Effective Backlog Refinement: Steps to Make Sure Your Backlog is Ready for Development

A major issue in the world of software development is the accumulation of a backlog. As backlogs grow, it becomes increasingly difficult to add new features or changes.

One approach that has been proven successful in combating this problem is to use the product backlog refinement technique.

This technique consists of making small improvements to items in the product backlog which will help maintain an accurate representation of priority and feasibility when using Scrum.

What is Backlog Refinement

Product Backlog Refinement

Backlog refinement is a method for improving the product or service by identifying and prioritizing features that are needed to make it more valuable to customers. This means that as items are completed, they should have an impact on the current state of functionality for which work has already been assigned.

The backlog refinement process is the act of taking the list of tasks that were entered into the backlog, and then creating an ordered list of tasks that are currently available for work.

Tasks are removed from the backlog based on priority, due dates, and dependencies. Once all tasks are prioritized, they should be assigned to team members who will be responsible for completing them.

The refinement process is a crucial part of the Scrum framework. It allows for teams to remain focused on delivering working software, while also having a list of tasks that can be worked on in the future.

The result of this process is a list of tasks that can be used to maintain the product backlog.

This process helps to ensure that the product backlog is always representative of what can be completed by a team in a given time frame.

This technique was originally developed by Jeff Sutherland and others at Microsoft. It was refined and popularized in the Scrum methodology as an aid for planning development, as well as retrospectives on team.

Purpose of Backlog Refinement

The purpose of backlog refinement is to improve the flow of information through the organization. It can be used to eliminate or reduce the time required to complete a task. In addition, it helps managers to better understand how work gets done, and to determine what must be done to improve efficiency.

When does backlog refinement happen?

When is it necessary to do backlog refinement? When do the backlogs need to be refined and looked at closely? The initial product is not complete. The scope of the project is unclear, and it has many missing features that need to be addressed.

For example, if you are working on a new feature for your website, you may need to make some changes to your plan. This is when you need to use backlog refinement.

Team should do backlog refinement when it is necessary to make changes to the project plan.

This can be done by re-assigning tasks, adding new tasks or removing tasks from the backlog. It is important that you are able to explain these changes in a way that everyone understands.

For example, if you add new items to the project plan, you should be able to tell your team why these changes are necessary.

If they do not understand this process, then they will have a hard time using it effectively.

The team should also agree on the best way to make these changes and the frequency.

Backlog Refinement Process

Backlog Refinement Process Steps

In a typical project, it is very difficult to identify all the items in the backlog.

When you have a large number of items in your backlog, it becomes very difficult to find out which ones are actually necessary for the project.

There are a few different ways that you can make changes to product backlog during backlog refinement:

1. Create an itemized list of tasks that need to be completed in order for the team to meet its goals.

2. Make changes to the “Existing story” items in your project plan. Determine how much time a team member needs to complete a task. This can be done by looking at an individual’s skills, as well as those of other team members. A manager may also use historical data from similar tasks completed by other teams. This information can be used to estimate the amount of time needed for a team member to complete each task.

3. Re-assigning tasks that are currently on the product backlog to other stories in your product backlog. This will help you improve the quality of the work you are doing and increase value for your customers.

4. Removing tasks from a story in your product backlog, this will help you to reduce scope creep, which is when new requirements are added during development that were not in the original requirements.

5. Add new tasks to the backlog if there are changes in scope or your team had come up with a dependency.

6. Change the status of a task from “In Progress” to “Done” for completed stories.

Once the manager has created this prioritized list, he or she will use it to guide his or her work with other team members.

Techniques of Backlog Refinement in Scrum

Backlog refinement is one of the most important aspects of Scrum development. It is often used to improve quality and reduce scope creep.

Some people think that they need to do backlog refinement every single sprint. This is not necessary, and some people do it only every few sprints.

In my experience, I have found that you can usually do it in a single sprint if you work with your team.

