By Anton Vanhoucke

The Backlog Refinement process of a Submarine Captain

In this post, we apply the extraordinary leadership of Captain David Marquet, as detailed in his book “Turn the Ship Around,”1 to backlog refinement. Read on to transform the way your team interacts and works.

Steering the Agile Submarine

Expressing Goals, Not Solutions in your backlog refinement process

Captain Marquet’s approach was groundbreaking. He refused to give orders and limited himself to expressing the end goal, refraining from dictating solutions. This shift empowered his crew, fostering a sense of ownership and responsibility. How does this apply to backlog refinement in Agile? Like a submarine captain, a Product Owner should articulate the ‘what’ and ‘why’ of backlog items, leaving the ‘how’ to the development team. This approach encourages a vibrant, solution-focused discussion among developers, unleashing their creativity and expertise.

“Don’t Brief, Certify” Technique

In “Turn the Ship Around,” Marquet introduces the “Don’t Brief, Certify” technique. Instead of giving detailed briefings, he certified the crew’s understanding and readiness. Applying this to Agile, during backlog refinement sessions, the Product Owner ensures that the team comprehensively understands each item. It’s not about instructing; it’s about confirming that the team is equipped with the knowledge to proceed.

The Power of Engaging Conversations during Backlog Refinement

Backlog refinement then becomes a platform for engaging conversations about solutions. The team collaboratively discusses and dissects each backlog item, offering diverse perspectives. This process not only ensures a deeper understanding but also enhances commitment to the solutions devised.

Maintaining Grip: Short Early Conversations

Captain Marquet’s technique of “short early conversations” right before execution is another gem. In Agile, this translates to the Product Owner having brief, focused discussions with the team just before they start working on backlog items. These conversations serve as a final check-in, ensuring alignment and clarity.

Curiosity instead of questioning

For Product Owners, it’s crucial to approach these conversations with curiosity, not interrogation. Asking open-ended questions and listening actively demonstrates trust in the team’s capabilities. It’s about seeking to understand, not to question their competence.

Conclusion: let the team figure it out

Implementing these techniques in backlog refinement can significantly enhance team dynamics and efficiency. By adopting a goal-focused approach, encouraging engaging solution discussions, and maintaining alignment through short, early conversations, Product Owners can lead their teams to greater depths of success.

Dive Deeper with Expert Guidance

If these strategies don’t resolve your backlog refinement challenges, the issue may lie deeper. Don’t navigate these waters alone. Contact Anton Vanhoucke, an expert in Agile and Scrum practices, to explore tailored solutions for your team’s unique needs. With Anton’s guidance, you can turn your Agile submarine into a powerhouse of productivity and innovation.

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