The Backlog is in the Eye of the Beholder

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Organization and prioritization are two distinct activities that can be used to improve the quality of a product backlog. A simple linear list is difficult to prioritize. As well, many stakeholders are forgotten in the rush to deliver customer value. See example list of stakeholders. The purpose of this game is to expand the view of multiple stakeholders as well as illuminate the value of organizing the work without prioritizing.

Learning Points

● The value of organizing before prioritizing


45 minutes. (Variant: drop a round to shorten)


The game consists of the following items for each participating team:

  1. Persona Cards: (5”x8” cards) There are four persona cards or sheets. Each persona should be copied to a separate card.
  2. Story Cards: (3”x5” cards) In this game, the stories consist of a verb and a noun (e.g Fertilize Crops). There are 18 cards, but more cards can be added. One verb noun grouping should be copied to each card.
  3. Category Cards: (3”x5” blank cards – use different colour than story cards) – The category cards are initially blank. A set of blank cards are needed for each round and team. Typically there are around 5 Categories per round.
  4. Black Marker: Any pen or felt tip mark should work. This is used for writing on the category cards. One timer is needed in order to time each round and the debrief sessions.


  1. Introduction (5 min)
    • Draw simple Product Backlog in Scrum
    • Ask participants what it is
    • Comment that there is a lot of complexity that may not be best represented by asingle sorted list.
  2. Form the group into teams – each at a table. (2 min) 4 seems a good number for a team. More than this and it is hard to jointly sort the cards. 5 may be OK.
  3. Introduce the domain. Once upon a time, there was a farm and different people had different ideas how the farm should be run. (MORE)
  4. Iterate! There are 4 rounds – each with a different persona (see table below)
    • Shuffle story cards between rounds
    • Introduce Persona (1 min + 1 min for questions)
    • Ask participant organize the backlog based on the persona.
    • Debrief the round. Do this in a circle. See debrief questions below.
  5. Debrief the whole game.

Round 1

  • Persona: Producer/Farmer
  • Round Duration: 5′
  • Debrief*: 4′

Round 2

  • Persona: Customer/Buyer
  • Round Duration: 4′
  • Debrief*: 3′

Round 3

  • Persona: Farm Bureau/Inspectors
  • Round Duration: 4′
  • Debrief*: 3′

Round 4

  • Persona: Land Owner
  • Round Duration: 3′
  • Debrief*: 10′ – whole game

* Larger groups may require more debrief time.

Debrief Questions

First Round

  • Each team: talk a little about how you organized the backlog.
  • What is the same/different?
  • What else did you notice?
  • If no one mentions, may notice that we are used so used to prioritizing we often go there automatically. Did any of the teams create a structure that helps them understand their world?


  • Same questions as first plus
  • What was different from earlier round(s)?


  • Over all 4 rounds, what have you noticed about backlog organization?
  • How does this relate to product backlogs that you work with?
  • How well do real world product backlogs represent different stakeholders?

Story Cards

There are 18 story cards. Each story card consists of a verb and noun pair.

(Note: Michael S removed story numbers since it may confuse people)


  • Fertilize Crops
  • Spray Insecticide
  • Harvest Crop
  • Buy Seed
  • Rotate Crops
  • Weed Fields
  • Survey Market
  • Kill Groundhogs
  • Lay Fallow
  • Define Market Needs
  • Till The Ground
  • Assure Organic (inspect for selected crops)
  • Plant Seed
  • Sell Early Summer Crops
  • Sell Late Summer Crops
  • Water Plants
  • Recover from Natural Disaster
  • Forecast Profit


Producer / Farmer

As a farmer, I’m focused on legally maximizing my profits by controlling costs, buying the right seeds, planning crop rotations, reducing pests, and timing the release of my products to markets. I follow closely the agreements set forth in the lease with the Land Owner.

Consumer / Buyer

As a customer of the local farm, I want healthy and reasonably priced food that has been grown with sustainable and environmentally friendly practices.

Land Owner

The farm land has been in my family for over 200 years. My family’s income depends on the revenue generated from the farm lease. Hence, we are interested in ensuring the long-term sustainability of the land. As a family, we have been engaged in wildlife preservation and conservation of natural resources. It is imperative our property used in accordance with all relevant laws and regulations.

Farm Bureau / Inspectors / Regulatory Agencies

As a regulatory body, we are tasked with ensuring that produce is safe and fit for human consumption. We test and verify that the land is used in accordance with local, state, and federal regulation to protect from erosion, run off, soil depletion and other activities that may harm the land. We enforce all animal protection laws and regulations.


There are no story points (cost). How does this make any sense?

The whole point of the game is to ignore prioritization. Story cost is only relevant for making prioritization decisions. In this game we want people to think about stakeholders and how to organize the work in terms of who cares about what.


This game was developed at Agile Games 2010 in Boston by:

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5 Responses to "The Backlog is in the Eye of the Beholder"
  • [...] The backlog is the eye of the beholder [...]

  • Curtis October 4, 2010 at 9:48 pm

    I used this with a scrum team in the production side of the Oil & Gas industry… made for some good parallels to producers/land-owners/regulators in our industry.

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    Rating: 4.0/5 (1 vote cast)
  • miriam February 1, 2011 at 8:44 am

    But what are the category cards for?

    VA:F [1.9.16_1159]
    Rating: 4.3/5 (3 votes cast)
  • Shirl Gehl May 19, 2012 at 8:34 am

    Thx for information.

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    Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)
  • [...] how backlogs change based on personas (whether it be customer or user), check out the game “Backlog is in the eye of the beholder” [...]

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