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Prioritizing Technical Matters Within Scrum

Roadmap
Prioritization
Agile / Scrum

11 June, 2020

Stefan Gruber
Stefan Gruber

VP of Engineering at Bitmovin

Stefan Gruber, VP of Engineering at Bitmovin, describes when he decided to introduce Scrum into his organization and the moment he realized that tech items were left off the priority list for engineering.

Problem

Shortly after I joined a company I introduced the Agile process Scrum. I think that every change you introduce to a company can be tricky, and this was no exception. A year and a half after the initial roll out, we were still facing some problems. The major issue we were having was that it appeared that all technical matters got left behind. It was my responsibility to bring those back to the forefront.

Actions taken

Before introducing Scrum to the organization, engineering had determined all prioritization. Others would scream and push for what they thought was important and whoever was the loudest received the privilege of being at the top. Transitioning to Scrum, though, put all of this power in the hands of Product. They became the owners of the backlogs and decided what needed to be worked on, whether something needed immediate attention or could be delayed.

However, this meant that all of the tech items were left out of engineering’s priority list. No one had advocated for technical matters or pushed them up the list of priorities. We only discovered it a year and a half later when we weren’t successfully getting story points in Sprint. As a result, there were times when engineering needed to quickly switch context and urgently work on something, otherwise we would break down.

Therefore, once the problem was identified, we started introducing tech items into the regular release cycle and they became part of the process of prioritization. This meant that the team could plan their work ahead of time and were thus more reliable, allowed them to work more effectively because they weren’t having to context-switch as often, and improved delivering on an amount of promised features in the delegated time frame.

Lessons learned

  • Backlogs, tech items, and tech debt should not be left out of Sprint cycles or off the priority list, otherwise you will face problems later on and be forced to push them to the highest priority. Instead, include them early on and within each cycle.
  • Scrum is a wonderful process, if you know the problem you are trying to solve, otherwise you don’t need to introduce it. Once you have found that there is a problem and that you need to do something about it, identify your options and choose the best fit. For us, we had a problem with chaos in the company because there were no regular release cycles and no process for prioritization. For this reason, Scrum was our best option.

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