It takes two to Tango : Why the WHOLE Scrum team needs to OWN backlog refinement

The sprint planning meeting kicks off.

The story cards are put down, the PO starts presenting.

We get a high level overview from Product.

“Why do we need to do that story, how does fit in with the overall goal of the product”. A healthy, regular, dev question.

Product answered.

A debate began.

Different members of the Scrum team chipping in (me included) asking questions: “Why”, “how come”, “what’s the point”, “wheres the value init”, “isn’t it better to approach that problem this way”.

All of these questions pointed to a team wanting to understand the goal, the value behind each story card.

Nothing wrong with that.

Everything right with it I think.

I sensed frustration from around the room, the ” why so much questioning” tone was coming out from Product. You know the “we’re product and know what we want, can we just do it”.

Developers coming back with the ” we ain’t code monkeys and so we need to know the value behind what we do” tone. (Pretty chunky tone huh?)

I came out of the meeting with a sore head and had the following feedback from the Scrum team:

  • “Why are the Sprint planning meetings taking so long?” (Product & Development)
  • “How comes Product are not getting us the stories over in our previous sprint so we can see what’s coming up?” (Development)
  • “Why are developers asking to change my story? ” (Product)
  • “Why are Product being so arsey about us asking questions on why we’re doing this work?” (Development)

My response to all of the above (in order) began with these points:

  • Sprint planning meetings for a 2 week sprint take 4 hours (Cohn, Sutherland advise that we take the length of the Sprint & multiple it by 2-  a 4 week sprint planning can take up to 8 hours) This aint a hard and fast rule, but that’s the starting point for new Scrum teams – especially.
  • The Scrum team need to create an agreed schedule of when they will sit down and look at the next up coming stories for the next sprint – this allows the developers to familiarise & understand the value of stories earlier
  • User stories should be written by everyone, first we need to accept that point as that is part of Scrum – next, if a story can be written in a better way (using the INVEST rule) then we need to do what is best for the story
  • Product provides the  goal & must be willing to entertain questions on the value behind those goals – if we do not understand the goals, we may as well employ cyborgs who do not care for intrinsic motivation

So we have accepted that the length of a Sprint planning meeting can be dependent on:

  • The amount of preparation work completed in the Sprint backlog refinement sessions
  • The length of your Sprint
  • How long your Scrum team has been one team (maturity)
  • There are other factors which I won’t go into for now

I want to focus on the Backlog Refinement Schedule

There was a schedule but I questioned the regularity & the level of quality coming out of these sessions.

So to address the challenges of regularity & the quality of information, here’s the backlog refinement schedule & the expected outputs from each refinement session:

Backlog refinement Schedule


* “We are here” is like you being  at day 1 of your new Sprint 1.0

* The “Refine backlog” is for Sprint 1.1

* I have broken the Backlog refinement over 4 different sessions

* The output of each session should have an increase level of detail, for example by session two we should be 40-50 % complete on the Acceptance criteria (this is not a hard and fast rule, it’s an acid test to see what works)

* “LOCK DOWN” is when after 2 refinement sessions, we stop new stories from coming in

So the next time we walk into a Sprint Planning meeting we will find ourselves in a more informed position, where we as a Scrum team will collectively know the value behind most of the goals for the user stories with 50% of acceptance criteria complete & then we can focus on the tasking of work.

I just feel that a healthy Sprint Planning meeting would have had most questions on the user stories value answered in the refinement sessions – not the Sprint Planning meeting.

But that is not to say that conversation and questions will cease & that new questions on value within the Sprint Planning meeting will stop!

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