A data-driven roadmap with feedback

Jan 23rd, 2017 by Lieuwe van Brug

The agile scrum focuses on translating the a roadmap to a backlog to create the product. But creating a good backlog based on the right priorities and sensible choices made by the business side of your company. The business decides. Don’t get me wrong, that's in essence not a bad thing. But there is more to it: How are the choices made? Where are they based on? What are the priorities chosen and why?

In the past years, I've worked in more than a few Agile Scrum projects. So I am often involved in refining the backlog. What I've noticed is that choices are mostly made based on a project plan, release planning or sometimes only on a gut feeling. That always bothered me. The backlog is the real steering wheel of a project or product that is being build. So choices should not be made lightly. Agile is about building the right thing. So you want to make sure you'll put the right things on the top of the backlog and to be agile in changing if needed.

A few years back I discovered “The Lean Startup” written by Eric Ries. In this book he widens the view on the whole Agile process and suggests that the end user should have a big say in what to build. Really learn from your users and that should impact the priorities of your backlog. Of course “The Lean Startup” is mostly about new ideas and how to learn from the customer to build the right things (and find proof validating all assumptions, but that’s another discussion). But in the process of evolving your product and where you need to make choices in the backlog priorities, shouldn't the end user have a big influence on that?

Of course it should. And there are a number of ways to do that. Think about customer experience centre’s or support desks or your sales organization talking to (potential) customers all the time. Wouldn’t it be great if you could use all of that information and use it to make well informed choices? That information is often stored in CRM systems, Cx systems or Support systems. And is often not connected in any way with the backlog systems that agile teams use.

So how can you use all of that information? If you think about it, probably you could learn a couple of things of the information in your experience centre/support or sales systems:

  1. Errors in your products and/or service. This one is obvious, of course, and easy to put on your backlog. The more people find fault and the bigger the error, the higher is should show up on the backlog
  2. Learn about your customers wishes, pains and jobs. This is an important one. It enriches the profile of your customer, the persona. And if you know your customer well (and of course you do), maybe you already guest it, this is the proof that your right. In other words, it supports your assumption you made in delivering a solution in your product for it. If you look for the same kind of information in all of your feedback, then your priority choices can really be data driven choices.
  3. Last, but not least, new ideas come also from customers. Because your customers do work with your product all of the time, they might come up with things you could never dream of. So if you'll collect them and look for the ideas that are mentioned by multiple customers and could be a factor in your decision on priority. So again, data driven choices.

The first one is probably already put on the backlog from the support desk. But the persona data and new ideas are probably just sitting there going to waste. So it would be a good thing if we could connect that information and structure it around ideas that deliver value for our personas. In order to do this, I've created Lerni. To be serious about collecting ideas and support it with data learned about the customers: your customers. Lerni will take raw data and bind it together with new ideas or personas to influence the priority calculations. So that the product owner can make data driven choices. In the end it will always be your own choice, not made by a system. This is a big step to make decisions, to make your decisions well informed.

If you also have an opinion on this subject, please comment or contact me. I would like to get in touch to have a chat.

Lieuwe van Brug

Lieuwe van Brug


Agile architect, coach, scrum master and developer with a lot of years of experience in different combination roles. Passionate in making ideas a reality. Good ideas and a good open environment with the right people make the impossible, possible. Creativity, the right technology and an open team spirit are perfect to get it done in this time of innovation.