Backlog Refinement Meeting: How to Run Your Own

10.07.2023

Backlog Refinement Meeting: How to Run Your Own

In Scrum, backlog refinement meetings take place between Product Owners and Development Teams in a business. These meetings provide a dedicated space for teams to review, clarify, and prioritise items in the product backlog.

Generally speaking, the product backlog is a prioritised list of work for the development team that is derived from the roadmap and its requirements. The most important tasks should be at the top of the product backlog. By regularly refining the backlog, teams can ensure that it remains up-to-date, well-defined, and ready for implementation in upcoming sprints.

What is backlog refinement important?    

Backlog refinement is important because it helps teams plan their work effectively and stay organised. It involves reviewing and clarifying the tasks that need to be done in a project. Teams invest time in backlog refinement meetings to minimise uncertainty, improve planning, and increase the overall efficiency of the development process. Full goals include:

  • Clarity and shared understanding
  • Breaking down and refining items
  • Prioritising the backlog
  • Estimating effort
  • Implementation

By regularly conducting backlog refinement meetings, teams can maintain a an organised backlog – their big list of tasks and actions. This, in turn, is ready for sprint planning and execution. These meetings facilitate effective communication, shared understanding, and improved productivity, leading to successful delivery of valuable products.

Who is responsible for backlog refinement?

Backlog refinement typically has a product leader or product owner who organises the product backlog. They hold the primary role over the backlog and must ensure it is well maintained, up-to-date and aligned with the product vision. Product owners work directly with the development team and stakeholders.

The development team support the product owner. They are required to actively participate in backlog refinement meetings by reviewing, discussing, and asking questions about backlog products to gain a greater understanding. The development team may also:

  • Suggest breaking down complex items
  • Provide effort estimates
  • Provide technical insights
  • Assist in prioritisation and planning

The level of involvement from each party may vary based on the specific needs and dynamics of the team and project. However, it’s important because backlog refinement is a collaborative process.

Conducting your own backlog refinement meeting

If you want to keep your project on track maintaining a healthy and manageable backlog is essential. The structured approach of a backlog refinement meeting enhances collaboration, improves sprint planning, and aids the development process. In turn, this streamlines development process, increasing productivity, product delivery, and customer satisfaction.

The best tools for a successful backlog refinement meeting

There are several tools that can be helpful for conducting backlog refinement meetings, both digital and physical. Below we outline the most common:

  • Project management software to track progress and assign tasks
  • Whiteboards for brainstorming and sharing ideas
  • Video conferencing tools for overseas meeting attendees
  • Spreadsheets for tracking in smaller teams
  • T-card planning systems, sticky notes, and other accessories

T-card planning systems are an effective method to visualise your projects and track progress throughout. This practical system can be used for simple or complex projects in any environment.

It's important to choose a tool or combination of tools that best suits your team's needs, preferences, and project requirements. The goal is to have a tool that facilitates collaboration, organisation, and transparency throughout the backlog refinement meeting.

Team meeting gathered around a whiteboard

Backlog refinement meeting agenda

Use the meeting agenda below to help run your own backlog refinement meeting. The agenda and duration of your backlog meeting may be different to the below, so adjust as required. If you’re the meeting facilitator, help keep the meeting on track, make sure attendees stay focused, encourage collaboration, and drive the accomplishment of backlog refinement goals.

Welcome and introduction (5 minutes)

  • Welcome attendees
  • Quickly run over the agenda

Review of meeting goals (5 minutes)

  • Recap meeting objectives
  • Ensure everyone is aligned with the meeting’s purpose

Review of backlog items (30 – 60 minutes)

  • Go through the backlog items one by one
  • Discuss each item to clarify its details, requirements, and acceptance criteria
  • Consider breaking down larger items into smaller tasks
  • Capture additional information or changes to the items as required

Effort estimation (15 – 30 minutes)

  • Estimate the effort or relative size of backlog items
  • Use estimation techniques like story points, ideal hours, or relative sizing
  • Discuss and align on the estimated effort for each item
  • Note any dependencies or technical considerations associated with the items

Prioritisation (15 – 30 minutes)

  • Assess the priority of backlog items and adjust where necessary
  • Collaboratively decide on the relative order of the items.

Action items and next steps (10 minutes)

  • Summarise the key decisions made during the meeting
  • Identify any action items or tasks that need to be addressed and put in timeframes
  • Assign responsibilities to team members for specific tasks

Meeting wrap-up (5 minutes)

  • Recap the key takeaways of the meeting
  • Thank attendees for their contribution
  • Confirm the date and time of the next meeting if appropriate

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