Quote of the Month August 2020 – Backlog Refinement Revised

Refinement is about creating a shared understanding (between PO and DT) of the value and intent of the items on the Product Backlog. Shared understanding sounds good, but why is it so important?

Some scenarios I have seen in practice:

We don’t do refinement.

In Sprint Planning the Dev Team just sits blank at first. After some explanation of the Product Owner discussions start taking place about the content, the value, the size and the order of the work. In the end, we just pull some items of the Product Backlog to start working, because the timebox expires. There is no belief in the reliability of this plan, or there is no plan at all.

We do too little refinement as a team.

Sprint Planning in this case often seems to start fruitfully. The items on top of the Product Backlog look relatively clear and the Dev Team feels confident to pull these in the Sprint. Then, going through item X, you notice a shift in the team. Not everyone has seen this before, some don’t agree with the splitting, others don’t agree with the proposed solution. The PO proposes to skip this item, but there aren’t many items that the teams thinks are ready. Finally we create a plan, but you feel the commitment ‘has been better’.

Way too much refinement.

We get situations where we refined some items a few weeks or months before. In Sprint Planning one of two things usually happens. One, people are unsure if these items are really necessary. An item that seemed pressing back then, but no one can tell why this was valuable. Or two, people have no idea what these items are about. Since we prefer talking over writing, a conversation we had a few months ago is hard to recollect. In the end, we have to do another refinement to get this clear. What a waste.

We need just in time collaboration on the Product Backlog to answer “do we understand what we are likely to do in the future?”, and “do we have just enough information to start working on it”. It is about finding a balance that works for you and your team, in order to prevent situations like this!

Source: Refinement Revised, Bjorn van den Einden, https://www.scrum.org/resources/blog/refinement-revised

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