How to master backlog refinement meetings

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For Agile software development teams, maintaining a consistent understanding of the scope and context of the product is critical. Products already released to market often have a large backlog of user stories yet to be developed. Agile teams draw from the product backlog when planning sprints, and the condition of the backlog plays a significant role in the overall success of the product.

In simple terms, backlog refinement is about keeping the product backlog up to date. Backlog refinement meetings, also known as “sessions,” are the events that allow a team to update and prepare the backlog for an upcoming sprint.

A product backlog can be large and difficult to manage. But for good Agile project management, it is essential to master backlog refinement meetings.

This article provides proven strategies for conducting backlog refinement meetings that keep your backlog current, clean, and organized. It explains why backlog refinement sessions are important, how to run efficient sessions, and helpful tips Agile teams have learned along the way.

The purpose of backlog refinement sessions

A backlog refinement meeting is when a project team meets to review, update, and clean its product backlog. It is crucial in any Agile methodology, as it clarifies the team’s workload for a future sprint. These meetings aim to maintain two sprints worth of items in the backlog so the team always has a fresh supply of work and can pivot to new tasks when requirements change.

In a backlog refinement meeting, like in sprint planning, product owners and development team members discuss each backlogged item, clarify its requirements, and assess its priority and complexity, resulting in a more clearly defined and actionable list of items to work on.

By regularly conducting backlog refinement sessions, the team can ensure the development process remains agile and responsive to changing needs and priorities. Such dynamic environments require collaboration and project tracking tools like Jira Software, which has a backlog feature, help managers make those changes for their teams at large.

How to run an efficient backlog refinement meeting

Agile project management begins with efficient backlog refinement meetings. The following steps will help you create a smooth and repeatable process that assembles the right people, sets expectations, prioritizes and evaluates items, and defines the next steps.

1. Review and prioritize backlogged items

Before the backlog refinement meeting can take place, the product owner needs to do an initial review of existing product backlog items (such as user stories, features, or tasks) and remove those that are no longer relevant. As a product evolves and feature requirements change, some items will no longer fit the project vision. The product owner should also implement feedback from previous sprint reviews and clear items the team decides to remove.

The product owner should then prioritize all items that remain in the backlog, knowing this prioritization may change as the team deliberates on each item at the meeting.

2. Create and share the meeting agenda

Like any meeting in a project management context, an agenda is essential to keep discussions on topic. Product owners can create the backlog refinement meeting agenda and collaborate with relevant team members, allowing them to give early feedback and time estimates on the items and prepare for the upcoming topics.

The agenda’s main purpose is to keep the team focused on the selected backlog items and successfully complete the refinement activities within the time set for the meeting. Atlassian’s meeting agenda template makes setting agendas, capturing notes, and sharing action items easy for Agile teams by providing a premade format for your meeting minutes.

3. Ensure necessary participants are present

Because backlog refinement meetings can involve complex discussions and sometimes run for a full hour, it is vital to invite only the needed participants.

Who should be in the backlog refinement meeting? A typical session requires the attendance of the following team members:

  • The product owner
  • Development team members (Scrum team)
  • The project sponsor
  • The meeting facilitator (Scrum Master)
  • A product manager (optional)

4. Determine the right time to meet

The best time to meet depends on the length of the sprints and the complexity of the project. If a team holds weekly sprints, the project manager should have a backlog refinement session weekly. If sprints are two weeks, the project manager should plan a session every other week. If the sprints are longer than two weeks, bi-weekly sessions are still best to help the team prepare for changing priorities or unforeseen issues.

Whatever the team decides, aim for hour-long meetings to tackle the entire backlog and ensure the product manager schedules them on the calendar and the meeting facilitator rigorously timeboxes them to avoid wasted time.

5. Evaluate the user story

For an Agile team to successfully evaluate the complexity of an item, they must have a shared understanding of the user story. User stories are informal explanations of what the feature does from the customer’s perspective.

The backlog refinement meeting is the time to examine existing user stories and evaluate whether they are still relevant to the project. This is also the time to add new user stories based on newly gathered insights or to split larger user stories into smaller ones. This continuous improvement of the user stories is an important part of the Agile process as it allows the team to identify opportunities to improve the product incrementally.

Identify next steps and follow up

During a backlog refinement meeting, the team will identify items to include in the sprint and remove the rest. In some instances, a session can reveal multiple backlog items with the same priority, but the team might not have enough time to complete all of them. Agile planning poker cards are a helpful tool for deciding which items to move forward with and which to save for the next sprint.

When the meeting ends, follow up by sending the meeting minutes to all participants and ensuring they understand the priority of the items discussed. Breaking down the development into action items using a tool like Jira Software helps keep the critical backlog components in focus. This prioritized backlog then becomes the focus of the next sprint planning session.

Benefits of productive backlog refinement sessions

When done correctly, product backlog refinement meetings contribute to overall efficiency and team productivity, and ensure project completion. The following sections outline some of the advantages of backlog refinement sessions.

