Updated: Mar 2, 2022
Like a flower growing wild when untended for too long, the product backlog becomes complicated and unmanageable when the Product Owner and the team neglect it. The refinement meeting (also called grooming) was not initially formal in the Scrum framework, but it is precious and leads to a more efficient sprint planning meeting.
As part of the refinement meeting, the team (usually the PO, SM, and selected members from the development team) collaborated to prepare the product backlog for future sprints. This usually includes adding and modifying product backlog items (features, epics and stories) to make sure they are ready for work; otherwise, the team will spend hours doing this during the planning meeting itself, making it less efficient.
In my teams, there is at least one refinement meeting per sprint. This is used to ensure that the team is familiar with the stories and their acceptance criteria and provide a rough estimation for the candidates for the next sprint.
The Refinement Meeting Is Great for Your Journey
As described above, the refinement meeting helps the team prepare for the sprint planning meeting. However, as you will learn after a few sessions, this meeting also allows the team to understand the long-term stories they will need to implement (the ones that go beyond just the next sprint or two).
The long-term insights are the ones that made this meeting so important. The team's ability to understand the product roadmap allows them to prepare, assess risks and ensure that the current design and infrastructure will support them.
The refinement process includes several activities that the team should follow to ensure they achieve the expected benefits:
Splitting large or complex stories into smaller stories that the team can deliver within a single sprint.
Estimating stories and updating old estimations based on new information.
Removing dependencies between stories.
Adding new customer requirements (stories) or updating existing stories.
Removing any product backlog items that are not relevant or have become obsolete due to changes in the requirements.
Adding new technical stories that support the delivery of functional stories.
Reviewing and updating Stories with DoDs, acceptance criteria, test criteria, and technical information.
Focusing on specific areas of the product backlog to enable long-term technical testing and project planning.
You can run this meeting with different steps that may change from one team to another, but the bassline that has always worked for me is as follows:
The Scrum Master schedules the meeting and invites the relevant participants. The invitation includes the meeting agenda, location, and goals.
Once everyone arrives, the Product Owner (PO) reviews the top priority stories representing the candidates for the next sprint. He examines the main aspects, including acceptance criteria, Definition of Done, and technical information that should guide the team.
The team asks the PO any critical questions to get any missing information needed for the development and estimation efforts.
Once the team gains the necessary information, they estimate the stories roughly.
The Product Owner updates each story based on his own and team inputs.
The team approves the readiness of stories for the planning session.
How Much Time Does Refinement Require?
As with any other meeting in Scrum, this meeting is also time-boxed for a specific period. Based on my experience, this meeting should be given 60 minutes to allow the team to become familiar with the stories and make the product owner adjustments in the product backlog.
In Which Part of the Sprint Should this Meeting Be Held?
Usually, the backlog refinement meeting happens three or four days before the current sprint ends, or even earlier if you want to add a second refinement session. The overall discussion and day-to-day changes of the product backlog must still be done continuously between the Product Owner and the rest of the team.
How Can You Maximize This Meeting’s Value?
This is not rocket science; the same rules and guidelines that are relevant to any other meeting are applicable here:
Make sure that the backlog stories are updated based on the participants' comments.
Allow everybody to ask their questions and make sure you provide the answers.
Come with a predefined goal. The Product Owner should start the session with a short description of what he wants to accomplish and set the meeting goals.
The meeting should be held without any external interruptions.
The meeting should be kept to an agreed timeframe.
Only the relevant stakeholders should attend.
Work on the top priority stories, do not waste time on user stories that may become irrelevant in future sprints.
The Expected Benefits of this Meeting
The sprint planning will become more efficient and less time-consuming as the team is already familiar with the user stories they will need to commit to throughout the sprint.
The product backlog will be kept prioritized and maintainable.
Increased clarity of the user stories.
The refinement process increases team collaboration and the dialogue between team members and other stakeholders.
Ensures the quality of user stories and ensures they are constantly updated.
Helps increase the overall ownership of the team.