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What Is Backlog Refinement and How to Do It

Scrum is a popular project management framework, used in sales, marketing, research, and software development. A concept that’s very popular in Scrum is backlog refinement, which involves adding detail, estimates, and order items to a product backlog.

The backlog refinement process is ongoing, meaning owners and developers are constantly collaborating and working on it, reviewing and revising information.

As with many things in Scrum, backlog refinement can be confusing for the uninitiated – taking steps to learn about it before getting started will improve your performance. Here is everything you need to know:

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Backlog Refinement

The ‘product backlog’ is a list of improvements a team plans on making to a product, including anything the product’s owner thinks will add value like new features or fixes. Backlog refinement, or refining the scrum, is when product developers and owners collaborate and brainstorm, working out what will add value to their product, increase sales, and improve performance.

The refinement process enables a team to talk about new features or improvements they are planning on making; sometimes, it involves reviewing an enhancement list, so the team can be confident that any of the changes being made are valuable and worthwhile.

Refinement Process

If you plan on integrating backlog refinement into your business’s operations then it is important to view it as a process, not an event. While during sprints you may hold a few refinement sessions, getting into the mind state of viewing refinement as an ongoing process will benefit you and your team.

This is because when you view it as something that’s ongoing you are constantly thinking about it, whereas if it is just a singular event, it will become something you prepare for just to get it out of the way.

Backlog Visitations

Every so often, go back and visit your backlog. Visiting your backlog and looking at what’s there will aid you in preparing for refinement sessions. When you know what is in your backlog, it is easier to come up with ideas for how you can refine it. Ideally, team members should visit your company’s backlog too.

During sprints, backlog refinement will take up a lot of time. Unless your team is familiar with what is in your backlog, they will not be able to prepare themselves, come up with ideas, and contribute to group discussions. Contribution is an important part of backlog refinement, so encourage it.

Flexible Refinement

As mentioned earlier, backlog refinement should be viewed as a process rather than a singular event. Unless you view it as a process, refinement will become rigid and fixed. It is something that should be flexible, meaning it can be visited at any time, even without preparation and planning.

During sprint sessions, you can hold sudden backlog refinements. The more experienced you become in refinement, the easier it’ll be to drift in and out of sessions. At first, refinement will be difficult but over time you will master it.

Timing Refinement

As mentioned several times already, backlog refinement is a process, not a singular event. While it is possible to drift in and out of refinement sessions, experts do advise giving employees notice so they can properly prepare ideas.

In terms of how often you should be holding refinement sessions, experts generally recommend holding them once during a sprint, and twice weekly when sprints are not taking place. That said, backlog refinement should be flexible, meaning you can do it whenever you want, as much as you need to. Do not feel pressured to perform refinements when you do not want to either.

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Sprint Cycle

Sprints are fixed periods where employees try to achieve certain goals and complete specific tasks. As mentioned previously, backlog refinement should take place at least once during a sprint. Your backlog refinement should fit around your sprint cycle, not the other way around.

There are many other important things that need to take place during a sprint, so you shouldn’t put total emphasis on backlog refinement, as there are other tasks that need to be completed. While backlog refinement is important, it is not as important as the other important things you will be doing during sprints.

Finding Rhythm

At first, backlog refinement will feel a little strange. It’s normal for it to feel this way, however. A lot of people make the mistake of thinking the process should be natural; however, if they have never done it before then there is no reason for it to feel this way.

All aspects of agile development, sprint included, can be hard to adjust to. It is one of the most effective frameworks for improving company performance however, which is why it’s worth spending as much time as you can learning about it and improving your skills. Myriad guides exist online, so you have learning resources to refer to if you struggle.

Team Alignment

One of the main advantages of backlog refinement is that it helps to bring each member of your team into alignment. It is common in sprints for people to have different opinions and ideas. While it is good for your employees to have their own opinions when it comes to backlog refinement everybody needs to be in agreement.

It is, therefore, important to encourage sharing, so everybody can get brought up to the same speed. When you know who thinks what, you can sit down with them and talk to them and explain why certain decisions need to be made.

Encouraging Sharing

Throughout sprints, you need to ensure that your employees feel comfortable and happy sharing their opinions. As mentioned in the previous section, until employees share how they feel, you cannot bring everybody into alignment.

Achieving total alignment is only possible when employees feel comfortable expressing themselves. Otherwise, people will hold differing ideas and plans. Make sure you give employees a platform to voice their opinion during sprints so that they can tell you how they feel about certain things.

Backlog refinement is a fundamental part of the sprint process. Until you are confident holding refinement sessions, your sprints will never be totally effective. As mentioned already, do everything you can to improve employee confidence, so they speak openly and share their ideas.


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Julius G. Evans

Julius is a business writer that specializes in the marketing and technology segments. He is especially keen on topics that help small businesses navigate and grow their enterprises online through incisive articles on various internet marketing trends.