Refine your refinements

Most people that have engaged in backlog refinements have probably been there; long refinement meetings where you might have felt that you were only needed for half of it. Where the items turned out okay but not great. Where there was already a solution on the table when you entered the room, and where you thought to yourself that there must be a way to make this more efficient.

This led me to design and try out a new backlog refinement format, which resulted in our team spending less time on refinements, with fewer people involved in each item that was refined, and with better results.

What are some problems that might occur while doing a standardized backlog refinement?

So, how do you tackle these problems, and make your refinements more efficient?

Instead of refining every backlog item together in a big refinement meeting, give people time to think and do research about the subject in advance, and then start to refine backlog items in smaller groups!

Lightbulb momemt
Photo by Pixabay from Pexels

While some might believe that you need to have the whole team present during refinements in order to reach a consensus about a solution, I would argue that collaboration is not about consensus. Collaboration in the refinement process should be about working with other people to share ideas, perspectives, and knowledge to come up with the most valuable solution together. This does not necessarily mean that the whole team needs to be involved or in consensus. The team members that take on refining a backlog item should be trusted to be able to make good decisions without involving each member of the team in the process. However, the rest of the team should be able to give input while being briefed about the decisions.

Get started with the new backlog refinement format

Create a backlog refinement board
I find that it is easier to structure the refinement process if there is a dedicated board for items that are either going to be refined, are in the refinement process or are ready for a sprint. This board could be either physical or digital. A kanban board that accomplishes this result could look something like this:

Refinement board

Remaster your backlog refinement meeting
Instead of a long backlog refinement meeting, create a recurring appointment that is approximately 30 minutes long (depending on the size of the team). The purpose of this meeting should be to look at the refinement board together. If some items need to be refined, you simply move the items to the ongoing refinement column. Then you assign someone responsible for this item to be refined. This does not necessarily mean that this person should refine it, but that the person is responsible for setting up a new appointment with the people that are needed for it to be refined, and that makes sure that it gets done.

If there are items that have been refined during the week, the people that refined it should briefly summarise the refinement and make sure that the whole team understands what the solution proposal is. After this, if the team agrees, you can simply move the item to the refined column, and it is now ready to be planned into a sprint.

Team foundations to succeed with implementing this refinement strategy

Summary

This is a format that has worked great for our team. Nothing about it is set in stone. Try it out as is or modify it however your team prefers. The goal of the format is to provide the right prerequisites for the team to collaborate efficiently and solve problems in the best way they see fit. It should create a better foundation for the team members to feel responsible for the solutions, and as a result, take accountability for the value delivered. If you want an empowered team, I think this refinement format could be a step in the right direction.

Robin

Robin Köhn
Scrum Master at Visiba Care

--

--

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