Scrum Artifacts: How They Apply to the Real World

The importance of transparency in product development really can’t be overstated. Transparency, of course, can mean a lot of different things in different contexts. In Scrum, the most important way to understand the concept is by thinking through the lens of empiricism.

Scrum is a system by which teams can reliably generate value for stakeholders quickly and in an adaptable, empirically sensitive way. That means value must be measurable and must be available for inspection by all members of a Scrum Team, allowing the team to adapt to changing circumstances as needed. Value, that is, must be transparent.

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Scrum Artifacts are representations of value and completed work that are formulated and acted upon by a Scrum Team. Think of them as transparent and inspectable items that, when put together in the right way, lead toward the Product Goal. Scrum Artifacts are essential for the success of Scrum. Here, we go into detail about what they are and how they apply in real scenarios.

What Are Scrum Artifacts?

As detailed in the Scrum Guide, there are three Scrum Artifacts, each with an associated commitment. Commitments are best understood as providing clarity and transparency for each artifact, making a true empirical approach possible and ultimately aiding progress toward the Product Goal.

1. Product Backlog

The first Scrum Artifact is the Product Backlog. The Product Backlog is a list of characteristics, problems to solve, or features that the product needs and is ordered by the Product Owner to maximize the product’s value. . The Product Backlog emerges as the Scrum Team engages with stakeholders (via the Product Owner) to understand potential properties and functionalities.

The Product Backlog is refined through a process of functional decomposition in which particular backlog items come to be understood in a more fine-grained way and are further broken down into smaller, more precise parts. The goal is to specify many smallchunks of work that can be Done during a Sprint. In Sprint Planning, these Ready Product Backlog items are ready to plan since they are small enough to fit into a Sprint and the developers know what needs to be done to get the requests up to the level of quality described by their Definition of Done..

The commitment associated with the Product Backlog is the Product Goal. The Product Goal is a description of the (future) version of the product that serves as an objective against which the Scrum Team can plan future Sprints. The Product Backlog is then formulated as a way for the team to determine what needs to be completed to fulfill the Product Goal.

2. Sprint Backlog

The Sprint Backlog and the Product Backlog, though related, really are quite distinct. The Sprint Backlog has several components. First, the Scrum Team must specify a subset of items from the Product Backlog that can be Done during a Sprint.  Next, the team must specify a Sprint Goal and a plan of action for delivering the associated Increment.

The Sprint Goal specifies the target outcome (why). The Product Backlog items give the Scrum Team an idea of what needs to be achieved during the Sprint,and the plan details how the outcome will be achieved. The Sprint Backlog is essentially a plan that Developers come up with to achieve the Sprint Goal. It is designed to be completely transparent and adaptable as a Sprint unfolds. Developers should monitor their progress toward the Sprint Goal during every Daily Scrum.

The commitment associated with the Sprint Backlog is the Sprint Goal. This is, perhaps, intuitive, as the Sprint Goal is the target outcome for the Sprint. As such, the Sprint Goal isn’t mutable (unlike the Sprint Backlog). It is the objective for the Sprint and can be seen as a kind of guiding star toward which the Developers are flexibly moving (via the Sprint Backlog).

3. Increment

The final Scrum Artifact is the Increment. In Scrum, an Increment is the new releasable version of your product..that has been formally, measurably achieved. Increments thus constitute discrete steps on the path to the Product Goal.

A single Sprint may be composed of multiple Increments. Increments achieved during a Sprint are made transparent and inspected during Sprint Review. But how do the team and stakeholders know when an Increment is really done?

That’s where the associated commitment comes into play: the Definition of Done. The Definition of Done is a description of what must be done to a Product Backlog item for it to become an Increment. It reflects quality and releasability required for the product. Understanding the baseline of quality for your product requires asking the right questions, especially from stakeholders.

Once a Definition of Done has been worked out by the organization and/or the Scrum Team, it serves as a non-negotiable standard for every deliverable that comes about as a result of a Sprint. Making these standards transparent requires documenting your Definition of Done and keeping the definition updated as the overall context of your product inevitably changes.

What Scrum Artifacts Look Like In Real Life

Managing and delivering Scrum Artifacts is of vital importance for a Scrum Team’s success in fulfilling the Product Goal. Understanding how all the pieces fit together causally is just the first step. The next is to understand how different accountabilities within the Scrum Team engage with each of the artifacts.

The Product Backlog cannot be understood apart from the Product Goal. The Product Goal relies on a solid product vision. The Product Goal is thus heavily indebted to information coming from end-users and other stakeholders outside the Scrum Team. The Product Owner, therefore, has a very important role to play in specifying the Product Goal and in managing the ordering of the Product Backlog.

Sprint Backlogs include detailed plans that are originated and acted upon by the Developers. Increments constitute deliverables that can be provided to stakeholders at any moment, even while a particular Sprint is ongoing.

With this structure in mind, what becomes apparent is that Scrum Artifacts play a key role in an empirically informed, transparent, and cyclical development process. Stakeholder considerations strongly influence the Product Goal, which shapes the Product Backlog. Sprints are just containers of time and within that time Sprint Backlogs are turned into Done increments providing the option to release. These increments are concrete stepping stones toward accomplishing the Product Goal. We make the increment transparent in the Sprint Review to allow for our stakeholders to inspect the increment and work with the Scrum Team to adapt the Product Backlog. 

Learn How to Apply Scrum Artifacts

Scrum, despite its reputation for being a lightweight approach to Agile product development, has many moving parts and each of them is essential if you want to practice true Scrum (as opposed to something that merely resembles it – Fake Scrum).

Scrum Artifacts are an essential part of the Scrum product development process. As you might imagine, understanding how to formulate, measure, concatenate, and deliver bits of value during product development would be difficult with only a cursory understanding of Scrum. Imagine a first-year med student trying to conduct brain surgery. That’s akin to someone who doesn’t have a proper understanding of Scrum Artifacts trying to deliver real value to stakeholders.

Don’t be that guy; train with the experts. Responsive Advisors has a foundational understanding of Scrum Artifacts, their role in product development, and how they fit into the Scrum framework writ large. We lead Scrum training sessions that cover it all, from accountabilities to Scrum Artifacts and more. More importantly, we don’t waste time worrying about the fact that you aren’t wearing a suit or that your dog has just decided to play with her squeaky toy in the background.  

We offer modern, cutting-edge classes that will help you master the ins and outs of product development and adapt them to the needs of your organization. Training doesn’t have to be boring, and we go out of our way to make sure it isn’t by bringing our experience and expertise to the table, whether or not we’re wearing pants is left to the imagination.

Greg Crown

Likes baking, craft beer, whisk(e)y & beaches.
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