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What is Product Backlog Refinement in Scrum? With Tips

02nd Jun, 2024
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    What is Product Backlog Refinement in Scrum? With Tips

    In my journey as a Scrum Master, I've experienced the profound impact of Backlog Refinement on the success of Agile projects. This process goes beyond mere task management; it embodies a strategic approach aimed at enhancing the efficiency and manageability of Agile initiatives. Through this meticulous process of continuously grooming and prioritizing backlog items, I have seen teams transform their workflow, achieving higher productivity and better alignment with project goals.  

    In this article, I aim to share my personal insights and professional experiences in this realm. My goal is to provide you with a deeper understanding of Product Backlog Refinement in Scrum, its objectives, importance, how do you refine and practical tips for mastering this essential aspect of Agile project management.

    What is Product Backlog Refinement in Scrum?

    Product Backlog Refinement also referred to as Product Backlog Grooming, is a method for keeping the backlog updated, clean and orderly. It is a basic process in Scrum. PBR is a collaborative discussion process that starts at the end of one sprint to confirm whether the backlog is ready for the next sprint. Let's take a pause and read about scrum interview questions first.

    A backlog can be defined as a set of user stories that are not present in the current sprint that defines the project’s scope context. The stories which are left unattended may interfere with the functioning of the development team. When this happens, the status of user stories will not be clear, and even the team can lose focus and fail to deliver within the project completion date. 

    The backlog grooming meeting is attended by the scrum master, who facilitates everything for team members, the team, and the product owner. They decide among the top items from the product backlog. The team comprises mainly developers, testers, and scrum masters. The team can raise queries during the sprint planning session if they find any unresolved issues. The expected doubts can arise in the following forms :

    • How to handle the situation if the user enters invalid data?
    • Which part of the system are the users authorized to operate on?

    For the product owner, it will be easy to get a conclusion over the queries, by asking these questions in the early stages. If there is a question that is unanswered by too many people, it is time to make some changes in your backlog items by curating higher priority items to the top of the list and assigning the highest priority to the unanswered questions. Taking up an Agile certification online, has helped me build knowledge in understanding the concepts and steadfast through the work expectations in scrum and product backlog management.

    Why Refine Your Backlog? 

    In my experience, refining your backlog is essential for maintaining project momentum. It is one of several backlog refinement best practices to be followed by the scrum teams. It not only results in smoother sprint planning and fewer unexpected challenges during sprints but also ensures a more focused development effort. This practice facilitates better team alignment, improved task prioritization, and clearer communication, thereby enhancing overall project efficiency and effectiveness. 

    Backlog grooming vs backlog refinement

    ParametersBacklog GroomingBacklog Refinement
    1. FocusHigh LevelDetailed
    2. GoalPrioritizationReady for Development
    3. ActivitiesEstimation, Discussion

    Refinement, Acceptance Criteria

    4. FrequencyMore frequentLess frequent
    5. OutcomeRough order, potential issues identified

    Clear understanding, actionable items

    6. Example ActivitiesUser story splitting, dependency identification

    Defining acceptance criteria, technical feasibility assessment

    Goals or Outcomes of Product Backlog Session 

    In my career as a Scrum Master, I've consistently observed several key outcomes from effective backlog refinement sessions. Firstly, the most noticeable result is a well-prioritized backlog. This prioritization isn't just about what's urgent, but also about what aligns best with the strategic goals of the project. It ensures that the team’s efforts are directed towards tasks that offer the highest value. 

    Another significant outcome is the development of a clear understanding of the upcoming work. During these sessions, as we delve into each backlog item, ambiguities are clarified, doubts are addressed, and a consensus is reached about what each task entails. This clarity is invaluable in preventing misunderstandings and setting realistic sprint goals. 

    These sessions serve as a platform for aligning the team’s vision with the broader product goals. These discussions often bring to light different perspectives and insights, fostering a shared understanding and commitment to the product's roadmap. This alignment is crucial in ensuring that everyone is working towards a common objective, enhancing team cohesion and productivity. 

    The Objective of the PBR meeting

    A lot of time is saved at sprint planning meetings if the backlogs are well maintained. If the backlog item is clearly specified in the acceptance criteria and cross-checked properly by the team members, the planning process can be accomplished prior to the meeting. PBR offers the team members the opportunity to interact with each other regarding stories.

    Who attends a Backlog Refinement Meeting? 

