Product Backlog Refinement — Imperative yet Uncustomary

Looking closely into some of the well-oiled Agile teams, the one element that keeps their chaos leashed is — iterative and consistent Product Backlog Refinement.

When I am asked to coach teams, as a Scrum master and Agile Coach, for “Agile Improvements”, I usually notice common feebleness amongst teams- insufficient or negligent PBR (Product Backlog Refinement) aka Sprint Grooming.

So let’s break down PBR and look closely into why and how this one very informal event can help us cover the journey for teams from the state of confusion to achieve the Agile nirvana.

One more meeting?

Unlike other official ceremonies in Agile, the Product Backlog ceremony is technically not a part of the prescriptive process. So when we take certifications and read books, we will hear the term refined and prioritized backlog but we may not understand how to achieve it, where it fits into the cycle, and how important it is for the whole process. Hence, when we start new teams or take on one of the Agile roles, the focus is always on official ceremonies. In other words, PBR is a side dish that you don’t focus on until your main course is under control. In Agile though, this side dish is indomitable.

First and foremost, we need to accept that this event is not “extra work”, it makes work happen. PBR needs to be part of the process and to do so, there needs to be cadence just like any other ceremony.

This is the magic wand for organizing the chaos sprint after sprint, and yes it can be done!

The anatomy of refinement -

If you are thinking too hard or unclear about the objective of the refinement process, start simple and small. Think of what to take into the process as input and set the stage on what you are trying to achieve from this process and then let your team define this process-

Input -

  1. Product backlog, in any format. It could be ideas, features, epics. I like to call it ”Product owner’s Wish List”.

Everything in between -

Once you have the right input and audience, watch the magic happen. The team will collaborate to -

  • Understand the work for upcoming sprints and help write/update the user stories.

Output -

The Refined and prioritized backlog — This is one artifact that solves countless issues that could topple your Agile wagon. A well refined backlog:

  • Helps the team understand the path ahead and give them a clear understanding of the backlog items.
PBR Anatomy
PBR Anatomy

Dancing to your own tunes -

One must wonder what part does “cadence” play in this semantics. Well, like other ceremonies, if PBR is done on a cadence, it can provide best results. The cadence adds discipline, and helps create engagement, and will help produce magical impact.

  • Cadence will ensure there is always time for refinement.

Some words of wisdom from the chief gratuitous-

Lastly, I want to leave you with some helping tips and tricks that have showed me and my teams good refinement path -

Scrum Masters -

  • Please ensure there is 5–10% of velocity committed towards refinement every sprint. This will help the team to not hunt for time and achieve the results above from continuous refinement.

Product Owners

  • Make time for this event. Having a BA without PO or proxy PO will cause more confusion and chaos and might make the team question the importance of the process.

Team

  • Just like any other ceremony put your skin in this game, own it and make time for it.

PBR is the pulse to the Agile teams; it’s the one secret ingredient that can help our teams make the crossover from wild chaos to systematic chaos. We have to make this worthwhile and make it count.

Have you found your magic potion for refinement yet?

Go Agile!!

Kamaldeep Chawla

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store