Product Backlog refinement is one of the core activities in Scrum and a key part of the agile methodology. It is also one of the most challenging Scrum activities since it involves making an investment whose results might not be seen immediately. In some cases, the fruits of backlog refinement appear several sprints down the line.
This guide will help you understand what backlog refinement means, its purpose and importance, and how to prepare for a backlog refinement meeting. We’ll also share a backlog refinement meeting agenda template that will help you prepare for your backlog refinement meetings.
Backlog refinement is an ongoing process where the product owner and the development team review the backlog to ensure that it contains updated, appropriate items and that the items are properly prioritized.
Some of the tasks involved in a backlog refinement meeting include:
The purpose of backlog refinement is to clean up the backlog and ensure that it only contains relevant and detailed items and their estimations and priority levels. It also ensures that all members have the same understanding of the items in the backlog and that everyone knows what they’ll be doing in the next sprint.
An added benefit of a backlog refinement session is that it facilitates knowledge transfer from the product owner to the rest of the team as the PO provides context about user stories, business models, and so on.
Backlog grooming and refinement mean the same thing. In the past, backlog refinement was referred to as backlog grooming. However, in 2013, The Scrum Guide dropped the word “grooming” in favor of “refinement” due to the negative connotations associated with the word “grooming.”
Some of the reasons why it is important to hold backlog refinement meetings include:
Over the course of development, several ideas and opinions get added to the product backlog. New user needs also get discovered, rendering some ideas irrelevant. With time, the product backlog becomes a messy collection of user stories, half-baked ideas, and outdated items.
Holding regular backlog meetings helps clean up this mess, making it easier for the team to focus on what’s really important.
Product requirements and objectives will often change throughout the product development life cycle. Lack of proper channels for communicating these changes can lead to bad product decisions, implementation of the wrong things, and ultimately, a product that doesn’t meet user needs.
Refining the product backlog keeps everyone updated on the changing needs and requirements and ensures that all team members are on the same page.
Backlog refinement meetings help define what will be implemented during the next sprint. This makes sprint planning meetings shorter and more efficient because they only need to focus on how the implantation will be done. All the other questions that would have arisen during sprint planning will already have been answered in the backlog refinement meeting.
Take some time before the refinement meeting to review the overarching goals and objectives of the project. Doing so helps ensure that you have the high-level objectives in mind while refining the product backlog and prioritizing items.
Before the meeting, the product owner should create an agenda and share it with the attendees in advance. This allows the attendees to prepare their questions, comments, and suggestions before the meeting. Having an agenda also helps ensure that nothing gets forgotten during the meeting.
Having the right tools can help make your backlog refinement meeting more efficient and productive. For instance, with a tool like Airgram, you can create meeting agendas and record, transcribe, and document your refinement meeting.
Here are some best practices that will help make your backlog refinement session more effective:
A well-managed backlog should be DEEP, which is an acronym for detailed appropriately, estimated, emergent, and prioritized.
Here, detailed appropriately means that items with higher priority should have a higher level of detail than low priority items. Estimated means you should have a good idea of the time and resources required to implement each backlog item. Emergent means that the backlog is a live document that should be updated regularly. Finally, the backlog items should be arranged in order of priority.
Every decision made during the backlog refinement meeting should be based on customer needs. After all, if the product doesn’t work for your customers, nothing else matters.
Sometimes, some backlog items cannot be implemented until another item has been started or completed. Failure to identify these dependencies can lead to delayed progress down the line. Therefore, it’s good to identify these dependencies early and plan for them.
Once the meeting is done, follow up with all the attendees and share the minutes of the meeting with them. This helps keep everyone on the same page and ensures that they are aware of the next steps.
Before heading into a backlog refinement meeting, it’s wise to prepare an agenda to guide what will happen during the meeting. Having an agenda helps keep the backlog refinement meeting on track and helps team members prepare for the meeting ahead of time.
Here’s a sample meeting agenda template you can use for your backlog refinement sessions:
Backlog Refinement Meeting Agenda
A quick review of the goals and objectives of the project
Identify tasks that were started in the previous sprint but did not get completed. Understand why they weren’t completed, and determine how these tasks will be incorporated into the next sprint.
Are there any new user needs, new features, or bugs that have come up since the last sprint? How important are they?
In addition to any tasks that came up, go through the product backlog and determine the tasks to be tackled during the upcoming sprint. Categorize these tasks by order of priority.
Identify tasks that are no longer necessary or relevant and remove them from the product backlog. Split upcoming tasks into smaller tasks that are easier to implement.
Review the tasks to be tackled in the upcoming sprint and determine any risks or concerns that could affect the completion of these tasks.
If you want to create your own backlog refinement meeting agenda, you can easily do so with Airgram. Alternatively, you can use any of the other agile meeting agenda templates on Aigram and customize it to suit your needs.
There’s no rule of thumb regarding the length of a backlog refinement meeting. It can be as short as 45 minutes or as long as two hours. The key thing to keep in mind is that it should provide ample time to refine your product backlog, but without taking excessive time. Ideally, you can aim for a one-hour session for every week of sprint.
People often confuse backlog refinement meetings and sprint planning, but they are not the same. The main difference is their time horizon.
Sprint planning focuses on work that will be done during the upcoming sprint. On the other hand, Backlog refinement will often include items that don’t need to be worked on immediately. However, the backlog refinement meeting also identifies and prioritizes items to be implemented in the upcoming sprint.
Another major difference is that sprint planning takes place right before a sprint, while backlog refinement can happen at any time.
In most cases, it is the role of the product owner or product manager to facilitate a backlog refinement session.
However, backlog refinement is not an official Scrum ceremony, and therefore, backlog refinement sessions are not the official responsibility of the product owner. Others like the Scrum master, project manager, and other team members can take charge of backlog refinement sessions.
Backlog refinement is an ongoing process, and therefore, there is no right time for backlog refinement. It ultimately depends on your team.
Some teams opt to have backlog refinement sessions right before spring planning sessions, others do it mid-sprint, while others do it during the sprint review. You can have your sprint planning sessions at any time.