    Here's who you can expect to see at a Backlog Refinement Meeting: 

    1. Product Owner 

    The product owner is responsible for defining a product's scope and ensuring it's ready for development. As such, they attend Backlog Refinement meetings to ensure that the tasks added to the backlog will help the product succeed. 

    The product owner also ensures that there are all the requirements in their product. They may collect feedback on how well each task meets its goals from stakeholders, users, and other interested parties. 

    2. Scrum Team 

    The scrum team is responsible for creating a product backlog in a refinement meeting.  The development team has many responsibilities during this process. They are responsible for estimating how long it will take them to implement each feature and then prioritizing those estimates by their importance and urgency.  

    They also estimate how much they need from other departments, like marketing or customer support, to make these features successful and how much time they require to provide input or resources.  

    Finally, After accumulating all information, the team creates a plan for implementation to inform all stakeholders regarding the project.  

    3. Project Sponsor 

    The project sponsor is responsible for the project's overall success and for maintaining a positive relationship with all stakeholders. The project sponsor prioritizes work, identifies risks and issues, and communicates with stakeholders throughout the product backlog grooming process. 

    The project sponsor also has many roles in creating a software product. The project sponsor must communicate effectively with team members, stakeholders, and key individuals involved in the development process. They must also have strong leadership skills to motivate others to perform at their best. 

    4. Scrum Master 

    The Scrum Master is responsible for ensuring that the team can work efficiently. They're responsible for removing obstacles to the team's progress and helping them reach their goals.  

    In a product backlog grooming in an Agile approach, the Scrum Master is responsible for facilitating the discussion and keeping everyone on topic. They also keep track of time and ensure that everyone gets to contribute their ideas, regardless of rank or seniority. 

    5. Product Manager (Optional) 

    In product management, the Product Manager is responsible for creating a product backlog and managing it throughout the life cycle of a software product. The Product Manager creates the product backlog by identifying what features and functions will be included in the final release. The Product Manager's responsibilities include: 

    • Defining user needs and goals, gathering requirements from users and stakeholders, and prioritizing the requirements based on business value. 
    • Ensure all stakeholders agree with the prioritization so they can be included in future planning sessions. 
    • Designing requirements that enable the business to achieve its goals while remaining within budget constraints. 
    • Conducting interviews with end users to understand their needs and problems with current solutions. 
    • Conducting usability tests with potential customers to test designs against real users' preferences. 

    The Product Backlog Refinement Meeting Agenda 

    The refinement meeting agenda is to ensure that backlog items are clear, prioritized, and ready for upcoming sprints. Drawing from my experience, this process significantly enhances team understanding and sprint planning efficiency. Upcoming sections will delve into optimal timing, participant roles, and facilitation of these meetings. 

    1. When’s the Best Time for a Backlog Refinement Meeting? 

    In my years of Agile practice, I've found that holding backlog refinement sessions mid-sprint is most beneficial. This timing, which I've applied in numerous projects, strikes a perfect balance. It provides the team with enough insight from the ongoing sprint and ample preparation for the upcoming one. This approach has consistently facilitated smoother transitions between sprints and improved team efficiency. 

    2. Who Attends a Backlog Refinement Meeting? 

    In my role as a Scrum Master, I've observed that effective Backlog Refinement Meetings are truly collaborative when all the scrum team participates in the meeting. The Product Owner, with their strategic vision, the Scrum Master, guiding the discussion, and the Development Team, contributing technical insights and feasibility perspectives, all play pivotal roles. This blend of expertise ensures a comprehensive and pragmatic approach to follow the actual backlog grooming meaning accurately. 

    3. Potential Participants Are 

    The usual participants in a session encompass the core Agile team, comprising the Product Owner, Scrum Master, and Development Team members. This group is sometimes augmented by key stakeholders or domain experts, especially when specific backlog items require specialized knowledge or when strategic decisions impacting the product's direction are discussed.

    4. Who Facilitates a Backlog Refinement Meeting? 

    The scrum master facilitates a backlog grooming meeting. The product owner and team review stories at the top of the backlog to prepare for upcoming sprints. 

    The scrum master facilitates a backlog grooming meeting by ensuring that everyone is focused on the work and not distracted by other things, like emails or other meetings. The Scrum Master also keeps track of what is being discussed during the session so that it can be reviewed later, if necessary. 

    The product owner describes each story in detail, including what will be delivered; how it adds value; who will use it; when it will be delivered; and why this story should be prioritized over others in the backlog. The team then discusses each story as a group to determine which ones are ready for development in upcoming sprints and which ones need more work before they can be developed into features or stories.