Optimized backlog

These sessions declutter and optimize the process. They keep the product backlog focused and clean and ensure it is not clogged with irrelevant items.

Gedeeld begrip

Because these meetings require the team to discuss each item in detail, the team and stakeholders develop a shared understanding of what the work requires and which items should be prioritized.

Effective sprint planning

Meeting participants can ask questions and offer feedback, resulting in streamlined sprint planning meetings. In addition, the shared understanding of the project makes sprint planning easier and quicker.

Verbeterde samenwerking

Team members come from various backgrounds and have differing views on priorities and how long items will take to complete. The refinement meeting allows members to share their views, helping them get on the same page about priorities and deadlines.

Empowered team

Team members who participate in refinement meetings take ownership of the sprint and, by extension, the project and the work required to complete it. The result is an empowered team that holds itself accountable for the outcome of each sprint.

Tips for successful backlog refinement meetings

There is an abundance of tips and strategies for conducting backlog refinement meetings. However, the following best practices have proven useful to Agile teams globally.

Keep your backlog DEEP

Roman Pichler and Mike Cohn first used the acronym DEEP to outline a way to structure a backlog to maximize its usefulness. The following are the four elements of a DEEP backlog:

  • Detailed appropriately: Make items useful by adding details.
  • Emergent: Add, change, or remove backlog items based on new insights into the project or with changing project requirements.
  • Estimated: Give each item a time estimate.
  • Met prioriteit: geef prioriteit aan de items in de sprint door items met de hoogste waarde bovenaan de lijst te plaatsen.

Gebruik een definitie van klaar voor elk item

Een definitie van klaar (DoR) is een overeengekomen reeks criteria om aan te geven of een backlogitem klaar is zodat het team eraan kan werken. De DoR zorgt ervoor dat het team begrijpt wat het werk inhoudt en kan inschatten hoeveel tijd nodig is om het af te ronden.

Items in beheersbare stukken verdelen

Een goede vuistregel om het werk te verdelen is ervoor zorgen dat het per backlogitem nooit meer dan een halve sprint duurt om te voltooien. Voor een sprint van een week kan een item dat vier dagen in beslag neemt, de planning doen ontsporen en moet het worden opgesplitst in twee kleinere items van elk twee dagen.

Verdeel verfijningssessies

De eerste paar vergaderingen over backlogverfijning kunnen enkele uren duren. Eén manier om het team gefocust te houden en de vergadertijden met sponsors, productmanagers en andere belanghebbenden te optimaliseren, is door de sessies op te splitsen in twee of meer sessies, die idealiter elk een uur duren. Dit geeft deelnemers de tijd om items in de backlog te beoordelen en te bekijken hoe ze in het totale project passen.

Stroomlijn vergaderingen over backlogverfijning met Jira Software

Vergaderingen over productbacklogverfijning zijn essentieel en hebben een goed onderhouden en geprioriteerde productbacklog tot resultaat. Maar deze vergaderingen kunnen tijdrovend en verwarrend zijn, vooral als je niet de juiste tools gebruikt om je backlog aan te maken, de beslissingen vast te leggen en ze met het team te delen.

Met de backlog-functie van Jira Software wordt het eenvoudig om met teamleden samen te werken aan backlogverfijning. Je kunt bij elk item opmerkingen en gegevens toevoegen, taken toewijzen aan teamleden en items opsommen en prioriteren op basis van waarde of risico. Met Jira Software kun je eenvoudig je vergaderingen over backlogverfijning stroomlijnen en het algemene projectmanagementproces verbeteren. Ontdek hoe het de efficiëntie van je team kan verbeteren.

Vergadering over backlogverfijning: veelgestelde vragen

Hoe vaak moeten sessies over backlogverfijning plaatsvinden?

Hoe vaak de vergaderingen over backlogverfijning plaatsvinden, hangt af van de sprintcyclus van je team. Voor sprints die een week duren, is de gemiddelde frequentie wekelijks. Voor sprints van twee weken of langer kan een vergadering om de twee weken je helpen om je backlog bij te houden.

Hoelang moeten vergaderingen over backlogverfijning duren?

Er is geen vaste duur voor een vergadering over backlogverfijning, omdat dat afhangt van de complexiteit van het project en de omvang van de productbacklog. Maar het is een goede gewoonte om twee uur uit te trekken voor de eerste paar vergaderingen. Als een project eenmaal van start is, is het gebruikelijk om verfijningsvergaderingen van een uur te houden. Deze vergaderingen worden vaak korter naarmate de sprints vorderen.

Hoe bereid je je voor op een sessie over backlogverfijning?

De producteigenaar is grotendeels verantwoordelijk voor de voorbereiding van een sessie over backlogverfijning. Diegene moet de items prioriteren op basis van hun waarde, de nodige informatie toevoegen aan de items met de hoogste prioriteit en de agenda van de vergadering voorbereiden. Teamleden moeten de agenda lezen en vragen en feedback over de genoemde items voorbereiden.