Best Practices of Backlog Refinement

Backlog refinement is an essential part of the Scrum process. Backlog refinement used to be called “backlog grooming” or “sprint grooming”. This term was changed recently to be more inclusive of Europeans.

Understanding what backlog refinement is all about and how to run sessions regularly and effectively is critical.  Here, we will dig deep into exactly what backlog refinement events are, who attends them, and what a successful output is.

What is backlog refinement?

Backlog refinement is a team event that helps with the Scrum process.  The goal of refinement is to dig into the backlog and make sure the team has enough information to work on upcoming stories. It is a collaborative effort where the team comes together to break down User Stories into manageable chunks of work, estimate the work, add acceptance criteria, and comes up with a plan to execute.

Who Attends the Events?

Attendance at a backlog refinement event is ideally the entire Scrum Team, including the Product Owner, the Scrum Master, and Development Team.  There may also potentially be one or two stakeholders, if subject matter expertise is needed.

 Definition Of Ready

The Scrum Master has the role of facilitating the event, driving it towards the goal of a more refined backlog.  The Product Owner will choose the highest priority backlog items to refine. Then the team will ask questions to get a better understanding of the work to be completed. They will also estimate the work and make sure acceptance criteria is present. It is at this point the team should vote on whether the backlog item they have refined meets the Definition of Ready.

Preparation Before the Event

Before the backlog refinement session there needs to be some planning for it to be successful.  The Product Owner has to look through the backlog and prioritize each of the items there.  The highest priority items are what will be refined.

Another planning item that needs to be taken into consideration is dependencies and any research that needs to be conducted before acceptance criteria can be added and work can be estimated.

Time for backlog refinement

During the backlog refinement, you want to be sure a few key factors get tackled:  

  • Estimate the stories using story points or T-shirt sizing

  • Acceptance Criteria - Establish clear and measurable Acceptance Criteria for each User Story.

  • Each user story should clearly convey the business value

  • Stories should be broken down into small enough chunks to be completed in a single sprint

  • Any known dependencies should be identified

The goal of backlog refinement is to consistently maintain a minimum of two sprints worth of stories that are ready to work. This allows the team to have a ready supply of work to pull in at any given time should priorities shift, which they often do.