Product Backlog Refinement

The ultimate purpose of Product Backlog refinement is to ensure an ongoing conversation that increases transparency of the Product Backlog and therefore the Product itself – to orient everyone on the team to breaking out of their waterfall silos and focus on delivering business value, period.

On mature teams, a lot of the refinement work happens as ad hoc conversations while they are sitting around and thinking together about how to build something great because they are just motivated by that and it becomes part of their mode of operation.

The objective of the refinement work of any given Sprint (that often needs to be repeated over and over like a mantra with new, immature teams) is to ensure that the items at the top of the Backlog are transparent enough that the Development Team considers them ready to pull and get “Done” in the next Sprint.  This is where the concept of the Definition of “Ready” (DoR) comes from – the Scrum Team defines the DoR and spends up to 10% of its capacity refining enough items at the top of the Backlog so that it can provide estimates (if required) and have a reasonable degree of confidence that it can deliver the items in the next Sprint.

Refinement is NOT solutioning – I think this is the big trap that a lot of teams fall into because there is a false assumption that technical solutions need to be hashed out before estimates can be made (part of the carried-over lack of trust and communication between the business and IT) – I would almost rather throw out estimates in cases where this is not improving – The Planning Game exercise, when facilitated well, lends itself more to increasing transparency rather than solutioning.

The fact that teams are telling us that they need to solution before they can estimate is also an indication of weak Agile Engineering practices such as refactoring, test-driven development and continuous integration (XP).  The best refinement sessions are those in which the team is able to focus on the “what” – the business benefit results that the Product Owner really wants – rather than the “how” (solution).  Strong teams emerge in an environment in which they are trusted by the business and management to find the right solution as a team.  They don’t need to have it all figured out before giving an estimate because they are not afraid to give a bad estimate and fail.  Also, if the team is struggling to give estimates, this is often a sign that the Product Backlog Items are too big.  Most likely the team also needs to expand the Definition of “Done” to include testing against acceptance criteria within the Sprint so that they can estimate based on that criteria.

The “how” (solution) should be mapped out by the Development Team at a high level in the 2nd part of Sprint Planning (partly why the time box is bigger than they often think they need) and more detailed architecture, requirements and design work as part of the Sprint Backlog

But this level of maturity is very hard to do and it will take a while to get there, perhaps even years.

It also depends on your interpretation of “detail”, the word used in the Scrum Guide to describe what the team does in Product Backlog refinement. To me, it means understanding in more detail what the Product Owner really wants and needs. What does it mean to you?

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Evolution of a Scrum Diagram

Over the many years that I have been teaching Scrum (since 2005!), I have had a diagram of Scrum as part of my slides and/or handouts.  The diagram has gone through several major and minor changes throughout that time.  Here is the progression from oldest to newest:

First Attempt

This diagram was used in some of my earliest slides when I first started delivering Scrum training.  It is bad.  It is woefully incomplete.  But, here it is:

01 Scrum Process Diagram

Second Diagram

I knew the first one was bad so after not too long, I created this next diagram as a supplement that was meant to show the whole Scrum process all in one page. Similar to other Scrum “cheat sheet” style diagrams. I used this diagram until about 2008 when I got some very good feedback from a great trainer, Jim Heidema.

02 All of Scrum Diagram

Third Try

The changes I made were small, but to me, significant.  Changing from a “mathematical” language of “Sprint N”, “Sprint N+1″ to a more general language of “Current”, “Future” was a big deal.  I really struggled with that.  Probably because I was still relatively new to being non-technical.

03 All of Scrum Diagram

Diagram Four

This fourth diagram made some minor formatting changes, but most importantly added “Backlog Grooming”.  It’s funny how long I talked about grooming in my classes before realizing that it was missing from the diagram.  I used the previous diagram and this diagram for a couple years each before making a rather major change to create the next one.

04 All of Scrum Diagram

Fifth Go

A couple years ago I realized that I wasn’t really talking about the Scrum values in my classes.  I started to introduce them in some of my other handouts and discussions, but it still took a while for me to reflect those values in my diagram.  I had also received a lot of feedback that having two Product Backlogs in the diagram was confusing.  Finally, I realized that I was missing an opportunity to use colour more systematically.  So, a major reformatting, systematic colour coding and the addition of the Scrum values was my next change.

05 All of Scrum Diagram

Branded Diagram (ug.)

In a rush, I added some logos to the diagram. Just made it gross, but it’s badness, combined with feedback about said badness, actually inspired a major change for the next version.

05 All of Scrum Diagram - Branded

Newest Diagram

Literally just a week ago, I was showing my brand-new branded diagram to a bunch of people who really care about design and UX.  The very first comment when I handed out the diagram was: “wow, you can really tell this wasn’t done by a designer!”  Well, that got me thinking deeply about the diagram (again).  So, here is my newest, latest and greatest (still not done by a designer) version of my Scrum diagram!

06 The Scrum Process

The Future

I would absolutely love constructive feedback about this latest diagram. Of course, if you like it, please let me know that too! The thing I like about this is that it is a way of looking back at almost 9 years of my teaching history. Continuous improvement is so important, so I welcome your comments! If you have your own diagrams, please link to them in the comments – I would love to see those too! In fact, it would be really cool if a bunch of people could make little “Evolution of a Scrum Diagram” posts – let me know if you do!!!

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“Meet: Scrum”, the Diagram

Recently, in my work helping teams to learn and implement Scrum, I have deliberately not been using diagrams.  Having participants create their own ways of describing Scrum based on their own understanding is often a much more powerful approach to learning than showing them a diagram.  If you give someone a map, they tend to assume that all of the exploring has already been done.  If you give them a space to explore, they tend to create their own maps and provide new knowledge about the space being explored.  Maps and diagrams do serve a purpose.  They are useful.  What’s important to always keep in mind is that they should not be regarded as definitive but rather as one  contribution to a body of knowledge that can and should grow.

Anyhow, this isn’t intended to be a blog post about diagrams but rather as a post sharing a diagram that I have created.  One of the participants of a Scrum training that I recently facilitated asked me for a diagram and I said I would find one for him.  All of the other diagrams out there that I could find didn’t exactly convey my own understanding of Scrum.  So, I decided to create my own.

This is the first increment.  I am open to feedback and I look forward to finding out how this interacts with others’ understanding of Scrum.

ScrumDiagramTravisBirch

You can download it at this link: Meet: Scrum.

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