When it comes to understanding product needs, the players learned a needed lesson in setting priorities (the second purpose of the game)—namely that it’s important to resist the urge to prioritize requirements too soon. Instead, you should learn more about the stakeholders and their needs before making delivery decisions. You can organize the backlog in different ways, and each has benefits and drawbacks that you need to identify and analyze. When you delay prioritizing, it lets you “walk around” the product needs, looking at them from different perspectives.
It also helps you remain open to discovering dependencies among the requirements. Interestingly, we overheard only one of the fourteen teams discuss this topic during each game round. But, we know that requirements interdependencies are a virtual certainty in most projects, and the longer they go unrecognized, the more headaches you’ll have.
Speaking of remaining open, the gamers also learned that the persona you analyze first can mislead you, prematurely narrowing your thinking about the requirements. You can also cramp your process by reducing the number of personas you invite to the party. As facilitators, we noticed that the participants stuck only with the personas we provided, although during the retrospective several people spoke about other roles or personas.
When team members are open to discovery, the very act of collaborating to organize the backlog—discussing, sorting, and evaluating various stakeholders’ needs—helps build the project community.
What We Reaped
After the event, we conducted our facilitators’ retrospective and learned some key lessons.
First, when you’re exploring product needs, evaluate time as a factor. For each backlog item, factor how time:
- Erodes (or increases) the value of the delivered requirement
- Increases (or reduces) the cost to deliver
- Alters implementation options (because of emerging technologies)
- Heightens the need to retire older technologies
Second, always take into account how the backlog is affected by regulations and policies.There is a cost for noncompliance, such as fines and negative market perception. Consider the probability that changes in regulations will devalue the implementation of a given set of requirements. And, if your business has volatile business rules, consider the value of separating rules from requirements to enable business capability and agility.
A Welcome Windfall
Moments before the groups debriefed their last round of play, we realized there was another learning opportunity: cross-persona theme analysis.
Here’s a bit of background. During each of the four persona rounds, the players had used uniquely colored index cards to label themes (or categories) of the backlog items for each persona. For example, the farmer’s category cards were blue, the land owner’s category cards were yellow, and so on.
At the end of the four rounds, we noticed the colored cards strewn on the tables, and we wondered what would happen if we asked the teams to cluster the entire set and order them according to importance. We decided to take a chance and go for it.