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    What Happens in Product Backlog Refinement Meeting? 

    During a backlog refinement meeting in scrum, the team embarks on a crucial journey of transforming the product backlog into a clear, actionable plan. We dive into various activities, establish a 'Definition of Ready' for tasks, and determine the ideal duration for these meetings to ensure efficiency and focus. 

    1. Activities in Backlog Refinement 

    In my roles, I've led and am leading numerous sessions where we focus on several key activities. These include a thorough discussion of upcoming user stories, which helps in aligning the team's understanding and expectations around scrum backlog refinement agenda. We also dedicate time to estimating the efforts required for each story, ensuring realistic planning and allocation of resources. A significant part of these sessions involves refining user stories for greater clarity, which aids in removing ambiguities and making each story more actionable for the team. This structured approach has consistently proven effective in streamlining our Agile processes. 

    2. Invest in a Definition of Ready 

    Investing in a 'Definition of Ready' is pivotal for streamlining Agile processes. This practice involves establishing clear criteria that backlog items must meet before the team considers them for a sprint. It ensures that each item is sufficiently detailed, with clear requirements and acceptance criteria, reducing ambiguity and enhancing team understanding. By having a solid 'Definition of Ready,' we've experienced more focused and productive sprint planning sessions. This approach also facilitates smoother transitions into sprints, as the team is confident that each item in the backlog is ready for development, eliminating last-minute surprises and delays. Adopting this practice leads to a more efficient and predictable sprint execution, ultimately contributing to the success of the project. 

    3. How Long Should Backlog Refinement Take? 

    Ideally, refinement in scrum should occupy no more than 10% of the total sprint time. Following this guideline ensures that enough time is dedicated to clarifying and organizing the backlog without encroaching significantly on development work. In my experience, this balance has consistently proven effective. It allows teams sufficient time to discuss and estimate tasks yet maintains a focus on the actual implementation. For a two-week sprint, this typically translates to around one to two hours of refinement. Adhering to this timeframe helps in maintaining a steady rhythm and prevents backlog refinement from becoming a bottleneck in the Agile process. 

    How Do You Refine a Product Backlog in Scrum?

    a. Schedule Regular Refinement Sessions:

    • Set aside dedicated time regularly, preferably once every sprint, to review and refine the backlog.
    • This consistency ensures that the backlog remains current and aligned with the project goals.

    b. Prioritize Based on Value and Urgency:

    • Evaluate each backlog item for its impact on the project's success and its urgency.
    • Prioritize items that offer the most value to customers and are time sensitive.

    c. Break Down Complex Items:

    • Divide larger, more complex backlog items into smaller, manageable tasks.
    • This breakdown makes it easier to estimate, assign, and complete each part effectively.

    d. Establish Clear Acceptance Criteria:

    • For each backlog item, define specific, measurable criteria for completion.
    • These criteria ensure everyone understands when a task is done and up to standard.

    e. Clarify Doubts and Dependencies:

    • During refinement sessions, openly discuss any uncertainties or dependencies related to backlog items.
    • Clarifying these elements upfront avoids future delays and confusion.

    f. Continuously Update the Backlog:

    • Keep the backlog dynamic by adding new items, removing obsolete ones, and adjusting existing items as project needs and market conditions change.

    g. Estimate Efforts Realistically:

    • Work collaboratively to estimate the time and resources needed for each backlog item.
    • Realistic estimates prevent over-commitment and under-delivery.

    h. Adjust Priorities as Necessary:

    • Be flexible in reprioritizing backlog items as new information emerges or project circumstances change, ensuring the team always works on the most relevant tasks.

    i. Encourage Open Team Communication:

    • Foster an environment where team members feel comfortable sharing ideas, concerns, and feedback.
    • Open communication leads to more effective backlog refinement.

    j. Keep the Backlog Focused:

    • Regularly review the backlog to ensure it remains focused on the project’s goals.
    • Remove any items that no longer align with the project's direction or have become irrelevant. 

    Why is PBR in Scrum Important?

    PBR and its sessions are important mainly due to the following features-

    • It increases the efficiency of the team by reducing uncertainty
    • Properly refined stories are easy to estimate, test, and implement.
    • PBR session increases the efficiency of the team due to the knowledge shared among the team members.
    • If the PBR meeting is maintained properly, it helps reduce the time for a Sprint planning meeting.

