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The concept of Product Backlog Refinement

The concept of Product Backlog Refinement

Product Backlog Refinement is a concept used in Agile methodology and is essential for product management. It is an ongoing process when the Product Owner and Developers cooperate to ensure that they share the same understanding of Backlog methods, estimate the size of complexity and efforts of items implementation and order them according to business priority and required measures.

Developers review items not included in the ongoing Sprint to Product Backlog to ensure relevance, priority, and delivery readiness. It is referred to as Story time. During meeting the team:

  • includes only relevant items;
  • deletes irrelevant ones;
  • prioritize user Stories;
  • reviews user feedback;
  • makes updates.

The whole process creates the same understanding of the Product and efforts needed to implement the work order.

Why the Product Backlog Refinement is Important

The process is crucial for Scrum Teams. It aligns items’ details and leverages all members’ insights in adding necessary information. The process involves discussions between Owners and the Team to understand the tasks better to get valuable results. The process provides an understanding of users’ expectations, feedback and maintenance of project deliverance, and tasks priority. It helps keep the most relevant tasks on top of the list and is also called Backlog Grooming.

Goals of Product Backlog Refinement

Critical goals are reducing the risk of implementing wrong and things wasting efforts and time by:

  • sizing items to understand costs and reduce the risk of the wrong estimation of terms;
  • reducing the risk of working on less critical things and missing important ones;
  • improving the efficiency of Sprint Planning by having answers to many questions;
  • keeping the focus on Product Backlog and having a clear and relevant understanding of tasks;
  • leveraging collaboration benefits in detailing user stories and issues;
  • creating awareness of tasks between the Team and stakeholders.

Possible problems during Product Backlog Refinement

Refinement is practical only in collaborative work of all members of the process, sharing opinions and discussing issues. Without open discussions, there will be no progress in the Project.

Backlog Refinement Activities

  • creating a shared understanding of the goal and actions to achieve it.
  • keeping Product up to date;
  • providing clarity and preventing misunderstandings by adding examples, acceptance criteria, constraints, etc. before implementation;
  • dividing large tasks into smaller ones to get more focused on managing;
  • Items sizing if they were included longer than intended or to check implementation readiness;
  • prioritizing things when adding new ones;
  • identifying risks for ones close to implementation.

All mentioned above should result in the DEEP Product Backlog. DEEP is an acre by first letters:

  • Detailed Appropriately — this means that the detailing of ideas is relevant. So, the item or the User Story that is high on priority should typically have more details than those that are not so relevant at the moment.
  • Estimated — understanding the cost implications on story points and ideas.
  • Emergent — keeping new ideas and adding to the list as and when the more recent discoveries are made. The process is dynamic, and emerging ideas must continue.
  • Prioritized — the entire process depends on prioritization. The ideas and User Stories that have the highest priority need to be delivered at the earliest. The not-so-important ideas need to be pushed back to either delete them entirely or put them on the lowest priority.

DEEP Backlog ensures that high-priority items on the top list have a Ready for Implementation level. Objects with less priority level should have less description and effort.

The concept of Product Backlog Refinement

Backlog Refinement Meetings Organization

There is no particular meeting time. It is an ongoing activity. But many teams prefer quick, efficient workflow meetings. Some do them at the Sprint beginning when all insights are fresh. Others meet at the Sprint ends, so the discussion is up-to-date for the next Sprint iteration or in the middle of an iteration and alternate backlog and sprint planning meetings.

The Owner meets Developers, customer representatives, QAs, business stakeholders. Participants can vary, but the Owner is always present and usually facilitates the meeting. But it is still better to engage Scrum Master because s/he has no official role and can be more objective. The Scrum Master helps understand good items’ properties and prioritize them to maximize the value delivered.

However, the best facilitator choice is a person who is not interested in the result, has excellent facilitator skills, and makes sure everyone feels heard and discussions don’t run in circles.

Product Backlog Refinement Practices

Well-coordinated teamwork can only create a successful product thanks to a shared understanding of the tasks. Work practices were designed to improve this process.

Include the Right People in the Process

The process works only if proper people with proper knowledge should be involved. They should know items, how they fit business, and who provides item context. The Owner, scrum master, developers, and users have to share the Project’s thoughts and build a clear strategy. Developers should participate in the discussion to understand the process and what types of work they will face. The meeting has to be organized and appropriately scheduled. All participants have to be well informed and prepared.

Schedule Scrum Refinement Properly

The best time is three-quarters of a Sprint. Participants have to be well-prepared and organized and clarify goals and issues. Meetings shouldn’t be too long. One hour or less is the best duration.

Define Ready for Sprint Backlog Items

Definition of Ready is implemented to the quality standard, like the definition of Done. Setting quality standards helps to define the quality. Are there any bugs, dependencies, or other issues to be resolved? Can the task be divided into smaller subtasks, etc.? If everything is clear, then the user story is ready. Some apps help define the readiness of review items. This helps to understand what information is needed.

Prioritize Items During Backlog Refinement

Proper prioritizing is vital. The team needs to clearly understand the work unit’s priority to plan workload during the sprint, manage time, distribute work more accurately, and fulfill essential tasks before others.

Set a Refinement Period for Items

Developers should set a time limit depending on the knowledge and complexity of the task. A well-refined thing will improve overall performance in the future.

Build Core Product Discovery Team

Creating the core team, including marketing, customer service, and sales, is good practice. They will be involved in matching customers’ needs and feedback to features.

Remember About Customers

The whole process of development is satisfying the customer. All participants of the process are responsible for the decisions and results. The requirements and wishes of the end-user have to be kept in thought.

Follow 20/30/50 Rule

It states:

  • 20% of items have to be almost ready for delivery;
  • 30% of stories have enough detailed information so the developer can discuss with concerned people immediately;
  • 50% of ideas are in the background and need a discussion on which should be done.

Conclusion

The Product Backlog Refinement effectiveness in the Software Development process is undisputed as the process is dynamic and needs constant efforts. It is vital to track ideas repeatedly and adjust them to correspond to current requirements. Now an action plan of best practices implementation has to be developed. The team will communicate and collaborate efficiently and be involved in the planning process.

Ivan Kolesnikov

About the author:

Ivan Kolesnikov

Experienced professional in programming.

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