Lutz Mueller 

July 27, 2020

By the end of this article, you know what kind of value exists and you can identify user stories with little or no value. This helps you applying some ‘backlog hygiene’ and remove unnecessary items of your product backlog. Your backlog becomes manageable and you will maximize the value of your product.

What is Value?

Let’s have a look at a definition of value from dictionary.com:

This definition is quite vague for our needs regarding the value of user stories. So let’s have a look at concrete types of value for user stories and requirements in general.

What Types of Value Exists?

1. Increase Revenue

This type is quite common: Adding new features to an existing product might increase revenue as customers will pay more money if those features are available.

Example: Netflix Pricing

Imagine a user story providing streaming in HD quality. People are willing to pay more than the basic subscription to get access to HD streaming. This results in increased revenue for Netflix.

2. Avoid Costs

Avoiding costs provides value. Not always customer value, but the most value to the company. Remember: You still work in a company which wants to increase profits. Avoiding costs are proven ways to increase profits.

Example: ATM

A very long time ago, you could only withdraw money from your bank account by going into your local bank to the desk and ask for a withdrawal. The bank had to pay a lot of employees to provide this service. With ATMs, banks were able to save a lot of money and avoid costs as they don’t have to pay machines a salary. Besides, the service improved as bank customers could withdraw money 24/7.

3. Improve Service

If your user story describes an improvement to existing services and capabilities of your product, you can be sure to add value.

Example: MS Teams – Increasing the number of simultaneous videos

Before this feature has been developed you only could see 4 participants of your virtual meeting simultaneously. This feature has been improved by increasing the number from 4 to 9.

The result: More customers might stay with MS Teams instead of switching to Zoom (which provides viewing 49 participants on a single screen in Gallery View).

4. Meeting Regulations

Whether you want or not, the government may demand, that your product need to support certain capabilities.

Example: Cookie Consent

GDPR requires to have a cookie banner informing website visitors from the EU that you use cookies, why, how, and where their data is used in an easy-to-understand way. The obligation to ask for consent applies only when a visitor from an EU country comes to your website.

5. Generating Information

If you are working agile, certainly you are operating in an uncertain environment. You need to test and try out different things to gather knowledge and insights for better decisions. The knowledge gained is valuable for you as a team or company, because you can make better decisions. Mostly this kind of value is added by a spike, not a user story.

Example: A/B-Testing

A lot of companies use A/B-Testing to identify what kind of user experience resonates the best for their website. The insights and knowledge gained, help them to maximize the (business) value.

Conclusion

The above (not exhaustive) list of types of value a product backlog item can have, will help you to identify items with little or no value. If you identify a user story without one of the value categories above, you might refine this story to add more value or just delete it from your product backlog.

If you are hesitant to delete an item from your backlog, get back to your stakeholders and try to identify the hidden value of the item.

The more obvious the value of a user story ist, the easier it is for your development team to understand the requirement and estimate the user story.

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