Ways to spruce up your backlog refinement

“It’s backlog refinement time!” I holler to my team as I skip to meeting room 5.07. A deep guttural groan answers me as my team begrudgingly lift from their chairs and drag their feet to join me. A classic indication that this isn’t their favourite time of our two week sprint cycle.

Firstly, what is the goal of refining thy backlog. I mean, why the hell are we even going this — I believe it to be managing uncertainty and creating a common understanding among the team.

So, how can I make it better for my team to hit these goals? How can I get them skipping after me to backlog refinement sessions?

  1. Ask them what is wrong. You can’t fix what you don’t know is broke — am I right?
     Some people don’t like the disruption to their day with yet another meeting that goes overtime, others have no idea what backlog refinement is and therefore don’t know what they should contribute, while others think it is just a waste of their time, full stop.
  2. Start with what is broken.
  3. If they don’t know about backlog refinement — hold a workshop session.
  4. If the meetings always run over, set a time limit for each issue discussed, e.g. 10 minutes.
  5. If they think it is a waste of time, coach them on how it can benefit them.
  6. Set the scene. Before the session, collate the stories you want to refine and share them with the team. It helps people to know the context of a session. That way they can jot down any questions that might have before the session.
  7. Make sure you cover the three essentials.
  8. Why do we want to build this?
  9. What do we need to build? Hit the “Goldilocks zone’ of describing requirements: clear enough to prevent a million questions, yet not so intricately described to silence discussion. You gotta get it just right.
  10. How can we build it? If the team has no idea how to build it, plan a spike.
  11. Give 35 cards a red-hot go. I came across this idea on Hackernoon. Basically there are 35 cards, numbered 1 to 35, that are all handed out to the team at the beginning of backlog refinement. The session commences and the cards are played from 1, in order, through to 35. As each card is played, the team member must act upon what is on the card, e.g. Time tracker, story board, Joker and ABC.
     The goal with this is to mix up the session, make it interesting and get involved. I am about to try this with one of my teams, so stay tuned.
     https://hackernoon.com/35-cards-which-will-improve-your-backlog-refinement-process-and-engage-every-team-member-54f929fdd282
  12. Try having acceptance criteria already. The Product Owner can have a crack at creating some acceptance criteria to speed things along and give the team an idea of what is trying to be achieved.
  13. Assign action items for any unknowns or big risks. If there are any big gotchas during the refinement session you can always “take it offline” and assign tasks for people to research or have a Tech Refinement Session.
  14. Iterate backlog refinement. If stories are not understood, try to discuss it a few times before it is pokered.

Without proper refinement estimates are off and team members are are more likely to make wrong decisions. The team will deliver less value because they do not understand why their work matters. The velocity of the team will not reach a stable and predictable level.

Do you have any tips on sprucing up backlog refinement sessions?

Disclaimer: The opening paragraph is a complete and total over exaggeration — I don’t skip anywhere :)


Originally published at Domain Tech Blog.