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What is the purpose of backlog refinement? 

Backlog Refinement – It’s an Art 

Whenever I’m asked, “What is the purpose of backlog refinement?” Chances are that the answer might get intricate. 🌟

And as I often say in my CSM and advanced Agile and Scrum courses, “It’s one of my favourite topics”.

Basically, backlog refinement is a concept that might sound complex but resonates deeply with anyone involved in Agile methodologies. 📚

Let’s explore this topic and I’ll give you some understanding, clarification, and preparation for an effective sprint.

Why Backlog Refinement Exists

In the early days of agile…we didn’t do any upfront planning…and we invariably said, we don’t get what that means.” 🤔

Sound familiar?

This is where we have to give a historical nod to Backlog Refinement because Agile was all about agility, but sometimes, a lack of prep meant diving into murky waters. Agile was never about leaping without looking.

We wanted flexibility, yes, but clarity was often amiss.

Enter our evolutionary response.   

Slowly, over time, the community came up with the idea that maybe we needed to do a little bit of work beforehand.  

And that’s how backlog refinement entered the scene – an essential pre-step for clarity.

The Process and Its Essence  

So, what’s this backlog refinement all about?

At its core, it’s a process whereby we share an understanding of the problem we’re trying to solve. It’s not about illuminating the shadows or finding solutions but understanding the problem in its entirety.

Now, the question often comes up about conversations over formalities. 

It doesn’t have to be a formal meeting. Some teams mix both structured meetings and off-the-cuff conversations to explore the problem space fully.

Who’s In the Room? 

You’ll find the product owner or a customer, or somebody who understands the issue at hand to guide the narrative.

And what about the implementers?

Well, the product owner or customers are your guides, your clarifiers and accompanying them, you’ll have your coders, testers, architects, and writers – in short, a mix of disciplines ensuring every facet of the problem gets attention.

Dynamics of Refinement Conversations 

It’s a space for questions for ideas that crop up.  It’s fluid.  

New items may form, and existing items may break down. As understanding deepens, the work is going to be resized and re-estimated.

Our aim?

We’re not talking about the solution. We’re talking about the problem itself.

An integral part is to ask questions and get clarification.

Aim of Refinement 

We’re not talking about the solution. We’re talking about the problem itself. It’s about understanding the challenge. 🎯

Because, as I’ve seen time and again, it’s about achieving that ‘ready’ state.

Achieving this ‘ready’ state is the goal to ensure that, as a team, we are confident of picking up an item and delivering it within the sprint timeframe. 

Sage Advice 

If you’re not currently practising product backlog refinement – then start now.

If you are struggling in planning, it’s often a sign that you want to spend a bit more time developing this skill.

If things feel stuck, it often signals a need to go deeper. Go upstream, understand the steps, and refine better for smoother downstream flows.

Level Up Your Agile Game   

Want to grasp the art of backlog refinement truly? 🚀

Join me and countless others on this journey with my expert Agile and Scrum courses and let’s refine, refine, refine! 💡

author avatar
John McFadyen Managing Partner
John McFadyen is an Executive and Enterprise Agile Coach with proven experience working on some of the UK and Europe’s largest, most complex Agile Transformations. As a Certified Scrum Trainer, John brings a wealth of experience as an Agile coach, Agile practitioner and software developer into each of the four core courses he provides. The war stories, the insights into successful Agile transformations and everything he has learned from coaching high-performance Agile teams combine to provide course delegates with a unique, compelling training experience that transforms as much as it empowers.

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