A recent posting on deutschescrum brought up an interesting question: How much visioning is necessary in Scrum? Even though I find it impossible to give a general, precise and accurate answer, there are two main factors that influence the time and effort necessary to create the product vision and the initial product backlog: the product's lifecycle stage, and its complexity.
The younger a product is, the more visioning work tends to be required. A new-product development project may spend several weeks creating the product vision and carrying out necessary prep work such as creating prototypes to explore product design and architecture options. Contrast this with an incremental upgrade of a mature product that may only require a few days of visioning work. The same applies to complexity: The more complex a product is, the more visioning time and effort is usually necessary. Note that complexity comprises not only the internals of the product – its architecture and technology – but also the functionality provided.
When determining your visioning effort, avoid two common mistakes: Don’t rush into the first sprint without having agreed on an overarching goal, without understanding what the future product will roughly look like and do. At the same token, avoid overdoing the visioning work. There is no way to guarantee that the vision is correct, that the new product or next product version will be a certain success. For anyone not blessed with perfect foresight, predicting the future correctly is notoriously difficult; no market research technique can deliver forecasts that are 100% accurate.
I therefore recommend you keep the visioning time and effort to a minimum. Do as little as possible, but as much as necessary. To find the sweet spot, try the following: First, focus on the customer needs and the three to five top features of the product. Second, envision the minimum marketable product – a product with the least amount of functionality that still has a clear value proposition. Third, quickly implement the product vision and gather customer and user feedback on early product increments to validate and refine the vision. And last but not least, reduce complexity by creating a simple product – a product that is easy to use and easy to extend and maintain.
Find out more about visioning in my book Agile Product Management with Scrum or by attending one of my upcoming product owner classes.