Backlog: Analyze Problems First

Benefits of Problem Analysis

The big question for PSPO is how to discover user stories and gather information about them. SCRUM itself does not offer a good toolkit for requirements analysis, but we can choose an appropriate tool as long as the tool and its application support SCRUM pillars and values.
I want to discuss an excellent old method called Problem Analysis from the Unified Process. The idea is to understand the stakeholders’ problems first. There are a few reasons why:

1) The customers and users never use our products just because the products are full of features. They always try to solve their problems with the help of our product. And that problem solving is the only real goal of our product. Only the ability to solve the problem would define whether our product will succeed.

Using problems will support two pillars of SCRUM

a) Every team member has a better understanding of why the users need this functionality. So, transparency is improved.

b) We can use the problems as the ultimate way to validate our products and so improve inspections of our product.

2) Typically, a PSPO tries to discover some vision of how stakeholders will use the product.
Unfortunately, few people can foresee the features of a proper solution and express it to the team. SCRUM helps a lot with regular inspections, exploiting the fact that it is easier for stakeholders to criticize a release rather than describe an ideal solution from the first attempt.

But we can improve it even more. The problem is something that stakeholders are experiencing right now, so it is easier for them to describe it, and they are motivated to discuss something that disturbs them right now. That incredibly increases the engagement of stakeholders with the project. The stakeholder also more often consider PSPO as an ally and aid, instead of viewing he or her as an annoying disturber. The difference is between “let’s talk what worries you” and “please give me answers to a million questions you don’t want to, have no time, ability, and desire to answer.”

This attitude supports focus and openness values and helps the team to improve their commitment and challenges their courage to solve customer’s problems.

How to Analyse a Problem

The Unified Process recommends analyzing the problem using the following pattern.

1) Each problem must have an owner. The problem owner may be a person of a group of people, but it is always a real person, not a role or any other abstract representation.

2) There should be a clear vision of the current situation. We define the clear vision as a set of visible and measurable attributes. An attribute does not have to be objectively measurable, but we must understand that subjective measuring makes it harder to identify the situation without involving stakeholders.

3) There should be a clear vision of the desired situation. We mustn’t discuss any particular solution to the problem. All we need is a set of measurable characteristics of the situation when the stakeholder will consider the problem solved.

4) We must ensure that the owner has the will and intent and to solve the problem. You’ll be surprised how often people like to complain, having no desire to improve the situation. In case the owner is not committed to solving the problem, the team efforts will not be appreciated as the team may expect.

I suggest that if you have limited resources and time to prepare the requirements, the set of problems will be the best investment, and the project team and customers will benefit from it more than from any other kind of requirements. Otherwise, it is a perfect start point to engage stakeholders into the project.

About Author

My name is Nikolay Gekht, and I am the CTO of Gehtsoft USA, a salted project and product manager with 20+ years of experience in creating products and establishing development processed under Unified Process, Scrum and DevOps.

This article is a part of my course “Requirement Management using Object-Oriented Analysis and Elements of Unified Process”. I have been delivering this course for the past 15 years and prepared dozens of highly-qualified analysts and product owners.

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