scrum Master, I found myself struggling to help my team and Product Owner with the product backlog. It was stored in an electronic tool and contained just over 300 items. We could only review a few items in our backlog refinement sessions. When the Product Owner said an item could move down in the product backlog order, I wasn’t sure if she meant I should move it just below what was visible on the projector screen or to the bottom of the backlog. Transparency of the product backlog was a challenge.

Just before that time, a mutual friend introduced me to Gary McCants when we ran into him at a restaurant during lunch. He had a stack of index cards and a Sharpie marker with him as he was working with a Product Owner to write user stories. Gary is a local agile coach/mentor and co-founder of the DFW Scrum user group. I became a member of the group and learned a lot from the meetups. Since I was struggling with a big product backlog, I decided to ask Gary for advice one evening.

Index cards.

That was my takeaway from our conversation: make the backlog visible by putting it on index cards. And so I wrote each backlog item on a card—all 300+ of them. Multiple Sharpies were sacrificed in the process. I taped each card on the wall of the conference room where we held our backlog refinement and sprint planning sessions. And so the next meeting….

“Whoa, what is all this?”

The group finally saw the product backlog in all its glory. Right away, duplicates were discovered and grouped together. Outdated/no longer needed items were tossed. It was incredible. Our Product Owner ordered the top 25 items and moved them to a different wall. The level of engagement and communication was incredibly high—index cards are magical! From that point forward, we used the index cards to have conversations around, and the electronic tool became secondary.

How do you create transparency for your teams?

Allison Pollard

I help people discover their agile instincts and develop their coaching abilities. As an agile coach with Improving in Dallas, I enjoy mentoring others to become great Scrum Masters, coaching managers to grow teams that deliver amazing results, and fostering communities that provide sustainability for agile transformations. In my experience, applying agile methods improves delivery, strengthens relationships, and builds trust between business and IT. A big believer in the power of community-based learning, I grew the DFW Scrum user group significantly over the five years I served as an organizer. I am also a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach, a foodie, and proud glasses wearer.