The Significance of Feature Traceability for Product Owners

Every backlog item must be traceable back to its source. Giving the team context as to why they’re developing each feature will help members develop the feature mindfully. If the value of the feature regarding its relevance to the company goals and desired outcomes are not recognized by the teams, the feature may underperform or become a waste of time and resources. Directly showing members a slice of the Story Map can help in members’ education and understanding of the intent behind their efforts. Once members understand the intention, they may find that motivation and creativity come more naturally.


When the Product Owner can trace the desired outcome for each backlog item as part of the Definition of Ready, the prioritization process changes. Once the only features in the backlog are features that can directly impact the desired outcome without feature redundancy, all features in the backlog are to be considered essential. This means that prioritization becomes about which items are more essential than others.


Without feature traceability, the priority becomes a matter of subjective relevance that fails to consider the essentiality of a feature and the outcome it will create. This relates to the primary role of the Product Owner. Prioritization requires a plethora of considerations and will take most of the Product Owner’s time. This time requirement can be a deterrent for some Product Owners, leading to some aspects of prioritization being overlooked. If the Product Owner ignores the traceability, the Product Owner may lose sight of the relation of the backlog items to the desired outcome, leading to ineffective output.


The tenth principle of Agile is simplicity - “the art of maximizing the amount of work not done”. This principle should also be kept in mind and balanced with the necessity for extensive backlog refinement. If done correctly, these two ideas can go hand-in-hand with each other. The Product Owner is the most important person to implement this principle.


If prioritization is not done with traceability being considered, this idea of simplicity becomes impossible for the team. If items are not properly prioritized, reworks or new features may need to be added to compensate for an outcome that was not met. The way the Product Owner feeds work to the team implies whether items are overcomplicated, underdefined, or properly simplistic.


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