Backlog Refinement Playbook

Overview

This playbook helps Teams and Product Owners to focus on delivering what matters most to the customer & to the business.

During Backlog Refinement the Product Owner and the Team review the highest priority backlog items to ensure the work is understood, estimated and has just enough detail to be ready to deliver.

Backlog refinement involves:

  1. Communication & Collaboration with the right people supports clarity and alignment on the Product Backlog Items (PBIs)

  2. Order & Priority - The Product Backlog is prioritised & ordered for delivery

  3. Detail - Each item has just enough detail and all dependencies have been considered

  4. Estimate - Each item is sized and broken down so it can be delivered in less than half a sprint to facilitate the flow of work

Purpose

  • Alignment on what business and customer outcomes are most valuable

  • Clarity of what is means for an outcome to be acceptable and when to stop

  • Makes Sprint Planning more effective by ensuring there is alignment on outcomes

  • Stakeholder engagement and connection to the Team

  • Improved quality through a better understanding of what is important

  • Increased speed because we refine individual outcomes rather than gathering requirements for entire systems

  • Reduced rework

Participants

  • All Team Members

  • Product Owner

  • Scrum Master

  • Invited SMEs and Stakeholders (optional)

Difficulty

 

3 Moderate

Duration

1 hour up to twice per sprint until you have enough refined backlog items for 2 sprints

Materials

Team's Visual Management Board

Product Backlog

What is the Product Backlog?

The product backlog is a prioritised list of all the outcomes a Team is planning to built in their product(s) including features, bugs, technical tasks & non-functional tasks. It is dynamic, continually evolving as new information emerges about the product, the marketplace and what customers value.

Meetings to cancel when you set up your Backlog Refinement

  • Requirements gathering

  • Requirements sign-off

  • Project Working Groups

3 - Moderate.png

Preparation

  • Ensure the Product Backlog is prioritised

  • Share the items targeted for refinement with the Team and invited stakeholders in advance of the session so tey can be aware of what will be refined.

  • Include SMEs and other stakeholders who can help illuminate a Product Backlog Item for the Team

  • A pre-set time and place every sprint

  • Agree to time-box the discussion e.g. 10 mins per product backlog item

  • Ensure you have the right people in the room.

Definition of Ready

The Team and the Product Owner should have a clear definition of what a Product Backlog Item needs to have in order to be considered 'ready to start'.

At the beginning of every Backlog Refinement session, remind everyone of the Definition of Ready and verify that it still serves you.

Review your 'Definition of Ready'

Remind everyone of your Definition of Ready so you have clarity on what each item being refined needs to have in order to be considered ready to start.

As you refine each Product Backlog Item, be very clear that you only need to get it to the point where it matches your Definition of Ready.

Product Backlog Items are not detailed requirements and don't need to document every little detail.

PRO TIP!

Any time a piece of work turns out to be more difficult than initially thought or the Team fails to complete it before the end of the sprint is an opportunity to revisit your Definition of Ready

Backlog Refinement Process

The overall process for Backlog Refinement is very simple.

  1. Select the highest priority Product Backlog Item that isn't already refined

  2. Discuss the outcome and agree on
    how the Team will deliver that outcome
    with the simplest possible solution and
    the least possible output

  3. If you reach the timebox during the conversation, then put the question to the Team, "Can we refine this today?"  If not, capture what the item would need to have in order to be refineable so you can complete that before the next Backlog Refinement session.

  4. Estimate the item relative to the other work the Team has

Backlog Refinement Process.png

Start your timer

Setting a timebox for the refinement of each Product Backlog item ensures you don't get stuck on a single item and helps to get more items refined.

A timebox also encourages people to be familiar with the items that are candidates for refinement before the event.  Knowing that they have ony 10 minutes to refine an item means they need to be prepared with their questions and comments in advance.

Suggested timebox is 10 minutes per Product Backlog Item, if you find after a few sessions that 10 minutes is too short or too long, feel free to adjust it.

Smart Watch

Discuss the highest priority item that isn't already refined

Discuss the customer outcome the item seeks to deliver, any background information, comments and questions Team Members and stakeholders have prepared.

Ask thought prompting questions:

  • How would the customer benefit from this?

  • What behaviour are we seeking to change?

  • What is the simplest possible thing we could do to create the outcome?

  • What is the smallest possible output we could deliver to create the outcome?

  • What assumptions are we holding about this?

  • How could we test our assumptions?

  • How would we build it?

  • How would we test it?

  • How would we operate it?

  • What documentation does it need?

  • When/how would we release it?

  • What could go wrong?

  • What regulations do we need to consider?

  • How would we measure if it is successful?

  • What would we do if:

    • We only had half the time?

    • It turned out to be only haf as valuable?

    • We couldn't change the system?

From the Scrum Guide

“Product Backlog items have the attributes of a description, order, estimate, and value. Product Backlog items often include test descriptions (acceptance criteria) that will prove its completeness when “Done.”

PRO TIP!

Remember ABC!

Always Be Capturing!

Capture comments and questions as they are raised, the Product Backlog Item is a placeholder for the conversation, when work starts, people should be able to refer to the PBI to remind them of the conversation.

Can we refine it today?

If you get to the end of your timebox or it turns out there are questions that cannot be dealt with, then it is best to move to the next item rather than waste time on an item that cannot be refined today.

If participants agree that it can be refined today, you can give the item under discussion another timebox, or maybe half a timebox to keep the converation even more focused.

Capture what the item would need to be considered refinable and move on to the next item.

Pencil and Shavings

How much capacity will it consume?

Why estimate?

  • To understand the Value or Impact of what is being delivered

  • To understand the effort required

  • To inform priorities, (when 2 Product Backlog Items have similar value, we will do the smaller one first.)

How do we estimate?

  • Estimates reflect the team effort as opposed to an individuals effort

  • Estimates should be based on how difficult or complex this item is relative to our other work

  • Estimates should NOT relate to how long it will take

  • Discuss as a Team how the difficulty or complexity of this item relates to other items we have completed recently

  • See the Estimation Playbook for more on how to estimate

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