In order to use backlog refinement effectively, you need to understand the different types of backlog refinement and how they work.

There are two common techniques for backlog refinement: task re-assignment and story addition.

Both methods help improve the quality of your work, but one method is better than the other. Which technique is better depends on the situation.

Story Addition – The process of adding a story to your backlog is called “story addition”.

Task re-assignment – The process of removing a task from your product backlog is called “task re-assignment”. Task re-assignment is usually done during the last sprint, while story addition can be done throughout the entire project.

If you are using Scrum to manage your product backlog, then both techniques should be used throughout the life cycle of your product. This is because the development process should follow the product.

One of the main differences between task re-assignment and story addition is that you cannot remove a story from your backlog during sprint planning, but you can remove tasks from your sprint backlog. You can also add stories to your product backlog after the release date has been set.

Story addition is a better technique for improving the quality of your work because it helps you identify problems earlier in the development process. It also reduces scope creep, which can cause unnecessary delays in your project schedule.

The most important thing to remember about story addition and task re- assignment is that you should not add or remove stories from your product backlog based on the team’s preferences.

You should only use these techniques to improve the quality of your work.

When using task re-assignment, make sure that you are following the rules of good estimation.

If you are adding stories to your product backlog, make sure that you have enough time for the development process.

If you are removing tasks from your sprint backlog, then remove tasks that cannot be completed in a single sprint and plan more than one iteration.

Roles in Backlog Refinement

Roles in Backlog Refinement : Product Owner & Development Team

Role of Product Owner

The Product Owner is a critical player in the process of Backlog refinement.

The PO should select the right stories for development and help prioritize them.

The PO also helps to manage the project’s velocity and backlog size, and will regularly communicate with stakeholders to determine their needs and concerns about the product.

The PO is the person who must make sure that all stakeholders are kept up to date on what needs to be done.

The Product Owner is responsible for ensuring that the Product Backlog has a healthy backlog of stories, and can communicate with stakeholders about their needs. The Product Owner also communicates the current backlog size to the Development Team.

Role of Development Team

The Development Team will examine stories and choose which ones to create; they can also help prioritize features that will reduce customer churn.

As many know, the backlog is a list of all items that are impacted by the project. This includes user stories, requirements, defects, and any other problem that needs to be addressed.

This list can become quite lengthy which is why it is important to have development teams involved in the process of refining the backlog.

These people are working on the product so they will be able to do things like find bottlenecks or mention features that may need to be added.

The development team will also be able to help prioritize the backlog. By this, I mean that they can analyze what needs to be done and which features are important.

This is extremely helpful in managing your project because it gives you a good idea of how much work you have left before launch or how much time you have to fix bugs.

It also allows the team to work in a more efficient manner by helping them know what they can accomplish and which features are needed.

This is extremely helpful because it allows them to focus their efforts where they are most valuable.

Backlog Refinement Checklist

There are many steps in a backlog refinement process, and it can be difficult to know where to start.

We have created a checklist that will help you to get on the right track. Follow these five steps, and you will have a more detailed backlog that is easier to manage:

1. Establish your objectives – What do you want to achieve by refining the backlog? This is an important step because it will define what your requirements for each story should be.

2. Know what you’re backlogging – Review each item in your backlog and make sure it’s still relevant. Ask yourself at least one question per item on your backlog about its priority, duration, scope, dependencies, and constraints. Identifying what you’re backlogging should be the first step in this process.

3. Capture the Changes – the team should look at all incoming requests (changes requested), change in priorities and change in team capacity to deliver stories.

3. Finalize Priorities – Decide which items should be worked on first. Start working on the most important stories, and use your backlog refinement process to work out what else needs doing. This is a simple example of a  process for planning your work.

4. Identify Risks – If any stories remain that are not fully understood or have a high risk of delay , the team should add them to a high-risk list.

5. Establish Responsibilities – Show the team members what work they are accountable for, by providing them with the rough estimates for each story.

