Product Backlog Refinement

What is Product Backlog Refinement

In Product Backlog refinement or grooming the items included in the backlog are enhanced with enough details, estimates, acceptance tests, order aiming to characterize them as “ready” for selection for in upcoming sprints. This is a collaborative event among the product owner, teams and any other stakeholder or experts that could add value in the discussions.

If there are high level items in the backlog (like epics) then discussion are around how to split them in requirements and then to stories so to be able to add enough details, high level estimates e.t.c. This could be named as an epic level backlog refinement.

As described in the scrum alliance, in backlog grooming we could

  • remove user stories that no longer appear relevant
  • create new user stories in response to newly discovered needs
  • re-assess the relative priority of stories
  • assign estimates to stories which have yet to receive one
  • correct estimates in light of newly discovered information
  • split user stories which are high priority but too coarse grained to fit in an upcoming iterations

According to scrum guide backlog grooming is an ongoing activity happening throughout the sprint and it should not consume more than 10% of team’s capacity. However experience has shown that it would be nice to have a dedicated event to refine the backlog between the teams and the Product Owner within the sprint.  In addition it is useful that refined or groomed items, marked as  ready,  are enough to cover the needs for at least two sprints upfront.

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Things to Consider

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Focus

The focus of backlog refinement is to understand and discover information about the requirements and problems the users have. This is collaborative activity among the PdO, teams and required stakeholders and it doesn’t mean that the PdO should have all the necessary information available. It’s important that every participant express her/his view on the every item and how this item could become sth that the team could work later on. It’s not about how to implement a specific requirement, problem, but rather to understand the business value it!

What

Depending on the product backlog items the discussions might vary. For example if there is need to “groom” items on epic level (refer to understanding product backlogs) then the focus should be more on understanding the concepts and try to split them into features and even perform a high level estimation. In such cases input from customers, users and other relevant stakeholders will be important so it would be nice to have them in the discussions.

If the items being discussed are on story level (refer to this post related to backlog management) then the discussion will be more around adding details on stories, estimates, acceptance criteria and identify the right order based on business value (refer to this post related to user stories). The outcome should be to mark the stories as ready to be developed in upcoming sprints.

Who

The scope of the grooming activity is to understand as said the requirements, split epics, features and enhance the stories with necessary details. For that reason it’s really important that the whole team, PdO and ScM should be present and  ScM should help participants to meet the meeting scope. If there is need to have business or customer stakeholders or other experts that could help in estimating, it would be nice to invite them as well.

When & Duration

Since it’s not a prescribed event in scrum guide, based on the experience it would be nice that the grooming is taking place somewhere in the middle of the sprint. Avoid arrange it early on sprint beginning since team will be focused on working on their sprint backlog or close to the end where team will be trying to reach their sprint goal.

As far as the duration is concerned, try to keep it about 10% of your sprint capacity. From experience about 4 hours for a three weeks sprints seems to be enough (split it in two sessions on epic and story level when applicable)

Learning Path

Posts & Articles

Backlog Grooming (agile alliance)

How to hold an effective backlog grooming session

Grooming the Product Backlog

Different Approaches for Product Backlog Grooming

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