    The Product Backlog grooming can be made effective if the following aspects are considered-

    • Do not schedule backlog refinement meetings during the first and last 20% of the Sprint Planning session.
    • The backlog refinement meeting should be considered as the first part of Sprint Planning.
    • The backlog items list should be well understood by the PO, or development team member to work well in the meeting. Make sure that the set of predefined acceptance tests is present.
    • Keep an eye on the meeting goals.
    • Make sure to assign action items for any unknown thing.
    • Do remember that the backlog items are a collaboration between the PO and the team.
    • Feel free to break down the product backlog items during the meeting.

    After the product backlog refinement scrum meeting, the team can update the Product Backlog items in the line, based on the discussions held. Finally, you can get a potentially shippable product, ready to be deployed in the market.

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    Tips for Effective Product Backlog Refinement in Scrum

    • Keep the backlog clear and concise: Streamline your backlog by regularly removing outdated items and breaking down complex tasks into smaller, more manageable pieces, making it easier for the team to prioritize and focus. 
    • Involve the entire team in discussions: Foster a collaborative environment by encouraging input and insights from all team members, ensuring diverse perspectives and collective ownership of the backlog. 
    • Focus on high-priority items: Prioritize tasks that offer the most value to the project, aligning team efforts with strategic goals and ensuring timely delivery of key features or solutions. 
    • Regularly adapt the backlog: Stay responsive to changing project requirements and stakeholder feedback by continually reviewing and updating the backlog, ensuring it remains aligned with the project's evolving goals. 
    • Ensure mutual understanding of tasks: Clarify the scope and requirements of each backlog item through detailed discussions, ensuring that all team members have a shared understanding of what needs to be done and why it's important. 


    Reflecting on the numerous Agile projects I've led or participated in; I've come to recognize the indisputable value of this skill. This process acts as a vital link between the initial planning stages and the actual execution of tasks. It's not just a procedural step, but a strategic element that significantly influences the project's trajectory. Embracing a consistent and in-depth approach to refining the backlog can markedly enhance a team's efficiency and focus. This practice ensures that the team is always aligned with the project's evolving requirements and goals, which is fundamental to navigating the Agile journey successfully. Further, you can understand that regular and meticulous product backlog refinement in scrum emerges as a cornerstone of effective Agile project management as you upskill yourself by taking the KnowledgeHut Agile certification online

    Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

    1What activities are part of Product Backlog refinement?

    Product Backlog refinement is adding detail, estimates, and orders to items in the Product Backlog. The Product Owner and the Development Team collaborate on this effort. 

    The following activities are part of Product Backlog refinement: 

    • Add specificity to each product backlog item (PBI)
    • Order PBIs from the highest value to the lowest value 
    • Estimate the size and effort for each PBI.
    2Who leads the backlog refinement?

    The backlog refinement is led by the Scrum Master, who facilitates discussion, guides the team to consensus, and keeps the product owner honest about what's actually on the backlog. 

    3Does Scrum require Product Backlog refinement?

    Scrum requires product backlog refinement. It breaks down the items in your product backlog into tasks, estimates, and expected values. This allows you an ongoing process to help maintain a prioritized list of features and functionalities that can be added to your product in the future. 

    4How many hours is backlog refinement?

    The amount of time it takes to refine the backlog depends on the project. Typically, a backlog refinement session will last between 45 minutes and an hour. 

    5Is product backlog refinement part of sprint planning?

    Product backlog refinement in scrum and sprint planning are related but distinct activities within Agile methodologies. While product backlog refinement is an ongoing process to groom and prioritize backlog items, sprint planning specifically focuses on selecting and planning the work for the upcoming sprint. 

    6How often should Product Backlog Refinement be done?

    Product Backlog Refinement should ideally be conducted once per sprint, typically midway through to allow for effective planning of the next sprint. This regular cadence ensures the backlog remains relevant, clear, and aligned with the project's evolving needs. 


    Lindy Quick

    Blog Author

    Lindy Quick, SPCT, is a dynamic Transformation Architect and Senior Business Agility Consultant with a proven track record of success in driving agile transformations. With expertise in multiple agile frameworks, including SAFe, Scrum, and Kanban, Lindy has led impactful transformations across diverse industries such as manufacturing, defense, insurance/financial, and federal government. Lindy's exceptional communication, leadership, and problem-solving skills have earned her a reputation as a trusted advisor. Currently associated with KnowledgeHut and upGrad, Lindy fosters Lean-Agile principles and mindset through coaching, training, and successful execution of transformations. With a passion for effective value delivery, Lindy is a sought-after expert in the field.

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