Product Backlog Refinement explained (3/3)

How to facilitate a Product Backlog Refinement meeting? What do you do as a Scrum Master to keep the item under refinement on track? When do you estimate and what do you do when you need more time for discussion? In this third post of this series on Product Backlog refinement you will find some good practices on how to facilitate an effective and efficient refinement meeting.

This series consists of three posts:

  1. Before you bring an item into a meeting
  2. What do you typically do during a meeting focusing on refinement?
  3. Facilitating a meeting on Product Backlog refinement

All the theory from the earlier posts on Product Backlog Refinement are very nice and understanding the goal and the mechanisms at play during this activity might be very useful. Most questions, I get from Scrum Masters is how to keep a meeting on track. Below you can find a graphical representation of what steps you take and which decisions you make during a refinement meeting.

Refinement Flowchart - Flowchart Refinement

Needles to say, is that there should be not meeting held if the Product Owner has nothing to be refined. Once gathered it never hurts to repeat why we have an activity called Product Backlog refinement so everyone involved is reminded of the value of this meeting.

First action to take when starting to refine a product backlog item is to have a time-box of 10 minutes to discuss the product backlog item. After those 10 minutes you are reminded to reflect on the next step to take. Making this a working agreement for Product Backlog refinement is a great way to embed this in the Scrum Team.In those ten minutes the Product Owner starts with explaining ‘what’ the product backlog items requires. What is the problem or wish a customer needs a solution for? Followed by ‘Why’ this item has any value for a customer/user and for the Scrum Team’s vision. If the Product Owner is unable to explain this to the Development Team the Product Owner has some homework to do. It does not make sense to continue refinement on this item and the time will move back to the product backlog. If there is time left for a new item to be discussed, the Product Owner decides which item to discuss next.

When this item under refinement is clear and the team has an idea how to create it. The team can estimate the item. It doesn’t matter if the item is too big to complete in a single sprint. The estimation provides the Product Owner with input on the ordering of the Product Backlog. If the team has no idea how to create a Product Backlog item, there is a possibility to start another 10 minute time-box to explore this. Or the Development team identifies a spike to further investigate possible solutions.

As you can see in the image, there are a few decisions to be made during a Product Backlog refinement meeting. This overview will help a Scrum Team in losing focus or forgetting options to get an item in a ready state. This flow has been created by combining successful practices applied by several clients and is a useful ‘cheat sheet’ for Scrum Masters and Product Owners to get the focus back into Product Backlog refinement. Good luck!

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