Skip to main content

You Can't Skip Refinement

July 8, 2024




Some teams think that if they skip refinement, they're saving time, but that's not true at all. Teams must understand what is needed before they can deliver value. Refinement will happen. It's just a matter of whether it will be done in Sprint Planning, during the Sprint, or whether you will do it in advance of the Sprint as part of regular, planned refinement activities.

What is Refinement?

Product Backlog refinement is when Scrum Teams add detail, order, and size to items in the Product Backlog. This is where the Product Owner, Developers, and Stakeholders discuss what should be done next and how much effort, risk, and complexity is associated with the work.

Different Approaches to Refinement

There are lots of ways to do Refinement, and most teams refine the Product Backlog using multiple complimentary techniques. Do whatever works for you, but here are a few ideas for how your team might spend time refining the Product Backlog.

Solitary Prioritization by the Product Owner

  • Detail: In this approach, the Product Owner (PO) independently reviews and updates the Product Backlog. The PO adds details, clarifies requirements, and prioritizes items based on the product's vision and stakeholders' feedback. This method can be efficient for initial grooming but may miss out on valuable input from the development team and stakeholders.

  • Pros: Efficient, aligns with product vision.

  • Cons: Lacks collaborative input, may miss technical insights.

Collaborative Brainstorming Sessions

  • Detail: The PO, Developers, and Stakeholders gather to discuss and brainstorm Product Backlog items. These sessions promote a shared understanding and encourage diverse perspectives on what should be done next, ensuring that all viewpoints are considered. This can help in identifying potential risks and dependencies early.

  • Pros: Inclusive, promotes shared understanding.

  • Cons: Time-consuming, may require effective facilitation.

Focused Small Group Refinement

  • Detail: Refinement is conducted in smaller, focused groups. These sessions might include the PO and a subset of Developers or subject matter experts who can provide detailed input on specific backlog items. This method balances the need for detailed discussion with efficiency. Many teams use this method and follow it up with a larger group refinement to add size to items in the Product Backlog and provide greater transparency into upcoming work for Developers.

  • Pros: Detailed input, efficient use of time.

  • Cons: Limited to participants, may miss broader team insights.

Weekly Full-Team Refinement Meetings

  • Detail: Some teams schedule regular weekly meetings involving the entire Scrum Team to review and refine the Product Backlog. These meetings focus on adding details, estimating effort, and prioritizing items. This consistent practice ensures that the backlog is always up-to-date and ready for Sprint Planning.

  • Pros: Regular updates, full team involvement.

  • Cons: Can be repetitive, requires discipline to maintain.

Business Analysts-Led Refinement

  • Detail: In teams with specialized roles, Business Analysts (BAs) or Developers with a knack for business analysis take the lead in refining backlog items. They work on adding detailed requirements and acceptance criteria before presenting these to the full team for further review and estimation.

  • Pros: Detailed requirements, leverages specialized skills.

  • Cons: Dependency on specific roles, potential for bottlenecks.

On-the-Fly Refinement During Sprint Planning

  • Detail: Some teams prefer to handle refinement tasks during Sprint Planning sessions. They discuss, break down, and estimate backlog items as they plan the Sprint. While this method can be flexible, it often leads to longer planning meetings and can slow delivery.

  • Pros: Flexibility, immediate context.

  • Cons: Lengthy planning sessions, potential for rushed decisions.

During the Sprint

  • Detail: Some teams do not refine Product Backlog items in advance of the Sprint.  Instead, the Scrum Team decides during Sprint Planning what will be done during the Sprint and breaks down Product Backlog items during the Sprint itself.  This is most common for teams who are in-person and using Sticky notes to plan the Sprint.  For example, I once worked with a team who used sticky notes to create the Product Backlog.  At the Sprint Planning event, the team would select which Product Backlog items would be delivered.  Since the sticky notes contain little more than a title on each sticky note, the Scrum Team had discussions during Sprint Planning about what each sticky note meant.  During the Sprint, the team collaborated actively with the Product Owner to better understand what was needed.

  • Pros: Flexibility, immediate context.  Promotes a high degree of collaboration during the Sprint.

  • Cons: May slow development during the Sprint if the team needs further clarification depending on Product Owner availability.


Regardless of the method chosen, refinement is a critical part of the development process. It ensures that the team has a clear understanding of the work to be done, helps in identifying potential risks early, and enables the team to deliver value consistently and efficiently.


Scrum Day 2024

Join us for a one-day Scrum Day conference in beautiful Madison, Wisconsin. Scrum Day is a dynamic, interactive conference where you'll engage with industry experts through hands-on activities and insightful discussions. Network with fellow professionals, share experiences, and gain practical knowledge to enhance your Agile practices. Get tickets at

What did you think about this post?