Backlog refinement

(This post is targeted at product managers, but you might find it interesting as well, because most principles can be applied to any meeting)

As a product manager, you have one really important domain to take charge of: the backlog. You are probably spending a lot of time making sure your backlog is looking sharp. A carefully sorted and specified backlog brings clarity to the team.

Obviously you’ll need your team to help you with this job as well. In scrum, your team needs to understand the user stories and tasks to be able to attach a score to the cards. You use scored cards to make an educated guess on the amount of work that you and your team can get done in a sprint.

This is where backlog refinement sessions come in. I like to have these sessions with the complete team and while that might sounds as a waste of time, this is a great way to make sure everyone is on the same page.

A couple of ideas to help you get the most out of these meetings:

  • Be prepared. All the individual user stories and tasks to refine should be as complete as possible. Also, it helps to know how many items you really need to go through in the amount of time you have. In order to know this, you need to have a clear goal of what you want to reach next sprint.
  • Start with reiterating the focus. With every meeting, I like to start with reiterating what I’d like to be the focus of the next sprint. This helps setting the vibe and it helps with seeing a line in the different stories and cards.
  • Introduce technical refinements. This differs a bit from product to product, but it could be that there are a lot of things it is necessary to have your engineers flesh out the details. I don’t find it really useful to have these discussions with me present. Consider marking stories to be discusses in the technical refinement, so you can skip those and quickly move on to the important stories.
  • Score quickly. Cards should be clear, but the score is an estimation. Make sure to start scoring instead of starting with a discussion. If everyone agrees and there are not large questions, stick with the score. The fine print can be adjusted in the sprint itself.

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