Product Backlog Refinement

In my previous blogpost, I talked about the Product Backlog, it’s attributes and what constitutes a good product backlog.  As I discussed, it is progressively elaborated, never complete and is managed through ongoing backlog refinement. The Product Owner collaborates with the Development Team to refine it and leads the activity. Product backlog refinement is an ongoing activity and it is not an event like Daily Scrum or Sprint Planning. It’s not a formal Scrum event. The Development Team provides estimates, and it is done for the future Sprint.

I want to share a story about my grandmother making butter. She would collect cream on an ongoing basis and when she has enough of this cream to make some butter, she would pour a little bit of milk at a time, use a churner and skim it, put it aside, do other chores, use the churner and skim it again. I can relate this process of product backlog refinement where there is a product backlog –refine it on an ongoing basis, have discussions about it, refine it more to add clarity. The churner brings the butter up to the top just like how the most important items of the Product backlog surface up to the top based on priorities. Always the top layer is the most important one since we can consume it (just like butter!).

The Development Team spends no more than 10% of their capacity because the backlog refinement activity is done for the future sprints not for the current sprint. The Development Team needs to focus on the current Sprint Goal. The product backlog needs to have just enough detail and just in time items. Working ahead may create waste since business priorities may change.

How one team resolved backlog refinement challenges?

One of the teams I worked with detested the long backlog refinement sessions. They followed one of my recommendations to conduct a product backlog refinement soon after the Daily Scrum for 15-min. The Development Team was very happy with this approach because it didn’t feel like they were spending a lot of time on refinement in one stretch since they spent only a few minutes each day. The Product Owner said it worked very well for her as well, since it provided an opportunity for her every day to be prepared for the backlog on prioritization, ordering and coming prepared for requirements. This saved a good amount of time in our Sprint Planning and reduced confusion because everyone worked toward a refined backlog ahead of Sprint Planning.

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