6. Avoid Bias – Beware of Bias in Your Prioritization Process Many people have a hard time prioritizing items when they are not explicitly ordered by a stakeholder or analyst.

6. Rinse & Repeat: This process should be used as an ongoing activity, and not just at the beginning or end of each project. It’s important to remember that you need to revisit this plan every time there are changes in scope or priorities.

Backlog Refinement Question Template

The following is a list of questions that are often used when working with backlog refinement process.

1. What is the purpose of this item?

2. What is the business value or result that will be achieved by accomplishing this item?

3. Who needs to see this item in order for it to be completed successfully? (This question helps us identify stakeholders who are affected by a given item.)

4. Who is responsible for this item? (Who should we ask to review and approve the work?)

5. How does this item affect other items in the backlog? (How does this task relate to any others that are currently on the backlog?)

6. What problems do you see with architecture?

7. Can we break the user story into smaller ones and still add value?

8. Does the product owner’s vision mention how this user story consequently improves their overarching goal?

9. Do we have skills in our team for this user story?

10. What is the negative consequences for implementing this user story?

11. What can you do to verify this user story?

By no means, this is an exhaustive list. But this should help you get started with your refinement process.

Backlog Refinement Meeting

Backlog Refinement Meeting - steps, agenda and tips

The purpose of the backlog refinement meeting is to improve and enhance the value and effectiveness of your product backlog. It helps you to understand the value of your product backlog and also to provide feedback on how it can be improved.

A backlog refinement meeting is a process where you discuss with the stakeholders on various issues related to the backlog. The meeting is a very important step as it helps you know what needs to be done, what can be done better, and what can be done differently.

The meeting is held in the scrum team. The meeting is usually done once a week or more often if needed.

The purpose of this meeting is to make sure that all stakeholders understand what they need to do, and also what they should be doing for their particular work item ( WIP). The meeting helps you to understand the backlog. It also helps you to find out what needs improvement and how to improve it.

A backlog refinement meeting is a meeting in which the entire team is required to work on the backlog.

A Scrum Master is required to facilitate this meeting. This role involves providing support to the team, and help them perform their work in an effective manner. The main goal of a backlog refinement meeting is to ensure that the product being developed by the scrum team is of high quality. If this is not achieved, then the whole project will be in jeopardy.

The meeting also helps in ensuring that all of them are working towards achieving the same goal.

Backlog Refinement Meeting Tasks

The meeting will involve the all the stakeholders, who are in charge of creating and maintaining the backlog.  Here are few tasks that needs to be accomplished in the meeting:

1. Define the backlog: Make a list of the project tasks that are required to be done, but are not on the schedule.

2. Review the tasks in the backlog: Look at all the tasks in the backlog and find out if they are on schedule or not.

3. Assign priorities to the tasks: Prioritize the tasks in order to fit them into existing time schedules.

4. Re-assign / Create new stories: Based on the updated information, create new stories, re-assign existing stories or remove stories.

4. Set a date for the next meeting to discuss the progress of the backlog and how it is being worked on.

In a nutshell, a backlog refinement session helps you to find out what your customers want and how to give it to them.

In the end, you’ll have a better idea of what’s on your customers’ minds and how to provide them with exactly what they need.

Backlog Refinement Meeting Agenda

The backlog refinement meeting agenda is a four-step process for refining your backlog of tasks.

  • The first step is to identify which tasks need to be done next and then prioritize the list accordingly.
  • The second step is to identify any time constraints that may factor into creating your timeline.
  • Step three is identifying who will do what tasks
  • Final step is assigning deadlines for each task.

The meeting starts with a quick recap of the list of open items that need to be looked at.

Some of these will be resolved during the meeting, others will need more analysis.

We continue by going over the list and deciding which items need to be prioritized first.

This should be done using an agreed upon process that allows everyone to express how important each item is.

