Techniques: Backlog Refinement

Techniques: Backlog Refinement

The purpose of Backlog Refinement is for the delivery team to clarify what they need to do to a backlog item.

There is a distinction between Backlog Decomposition, Backlog Refinement and Story Elaboration. Although many lump all three together, it is important to understand the distinct purposes of each. First, the features are decomposed into stories.  Next, the details of each story is refined so that the intended results of that story are clearly understood.  It’s that second piece that we’re talking about here.

Backlog Refinement is used to ensure there is enough detail and clarity for items in the backlog so that the delivery team can complete an iteration.

Agile Extension to the BABOK®  Guide – section 7.1


Agile Extension to the BABOK®  Guide – section 7.1

Coming into refinement, you will have an ordered list of features and related stories.

Each Backlog Item represents one requirement.  The closer it is to the top of the list, the more ready it needs to be.  By ready, we are talking about the INVEST criteria, which we discussed in more detail in User Stories.  The term Backlog Item is preferred here because there are more than one way a requirement can be documented, such as Job Stories or Wireframes.

Continuing on, there are refinement meetings.  This is where the requirements are confirmed to be ready to work.  These meetings occur pretty much continuously during the initiative to prepare the item for an near term iteration.

Additionally, there is the definition of ready that the team has set as the standard before they will work on a story.  As the team learns, the definition of ready can be adjusted over time.


Agile Extension to the BABOK®  Guide – section 7.1

Often Backlog Refinement may be performed within a Planning Workshop. The results of which can be revised frequently throughout the lifecycle, so that everyone has a greater understanding of what is required. For each story, the refinement is done when there is enough information for the team to deliver.

Usage Considerations

Agile Extension to the BABOK®  Guide – section 7.1

Backlog Refinement is a great tool to increase clarity of the requirements and to improve planning. It applies a principle that observes the more something is understood, the better you can plan for it.

It works best when there is a rhythm or cadence to the refinements that fits well within the team’s activities. And like many techniques, if the vision or roadmap churns, everything around them will be made less effective. So, while recognizing that change is encouraged, try to also encourage a general stability for the product’s overall goals and timelines.

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