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What is Product Backlog Refinement- Why & How You Do It?

What is Backlog Refinement?

Backlog refinement is the process of adding detail, estimates, and ordering the user stories in the product backlog. It is an ongoing process that should happen throughout the sprint. The product owner is responsible for refining the backlog, but the whole team should be involved. 

The goal of product backlog refinement is to ensure that the backlog items are ready to be worked on by the development team. It means that the user stories should be clear, concise, and have enough detail so that the team can estimate how long it will take to complete them. The product owner should also ensure that the user stories are ordered in the backlog according to priority.

This process typically includes 

  • Discuss the User Stories and adding details
  • Establish the initial set of Acceptance criteria
  • Breaking down user stories into smaller pieces (called “tasks”), 
  • Estimating the effort required to complete those tasks,
  •  Identifying the dependencies and risks involved if any
  • Adding any additional information that will help the team complete the user story.

What is the Importance of Backlog Refinement?

First, take a look at some necessary goals of product backlog refinement. 

1. Product backlog refinement aims to ensure that the product backlog is up to date and contains all the necessary information for the development team to start work on the next sprint.

2. It also ensures that the product backlog items are prioritized and that the development team understands the business value of each item.

3. It  also helps to identify any risks or dependencies that need to be addressed before work on a sprint can begin.

4. Finally, product backlog refinement helps ensure the product backlog is ready for the next sprint planning meeting.

Ultimately, backlog refinement is essential because:

1. It allows the product owner and development team to understand the product backlog items better and ensure they are correctly prioritized.

2. It also allows for better estimating the effort required to implement a product backlog item.

3. It ensures that the product backlog is continuously updated and reflects the latest changes in product development.

4. It helps the product owner and development team to identify any risks or dependencies associated with a product backlog item.

Difference With Backlog Grooming

Essentially, there is no difference between the two terms. The terms “backlog refinement” and “backlog grooming” are often used interchangeably to refer to the process of updating and prioritizing items in the product backlog. 

The product backlog refinement is also called as Backlog Grooming session.

Backlog grooming vs. Sprint planning

Backlog grooming is the process of preparing user stories for the upcoming sprint. It includes updating the story estimate, splitting the story if necessary, and ensuring it is ready for development. On the other hand, sprint planning is the process of deciding which user stories from the backlog the would be considered to implement in the upcoming sprint. Finally, estimation for each of the story is discussed  

DifferencesBacklog grooming:Sprint planning:
Duration of the processIs a continuous processIs a time-boxed event
Who participatesInvolves all members of the Agile team, SMEs, Architects and members from other teams if required.Involves the Scrum Master, product owner, and development team
Who facilitatesProduct OwnerScrum Master
Who is involvedThe entire team is typically involvedOnly the development team is typically involved
Main focus Is focused on the product backlogIs focused on the sprint backlog
Areas of influenceMay result in changes to the sprint backlogWill not result in changes to the product backlog

Activities in Backlog Refinement

The activities involved in backlog refinement are:

  • Understand the product backlog items and their dependencies. The product owner and the development team should discuss each item in the backlog and come to a shared understanding of what it is and what is required to complete it. 
  • Breaking down items. Each item in the backlog is broken down into smaller, more manageable pieces. It makes estimating the effort required and planning the work easier.
  • Estimate the effort required to finish each item. It uses some estimation techniques, such as T shirt sizing, Planning Poker, Three point estimation, Buckets, Large, Small, Uncertain , Dot Voting. The product owner and development team should discuss each item and agree on an estimate. 
  • Prioritize the items in the backlog. The product owner is typically responsible for this, however the development team can provide input on which items are most important to them and architects can share their views in terms of technical feasibility and complexity
  • Groom the backlog. It means removing items that are no longer relevant and adding new items as necessary. The product owner typically does this.

How Long Should Backlog Refinement Take?

The Scrum Guide does not explicitly state how long backlog refinement should take, but it does say that it is an ongoing process that should happen throughout the product development cycle. It also recommends that refinement sessions be time-boxed to ensure they are productive and focused.

Backlog refinement is essential for ensuring that the product backlog is clear, concise, and achievable, and it should be given the time and attention it needs to be effective.

When’s the Appropriate Time for a Backlog Refinement Meeting?

A backlog refinement meeting can be held at any time. However, it is best to keep it after the product owner has had a chance to review the product backlog and add any new items. The Scrum Master and the Development Team also have an opportunity to update any items during this period.

Moreover, the product owner should also be present at the meeting to answer any questions about the product backlog items.

The most appropriate time for a backlog refinement meeting may vary depending on the team’s backlog refinement process. Some standard options include:

Before the sprint planning meeting: This allows the team to ensure that the backlog is in a good state before the sprint planning meeting, where they will select items from the backlog to work on during the upcoming sprint.

During the sprint: This allows the team to continuously refine the backlog and ensure it is always up-to-date.

After the sprint: This allows the team to debrief on the sprint and identify any improvements that can be made to the backlog for future sprints.

Who Attends a Backlog Refinement Meeting?

A backlog refinement meeting is where the product owner and development team discuss the product backlog. The goal of the meeting is to ensure that the backlog is ready for the next sprint. It is usually attended by the product owner, scrum master, and the development team. 

  • The product owner reviews the product backlog and reprioritizes items as necessary. 
  • Next, the scrum master ensures that the meeting stays on track and everyone understands the backlog items. 
  • Finally, the development team provides input on the feasibility of the backlog items and estimates how long each item will take to complete.

Moreover, stakeholders interested in the product backlog may attend a backlog refinement meeting to provide input on the project’s product backlog. They may also help prioritize the backlog and ensure it aligns with the company’s goals.

Conclusion

After the product backlog refinement process is complete, the user story is ready to be implemented. The next step is to break the user story into smaller tasks, which would be picked by team members for implementation. 

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