No Priorities Set Before Sprint Starts?

You ask the team what’s most important for the product, plan your sprint accordingly, write down the stories and start your sprint!

In an idle world, you are suppose to have your prioritized product backlog ready before your sprint planning meeting. But it may happen that you have a lousy product owner who forgets to update the backlog, or may be she is sick and couldn’t work on it before your next sprint planning. What do you do now? You have different options:

You can stop sprinting and take a day off while your product owner sorts out the backlog for the team. This can be a good break for the team as you know you can’t be sprinting all the time, then you are actually jogging instead of sprinting. You can take a ‘lab day’ and ask your team members to work on what they think important from previous sprint, or previous feedback from sprint review meetings. You hope that your product owner will sort out the backlog meanwhile as your team focuses on working what they think important. You can carry on with you planning meeting without the prioritized backlog. This works if your team has already completed couple of successful sprints and knows the direction of the product. You ask your team what they think important for the product, and form stories from their feedback. You share the planning meeting details with the product owner and give her the option to change priorities/stories as she wishes. For one of my teams, I chose the last option and so far everything worked smoothly. The team is well into their sprint and product owner is happy after changing one story from the Sprint backlog, and replacing it with one of her higher priority one.