Best Practice: Backlog Refinement

Run more effective backlog refinement sessions with these best practice tips and tricks

These tips and tricks have come from countless conversations with our customer base on how to make backlog refinement sessions as effective as possible.

#1 Set a goal

We could refine our backlog for hours. Doing so inhibits us from spending time delivering value to our customers. To ensure backlog refinement is effective and valuable, we need to set a goal for our refinement sessions and share it with the team.

Tip 1 - Set a goal

The goal should be centred around the backlog items that are either contributing to the value you're currently developing for customers, or the value that you will next be looking to deliver to your customers.

As a team, we should also have an agreement on what "refined" looks like and what level of detail is appropriate when refining backlog items.

Tangible ways we can do the above is to:

  • Share an example of what 'good' looks for a refined story on the backlog so the team have a shared understanding of what level of detail to go into when in refinement sessions
  • Agree on the structure/level of detail for different kinds of work items
  • Identify subject matter experts for different work items to speed up refinement and have them share learnings across the team

#2 Keep refinement contained to a small group

Scrum Masters and Product Owners should lead backlog refinement sessions.

Tip 2 - Keep the group small

At the very minimum the Tech Lead should be present in these sessions to provide context into feasibility, complexity, dependencies and high level estimates.

Where appropriate, there should also be at least a few stakeholders present. These stakeholders need to have relevance to the context of work or be the subject matter expert to the sprint goals, otherwise the value they're providing is questionable.

#3 Meet frequently

Anything hard should be done regularly to build the muscle and resilience across the team.

Generally, holding a few, shorter backlog refinement sessions leading up to sprint planning is more effective than a single big bang session.

Tip 3 - Meet Frequently

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