How to use Product Prototyping Workshops to Estimate your Product Backlog

Terminology

A prototype is an early version of a feature product or functionality. A prototype is like a sample of what the full solution will be. Usually, the prototypes are used for testing future products before building them, receive feedback, funding, or as the reference point for mass production and scaling. The prototypes can be in multiple shares and magnitude: from paper, digital, lego, small scale, real size, and so on.

Product Roadmap — a team effort

The product owner makes the product roadmap. The product owner is responsible for splitting the product roadmap into user stories and order them by the customer value: the highest value on the top of the backlog.

If you want to build a realistic product roadmap, involving the team is a must. In this article, I’m sharing how do I include the tribes in refining the product roadmap using the prototyping workshop technique.

From an Agile perspective, I use this technique to demystify the features from the product backlog and to provide to the development team deep insights on the implementation effort of the features. On the other hand, companies can use the Prototyping Workshop to gather feedback from the users and finances from the investors.

By involving the development team in prototyping, the Product Owner is making them part of the product and the decisions making process. That will automatically result in a more committed team and higher performance. Taking time to research and to explore continuous improvement is a substantial benefit any Product Owner should give to the multidisciplinary scrum teams.

What is the output of the Prototyping Workshop?

The prototyping workshop must answer to at least one of these questions:

  • What is my technical solution the team will implement for the features prototyped? Or what is NOT a technical solution to use?
  • What are the features that I, the Product Owner, need to build?
  • Are my customers interested in my product or features?
  • What is the effort (relative size) of the entire implementation?

At the same time, it is imperative that before closing the workshop, both the multidisciplinary team and Product Owner do the estimation of the effort of each feature and the business value. This information will be used the next day for the prioritization of the backlog: the features which are the most profitable (the highest value over effort rate) are on the top of the backlog.

What do you need for the Prototyping Workshop?

  • A visionary Product Owner and his ideas written on cards
  • A brief explanation of each card
  • The development team with laptops and internet
  • Few experts on specific topics can be handy to find out answers quickly
  • A facilitator or the scrum master
  • A war room — is a dedicated room for the team to assemble
  • Workshop rooms — these are the rooms where the teams can work in teams.
  • Healthy food
  • A Time Timer

What is the agenda of the prototyping workshop?

  • The product owner presents each card briefly to the team
  • While listening to the topics, participants for teams of 2–3 people who are interested in developing a specific topic
  • The goal of the groups is to explore possibilities in the morning and to implement a realistic prototype in the afternoon
  • The teams prepare a demo to the product owner
  • The facilitator or any subjective person is showing the prototypes to the users, while the team takes notes
  • The team estimates the features using affinity sizing.
  • The product owner estimates the business value of the features.

How do we prototype?

There are two types of prototyping:

  • option 1 — fake it, and
  • option 2 — explore technical solutions.

Depending on what your team needs and the above questions the team needs to answer, you might select option 1 or 2.

Fake it allows you to get feedback from the users on a real phony system or can help the product owner to have clarity on requirements

Exploring the technical solutions will provide insides on the technical feasibility of the idea and the effort it will require.

Remember also to do not get into all the implementation details because you are prototyping, and there will be a product backlog refinement session for defining all the features of the version to be implemented.

When and how often should your organization do a Product Prototyping Workshop?

The prototyping workshop should take one full day, and I recommend you use a Friday for it because people are more relaxed, and is an excellent way to change the daily routine.

Depending on your business model, budgeting structure, organizational structure, it can be every 2 to 6 months. You should organize it before Program Increment Planning Meeting if you are in a Scaled Agile environment. If you are a company using investment funds, you should do it at least twice a year.

How complex should a prototype be?

There is always a trade-off between the effort invested in prototyping and the benefits brought by the prototyping results. Before you engage in a prototype session, make sure you define what your goals are. Most often, I use the Product Prototyping Workshop to bring insides in the teams on the realistic estimation of “cost” of functionality and, ideally, the business value the features can bring. For the 2nd one, you’ll need to have a good selection of users for it.

Adaptations for the remote product prototyping workshop:

  • The facilitator must prepare the virtual video conference meeting rooms the day before. I recommend Zoom as it is stable and doesn’t consume much bandwidth.
  • Make sure everyone takes a break
  • Allow lunch break
  • Make a group of work, at least to start with
  • Make sure everyone has the right infrastructure
  • Make it clear what are the features proposed for prototyping and what teams work on which prototypes

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