Small is beautiful for product backlog items

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Small is beautiful for product backlog items

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One of the reasons for having small work items at the top of a product backlog is so the team is able to complete them within a short amount of time. This benefit applies regardless of whether your team is using an iteration-based delivery approach or has adopted a lean continuous flow-based approach.

But what are some of the other benefits of having small work items?

  • While size does not always positively correlate with complexity, usually the smaller a work item, the easier it should be for team members to come to a shared understanding with the work item originator as to what is desired and how they will deliver it.
  • Smaller work items often require less documentation than larger ones.
  • It might be less challenging for team members who are new to test driven development to apply this practice for small work items.
  • If the team is using an iteration-based approach, the probability of getting a higher percentage of completed work items is greater if they forecast a larger number of small work items in an iteration as opposed to a smaller number of large ones.
  • The amount of re-work or wasted effort involved if a particular work item does not meet general or quality requirements should be lower.
  • If most work items for a release are small “enough”, the team has the ability to skip the use of story points or some other relative sizing method in favor of just tracking how many work items they can complete within a given amount of time.
  • Finally, splitting a large work item into small pieces provides greater feature choice to product owners when prioritizing the backlog.

But before slicing our work items too small, we need to remember that size is just one of the criteria provided by Bill Wake when he came up with the INVEST acronym for assessing how good a story is. A work item which is too small might not be sufficient independent or provide value to a stakeholder.

But keeping these caveats in mind, good things come in small packages.

Posted on: November 24, 2019 06:59 AM | Permalink

Comments (14)

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Dear Kiron
Interesting your perspective
Thanks for sharing
To what extent can the notion of the whole be lost when decomposed in its parts?

The tree is not the forest

Thanks Luis - this is the importance of establishing a vision which stakeholders all have a shared buy-in and understanding of at the onset, and then considering the use of techniques such as story mapping as a means of ensuring that the individual work items fit within the context of the overall product/project.

Dear Kiron
After your comment, I can only say that we are perfectly in tune
Thanks for sharing


Great Piece. I agree with and would add that smaller work items. enhances transparency and validate assumptions faster by more frequent release and feedback.


Thanks, Kiron.
Story points are simply a mechanism to help the team understand what they can bring in for a given sprint. How many big, medium, and small work items? Once the team is matured, realistically not much need to size stories. Regardless, the least amount of work that can be done to deliver something that can be reviewed to support the feedback cycle, e.g. inspect & adapt, the better. Accelerating the feedback loop with smaller efforts will help reduce waste.

Wonderful suggestions to accomplish bigger task in this manner with great ease and control. Thanks Kiron!!

As always, thanks for sharing this information with us. It's a great reminder that small wins add up to big rewards.

Thank you for sharing this.

Great Informative post Kiron, as usual !

Thanks Kiron.
To others (because I know Kiron knows this, just didn't put it in the blog), I'd suggest one way of keeping the big picture is to use Minimum Business Increments.
this reverses the normal Agle method of creating stories and trying to combine them. We have found that focusing on small deliverable items that will achieve value to be the best.

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