We may use something like this example: “This task is very high priority because it has a deadline of less than a month. This item is medium priority because it has a deadline of more than one month.”

After this, we can go back to the backlog and look at which items still need more analysis and discuss how long they will take to complete.

At the end, we review how this backlog refinement meeting can improve on previous ones and what new processes should be introduced for future meetings.

The majority of Scrum teams use a backlog refinement meeting at the end of each sprint. This is one of the key parts to help manage your project effectively and allow you to have more confidence in what you are building.

If this sounds like something that will work for your team, check out my next article on how to use an Agile Retrospective to help you learn from your mistakes.

What if Your Team Sees Backlog Refinement Meeting as a Waste of Time?

Business analysts and developers are often boggled by the idea of a backlog refinement meeting.

It seems like such a waste of time to sit in a meeting for hours discussing what order tasks should be done or how to prioritize them.

However, such meetings can prove invaluable.

Backlog refinement meetings can actually help save time and money down the road because they give teams a chance to have a birds-eye view of what needs to be accomplished and what should be tackled first.

In the long run, this helps everyone in the organization see what needs to be done and can prevent unnecessary rework.

How do you use a backlog refinement meeting? Let me know in the comments below!

Backlog Refinement Best Practices

A well-managed backlog is essential for an agile team, but backlog refinement best practices are often overlooked.

The following seven steps will show you how to refine your backlog for greater agility:

  1. Break down the backlog into smaller pieces that can be completed in a day or less.
  2. Prioritize items by value. Prioritize each item to reflect its relative importance to the project goals.
  3. If you’re not sure which item to tackle first, use ease of implementation as your guideline. 
  4. Stick with an iterative approach, one step at a time.
  5. A key component of backlog refinement is identifying the stakeholders who are affected by a change, then capturing needs and feedback from all of them.
  6. It is also important to define how items will be handled if they remain on the backlog for too long without being addressed.
  7. Finally, ensure that each item listed on the backlog is achievable within the time allotted. 

What to Avoid With Backlog Refinement

Many people do not know how to properly manage their backlog. This is because they are unaware of what to avoid when refining it.

For example, if you are following the three-part structure popularized by Scrum pioneer Jeff Sutherland, you will have an initial backlog, a current backlog, and a next backlog. 

During the backlog refinement process, it is important to avoid the following mistakes:

  • Over-refining backlogs:  This is a problem that occurs when you have too many stories in your current backlog. When this happens, it can cause you to forget about some of the stories in your current backlog and add them to the next one. In addition, if you over -refine your current backlog, you may add unnecessary stories to it. This can lead to a bloated backlog and reduce the efficiency of your development team.
  • Spending too much time on refining:  There is no need for you to spend more than two days per week on the refinement process. When this happens, you will waste too much time and lose productivity. Not being able to finish refining:  There is no need for you to be unable to finish the refinement process if you follow the three-part structure popularized by Jeff Sutherland. However, it can happen that some stories do not get finished . This can happen if you do not have enough resources to complete all the stories in your current backlog.
  • Prioritizing your work improperly:  If you prioritize your work incorrectly, it can cause unnecessary delays. For example, some people prioritize their stories by identifying the most important ones first and working from there. This will cause the team to start working on stories that they know they can complete quickly and work from there. While this is a good way to start, it will not be as effective as starting with the most important ones first and then identifying what additional work needs to be done.

Benefits of Backlog Refinement

There are many benefits to using backlog refinement. Some of these include:

1. By refining the backlog before each sprint, you can make sure that your team is working on things that are valuable to customers and not wasting time doing unnecessary tasks.

2. Your product or service will be more valuable to your customers, which will result in a higher likelihood that they will continue to use it and pay you for it. In addition, you can show how much you value your customers by increasing the value of their product or service.

3. Your team will be more productive because they are able to complete tasks faster and with less wasted time. This will allow them to meet their goals for each sprint instead of having incomplete tasks hanging over their heads at the end of the sprint.

