Scrum Rules: The Product Backlog Is Refined for Every Sprint Planning Meeting

July 6, 2020
4 minute read

A well-refined Product Backlog is one which is:

  1. ordered to maximize return on investment for the customer;
  2. provides enough clarity that the Scrum team can perform the work of their upcoming Sprint;
  3. and illustrates to all stakeholders how the Product Vision may be achieved.

How this is achieved is different for every product and team. Some teams start a Sprint with a Product Backlog containing a single Product Backlog Item (PBI) — which may be perfectly suitable so long as the three points above are realized. Other teams may require a Product Backlog that contains multiple items which each describe a narrow slice of functionality.

Ordering a Product Backlog requires an understanding both of the estimated value to be realized following delivery of each Product Backlog Item (the “return”) and of the estimated effort of implementation (the “investment”). With these data, a Product Owner can effectively order the Product Backlog such that items at the top represent the highest Return on Investment (ROI) — this is how the Product Owner maximizes ROI for the customer and ensures that all outputs of the team are adding significant value to the product. This task is commonly referred to as Product Backlog refinement.

These 9 Agile estimation techniques are a good resource for Product Owners though, in deciding which technique is best for each circumstance, it is essential that Product Owners consider carefully the needs of the team and their stakeholders.

A Product Owner must work diligently with the Scrum team and their stakeholders to ensure that PBIs which will occupy the Development Team for the upcoming Sprint are granular enough that at least one item can be “Done” within the Sprint time-box. To achieve this, Product Owners must develop effective techniques for splitting and ordering PBIs as they go through Product Backlog refinement.

Generally the top ten (or so) items should be in this “ready” state — though having too many items in the Product Backlog “ready” for the team is considered wasteful over-planning. Product Backlog Items which the team can get “Done” within one Sprint are deemed ready for the Sprint Planning meeting. More effective ordering can be achieved due to the greater clarity and increased understanding. However, the value of having a refined Product Backlog before the Spring Planning meeting is that it enables the Scrum team to focus on the purpose of the Sprint Planning meeting which is to answer these questions: What will be delivered adjusted or added to the Product Increment this upcoming Sprint and how will the work be achieved? Another ways of saying that is: what is the Spring goal and what are the tasks needed to complete the goal? Without a ready Product Backlog, the purpose of the Sprint Planning Meeting is difficult to achieve.

Product Backlog items that can be “Done” by the Development Team within one Sprint are deemed “Ready” for selection in a Sprint Planning.

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Bruce Power
Capital One
Equitable Life of Canada
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