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What is an increment in Scrum and how do you measure its success?

What is an increment in Scrum and how do you measure its success?

The increment is the thing you are building. Technically, a product increment is achieved every time a product backlog item is completed in alignment with its own specific ‘definition of done’.

The increment is the sum of all the work you have done and all previous work that meets the requirements of the ‘definition of done’ agreed by the product owner and product stakeholders.

Just think of an increment as the product that you are building.

It isn’t all the things that you are currently working on, it is exclusively those things which have already been completed and signed off as meeting the standard required because that is the ‘thing’ that you could give to your customer.

How do we know if we are building the right thing?

That’s what the increment really boils down to. Are we building a valuable product or creating a valued solution for the customer and product stakeholders?

Value is an interesting one.

We usually have a product owner who is in all likelihood a representative for the customer but is not the customer themselves.

If you are dealing with the customer themselves, it is really easy to define value, we simply ask them if what has been delivered meets their requirements and whether they are satisfied with the product.

But more often than not, the team will be working with product stakeholders and product owners so defining value is a little harder. Value is something which is derived from a user or consumer, it is not something that you deliver.

Perception is reality in the product space and how a customer perceives value varies a great deal.

Value is in the eye of a beholder. I will look at something and determine for myself whether that thing has value to me or not. I will consider and evaluate a product and arrive at a conclusion, based on my own personal influences and requirements, as to whether I value that product or not.

You can’t tell me whether it is valuable or not. You could put down the most valuable golden tiara in front of me and because I have no need for it and because it doesn’t solve any problem that I may have, it is of no use to me personally and as such, holds little value.

So, when we are thinking about whether or not we are building the right product increment or invested in solving the most valuable problems, we need to consider that element of value and how it is perceived by our customers and product stakeholders.

The only true way to know whether you are building the right product or not is to talk directly to the customer. Checking with them whether it is solving their specific problems or not? Does it meet their specific requirements and is it creating value for them?

You also need to know whether you are still solving the right problems. Have the customer’s needs shifted or have new variables surfaced that mean we need to adapt and respond to meet those new requirements?

So, value is very much something from your customer’s perspective and knowing whether or not your product increment is a success is going to be determined by your customer and product stakeholders.

When you are building a product, you develop a hypothesis. You believe that building this element or solving this specific problem is going to be valuable to your customers and make the product even more successful in its marketplace.

Your hypothesis means that of all the things you could do or all the problems you could solve, the one you are currently invested in is the most valuable to the team as well as the customer.

In my experience, the great teams measure that.

They actively measure customer satisfaction and whether they are consistently building the most valuable product within the timeframes available to them.

They use a value measure as they work towards creating the product but they also understand that they have a hypothesis and the end result will determine whether they have proved or disproved their hypothesis.

They create ways of checking whether or not their customers are truly deriving value from the product they are building and that what they are building is the most valuable thing for the customer.

Remember, sometimes even your customers are operating under assumptions. They don’t have the answer and they are also working from a hypothesis rather than from a factual, evidence-driven base.

They imagine that this new feature will make the product even more valuable to them. They believe that solving X problem will lead to greater opportunities for them. But they don’t always know for sure that this will be the case, so you need to bear that in mind.

You are building the thing that will test that hypothesis and prove whether it delivers value to the customer or not. Once it has been built and shipped, that may be the first time that you receive any feedback as to whether your product goal has been achieved or not.

So, you need to be having those conversations with customers and understanding whether you are solving their most compelling problems and delivering a product that allows them to do the jobs they are trying to complete.

You are also trying to understand whether it is even possible to achieve that goal or not. Sometimes, it simply isn’t possible given the team’s knowledge, skills or technology so you also need to bear that in mind when thinking about how to create value for customers.

Having regular conversations with customers and determining value metrics is the only way you can measure whether you are building the right thing or not, and whether the product increment that has been delivered is a success.

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author avatar
John McFadyen Managing Partner
John McFadyen is an Executive and Enterprise Agile Coach with proven experience working on some of the UK and Europe’s largest, most complex Agile Transformations. As a Certified Scrum Trainer, John brings a wealth of experience as an Agile coach, Agile practitioner and software developer into each of the four core courses he provides. The war stories, the insights into successful Agile transformations and everything he has learned from coaching high-performance Agile teams combine to provide course delegates with a unique, compelling training experience that transforms as much as it empowers.

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