What is a Product Increment?

We’ll take a look at Product Increment in more detail, who is responsible, and what it means for teams. Then, we’ll also explore the Definition of Done, and how this is a crucial part of the Increment.

A Product Increment is the sum of all the product backlog items completed during the current Sprint that are cumulative to all prior Sprints’ increments, which together advance the product towards a potentially releasable state. Work cannot be considered part of an Increment unless it is fully completed and meets the agreed-upon Definition of Done, ensuring that each Increment is potentially shippable.

The Product Increment is one of the most significant artifacts in the Scrum framework. It not only tracks the progress of work delivered in each Sprint but more importantly, it is the output that should provide value to the customers and users, enabling them to achieve their desired outcomes.

What is the purpose of a Product Increment?

First things first, let’s look at the purpose of a Product Increment. The Product Increment is a fundamental concept in agile development, particularly in Scrum. Its primary purpose is to facilitate the incremental delivery of new product features in manageable chunks. The benefits of this approach are twofold: 

  • Regular Delivery to Customers and Stakeholders: By delivering work in regular increments, teams can shorten the time to feedback. This quick feedback loop is crucial because it allows teams to avoid expending time and effort on features that do not meet customer needs or expectations. Each increment delivers value and is part of an ongoing process of development, testing, and release. This iterative process is not just a way to develop software; it’s a strategy to keep the product development aligned with changing customer needs and market conditions, thereby adhering to the Agile Manifesto’s principle of satisfying the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.
  • Tracking Progress Through Working Software: The second purpose of the Product Increment is to measure progress via working software, which is a core principle of Agile. This approach not only ensures transparency about what has been accomplished and what remains but also emphasises the value of tangible, working software over just comprehensive documentation or extended planning. According to the Agile Manifesto, the primary measure of progress is working software, and the Product Increment embodies this by providing a clear, incremental showcase of development achievements at the end of each Sprint.

By adhering to the Principles from the Agile Manifesto, Product Increments help teams remain agile, flexible, and responsive. They facilitate a cycle of planning, execution, and evaluation that supports continuous improvement and adaptation. This is essential in an environment where customer needs and market dynamics can change rapidly. Through Product Increments, teams can pivot and adjust their strategies, ensuring that they are always moving in the right direction and delivering value efficiently.

Who is responsible for a Product Increment?

In the Scrum framework, responsibility for the Product Increment is a collaborative effort, primarily involving the Developers and guided by the Product Owner. Here’s how these responsibilities break down:

  • Developers: The team of Developers is directly responsible for delivering the Product Increment on a regular basis. Their role is to ensure that each Increment is a step forward in terms of adding functionality or improvements as defined by the Product Backlog items they commit to during a Sprint. The work they deliver must adhere to the team’s Definition of Done, which assures quality and completeness. This Definition of Done is critical because it establishes the standards that all Increments must meet before being considered complete.
  • Product Owner: While the Developers are responsible for the creation of the Increment, the Product Owner plays a strategic role by setting the direction and priorities through the Product Backlog. The Product Owner is responsible for outlining the strategy or roadmap, which includes clarifying the features, bug fixes, and enhancements that should be included in the Increment. It is the Product Owner’s responsibility to ensure that the Developers have a clear understanding of what needs to be built and why, aligning the development work with business goals and customer needs.
  • The Entire Scrum Team: Ultimately, the entire Scrum Team, which includes the Developers, the Product Owner, and the Scrum Master, is accountable for delivering a valuable and useful Product Increment after every Sprint. The Scrum Master supports the team by facilitating Scrum events, removing impediments, and ensuring that agile practices are followed correctly. This collective responsibility ensures that the Increment not only meets the technical standards of completion but also delivers value to stakeholders and aligns with the overarching goals of the project.

By sharing responsibilities in this way, the Scrum Team ensures that each Increment is developed in a sustainable, disciplined manner that supports both continuous improvement and customer satisfaction.

When should the Product Increment be released to the Market?

Understanding the timing for releasing a Product Increment to the market is crucial in agile product development. While each Increment is designed to be “potentially shippable” by the end of a Sprint, this does not necessarily mean it is “potentially releasable.”

  • Potentially Shippable vs. Potentially Releasable: At the conclusion of each Sprint, the Product Increment should be “potentially shippable,” meaning it meets all the conditions of the Definition of Done and is in a usable state. This status indicates that the Increment could technically be delivered to customers if needed. However, being “potentially releasable” involves additional considerations. This status means the product is not only complete and functional but also aligns with broader strategic goals, such as market timing, customer demand, and business objectives. It is not uncommon for a product to accumulate several shippable Increments before one is released, depending on these factors.
  • Criteria for Release: Several factors influence the decision to release an Increment to the market:
    • Testing and Quality Assurance: The product must be thoroughly tested and meet high quality standards. This includes not just functional testing but also performance, security, and usability testing to ensure that the product will perform well in the user environment
    • Business and Market Considerations: The timing of a release can be strategic. For instance, it might coincide with marketing campaigns, significant industry events, or seasonal peaks in customer activity. Additionally, competitive dynamics might influence the timing and content of a release.
    • Regulatory Compliance: For some products, especially in industries like healthcare, finance, and telecommunications, regulatory approval might be necessary before a release.
  • Collaborative Decision-Making: The decision to release an Increment often involves collaboration among various stakeholders, including the Product Owner, marketing teams, senior management, and customer feedback. The Scrum Team, while responsible for developing the Increment, will work closely with these stakeholders to ensure that the release aligns with broader business objectives and customer needs.

In conclusion, while each Product Increment is a candidate for release at the end of a Sprint, the actual market release is a strategic decision that depends on a multitude of factors beyond mere completion of the development work. This strategic flexibility is fundamental to maximising the business value of the product and aligning development efforts with market opportunities and user expectations.

The Definition of Done

The Definition of Done (DoD) is a crucial agile concept that outlines the criteria each Product Backlog item must meet to be considered complete. This set of standards ensures that every increment achieves a consistent quality level, adhering to both general quality requirements applicable to all items and specific acceptance criteria tailored to individual features. The DoD guarantees that each increment not only functions as intended but also integrates seamlessly with existing components of the product.

A shared understanding of the Definition of Done across the Scrum Team—comprising developers, the Product Owner, and the Scrum Master—is essential for transparency and efficiency. It clarifies when an item or increment is truly complete, avoiding misunderstandings and preventing incomplete work from progressing through the development pipeline. This shared clarity helps maintain the pace of development and ensures that each Product Increment can potentially be released to the market, meeting all necessary quality benchmarks.

Summary

The Product Increment is a pivotal element in agile product development, offering tangible benefits to the entire team and its stakeholders. It allows the team not only to present completed work but also to demonstrate functioning features, enabling stakeholders to interact directly with the product. This interaction leads to more meaningful and precise feedback, which is crucial for guiding the development process effectively. By ensuring each Increment is “potentially shippable” and meets the rigorous standards set by the Definition of Done, the team maintains high quality and consistency, facilitating regular, incremental improvements and strategic releases aligned with market demands and business objectives.

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