4. You will be able to make better decisions about what needs to be done next because you are able to see how your product or service is doing against your goals. This can help prevent problems before they occur, which means that you won’t have to spend time and money fixing problems that could have been prevented.

5. Your customers will be happier because they will receive a product or service that is more valuable to them and at a better price than what they were expecting. This will increase the likelihood of continued use and your ability to retain existing customers.

Backlog Grooming vs Refinement

Backlog grooming is more about identifying the stories that are required to achieve a product goal in a release. This requires analysis of customer requirement to come up with each of the stories that are on the backlog.

When it comes to backlog refinement, you are identifying the actual priorities of all the stories on the backlog. You can do this by analyzing data and looking at trends over time for both work in progress (WIP) and completed stories to identify the priorities of backlog items to provide best value to the customer.

Both types of work are essential for an effective scrum team. A scrum team needs to be able to look at data and identify trends over time, which is why they need both grooming and refinement.

The key to being able to perform these two activities is having enough time for them. If you are not providing enough time for these activities, then the Scrum Master will be unable to provide the support that is needed.

How to conduct Remote Backlog Refinement Sessions Online

Remote backlog refinement is a frequent best practice for agile development teams to complete the highest priority tasks without the need to be in the same location.

Here are few pointers to effectively conduct a refinement sessions online:

  • As you prepare for a remote refinement session, take time to determine how many people will be participating in the discussion and make sure that everyone has the necessary tools to participate in this collaborative activity.
  • The team can meet online, either on Skype or Google Hangouts, to discuss the work together and make decisions. Communication is key when performing remote backlog refinement sessions. We recommend using online collaboration tools such as Google Docs or Basecamp.
  • We recommend a dedicated channel for the project and the ability to share screens. This ensures that everyone is on the same page during the session and can see each other’s changes as they happen.
  • Additionally, we recommend that the team leader and backlog owner be present in the same channel. This provides a sense of accountability and can help avoid misinterpretation or confusion when taking decisions during the session.
  • We also suggest having someone else on the project manage and oversee any questions about requirements or unclear points that might arise during the session.
  • Finally, we recommend having a back up plan if one of the people involved cannot make it to the session because of an unforeseen circumstance ( e.g., a death in the family).

Are You Leading Backlog Refinement First Time? These Tips Can Help

As the new lead, they are now responsible for leading back-log refinement meetings and cannot rely on the same people who led the meetings before them. This may be a daunting first task if they have not had any training or advice from a mentor.

  • First and foremost, find and read up on any articles or blogs that discuss first time leading backlog refinement. You might also want to explore books, videos, and other resources.
  • One of the most important things to remember is that you’re not alone! Finding others who have been in your shoes can be very helpful.
  • Be Prepared to lead meetings before they happen There are a few things that you can do to prepare for the meeting ahead of time: Read up on all topics and issues discussed in previous meetings, as well as other possible subjects such as communicating with stakeholders. Know what to expect in the meeting. Make sure that you have all of your notes and are prepared with questions for the team. Have a list of ideas, including tasks that can be done during this refinement stage.
  • Set expectations before the meeting starts It is important to set expectations ahead of time for the meeting. This can be done by writing down some notes, creating a board to display ideas or tasks that need to be done during this refinement stage, and giving other people in the team an opportunity to prepare their thoughts on what needs to be accomplished before starting the meeting.
  • Start the meeting with a welcoming speech Start off by introducing yourself and your role in the team, as well as what you expect to accomplish during this refinement stage
  • Go over the backlog on priority – One story at a time.
  • Identify the top issues and bottlenecks Identify the top issues and bottlenecks that are preventing the team from accomplishing a story/ product goal. These may include time constraints, resources, or other issues that need to be addressed during this refinement stage.
  • Determine which tasks should be completed first and make those priority changes in the backlog.
  • Share your outcome of the discussion with everyone in attendance at this meeting so that they can act or contribute to the decision-making process.

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