Some teams have backlog refinement (or grooming) down to a science. Other teams, not so much. Either they don't even try, or it is a time that is more or less wasted since there is no clear direction or purpose.
I've been there. We've probably all been there. And if you haven't, I suppose you can stop reading now. But for anyone who currently finds their refinement efforts lacking, here is a little something to try. And even if things are going well, maybe this could help focus you even more. As I was contemplating how to make our refinement meetings more focused, here is what I came up with.
FUSE. As we examine each story in our backlog, along with the epics they belong to, I've asked the team to help think about 4 things in order to ensure each story is ready for prime time.
Focused: Is each story appropriately focused? As we build out stories and descriptions and acceptance criteria, there is always the possibility that we've included too much in a given story. So asking the team to help us take a step back and make sure that the story is focused enough and doesn't need to be further broken out.
Understandable: Is the story understandable? What questions remain? This is probably an area that I always need some guidance on. I understand the story since I put it into the backlog. I generally know the entire backstory as well. And the business need and the user perspective etc. But the team may not always have that full perspective. This is a great time to not only explain everything, but to also make sure all of that is captured in the story.
Sized: What is the size of the story? Of course, no refinement exercise is really complete if we haven't estimated a size for a given story. Once the story is understood and broken out sufficiently, we need to size it so we have an idea where it will fit into one of our sprints. Of course, sizing is a separate topic in itself, so we'll leave that for another post.
Expounded: Finally, is the story fully expounded? This ties in very nicely with it being understandable, but I think it deserves its own section. We need to make sure appropriate detail is there, and doing this jointly with the development team is crucial. It involves getting their input and including that.
Expounding also extends to the epic or version as well. Our refinement meetings are great opportunities to ensure that the stories we've written include all the necessary items. Hopefully that is the case, but it's never a bad idea to pause and think again about all the stories together to ensure nothing has been overlooked.
As we've implemented this "checklist" into our refinement meetings, it has vastly improved our productivity. It has given our team the ability to focus on what we need to get done and given us direction. We no longer meander through stories but have a purpose in analyzing everything. So give it a try and let me know what other practices you use to get the most out of your refinement meetings.
My personal musings on a variety of topics.