What are the three most common mistakes you see in product backlog refinement?

The Scrum Guide states that product backlog refinement is the act of breaking down and further defining product backlog items into smaller and more precise items. This is an ongoing activity. However, this process of refinement is often misunderstood in many aspects.

Mistake 1: Fragmenting functionalities into architectural pieces

One common error that pops up frequently is the breakdown of functionality into architectural components. Let’s say you have a specific functionality, and it’s divided into separate product backlog items, each representing a distinct architectural aspect such as the user interface, business logic, and persistence, among others.

This approach, unfortunately, undermines team collaboration. Everyone starts to work on their respective sections in isolation, which not only hampers the exchange of ideas but also dilutes the overarching goal of the product backlog item.

Mistake 2: Assigning names to specific tasks

Another mistake that I often spot during refinement is the assignment of names to individual tasks. This practice might seem like a good way to maintain order, but it inadvertently stifles team collaboration during the Sprint. Because if everyone has just their one task, then they aren’t truly collaborating. In the daily Scrum, they wouldn’t really talk to each other.

In this setup, team members lose the incentive to cooperate, turning the daily Scrum into a less interactive experience. Instead of nurturing an environment where ideas and responsibilities freely flow, everyone ends up being boxed into their specific tasks.

Mistake 3: Getting too technical

The third mistake is becoming overly technical during product backlog refinement. The purpose of refinement is to clarify the “what” we want to achieve, rather than the “how”.

What do we want? The primary objective is to ascertain the acceptance criteria, identify boundary cases, understand non-functional requirements, and decide what needs to be considered.

Discussing the “how” to some extent is okay, but overall, it’s crucial to keep the product backlog refinement focused on the “what”. In other words, keep the conversation centred around understanding the exact requirements and their context, rather than delving into the specific implementation details.

About Effective Agile

Ralph Jocham is a Change Agent in Scrum // Agile // Coaching // Evidence Based Management and also a Professional Scrum Trainer based in Europe.

As one of the first Professional Scrum Trainers in the world, Ralph has worked directly with cocreator of #scrum, Ken Schwaber, and has played an integral part in the course development of the #PSPO (Professional Scrum Product Owner) as well as the delivery of all #scrum.org certified courses.

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