<img height="1" width="1" style="display:none" src="https://www.facebook.com/tr?id=443149619225659&ev=PageView&noscript=1"> Scaling the Backlog Refinement Process for Several Teams

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Scaling the Backlog Refinement Process for Several Teams

Scaling the Backlog Refinement Process for Several Teams

Michael recently wrote about the important balance of planning ahead while following Agile principles. A well-refined product backlog ensures prioritized user stories will deliver value to the market. When your product is complex enough that you have several scrum teams working on it, alignment across teams is crucial. A solid backlog refinement process is a key to success for our larger product teams. Here are tips on scaling the refinement process for products with multiple teams.

When working on larger projects with multiple scrum teams, we’ve found it beneficial to have several levels of refinement:

Backlog Building

We drive collaboration across scrum teams via a Product Owner (PO) group, which consists of a Chief PO, each scrum team’s PO, and an architecture lead. During weekly backlog building sessions, this group collaborates to define the high-level vision for an epic or feature set. We look at what the feature should be and why, including the business goals it will achieve and its value to users. We draft initial user stories together and determine the stories’ priority levels as a group.

Once the what and why are nailed down, we turn to the who: which scrum team should work on it. This could be influenced by skill sets, workload, or other factors. We also identify dependencies with other work and/or teams. 

Finally, we decide next steps for each item: do we need user experience and design work? Our user experience team may conduct qualitative user research before creating wireframes. Wireframing and user story updates happen in an iterative loop until the PO and UX team are ready to move forward.

Stakeholder Refinement

Our weekly stakeholder refinement sessions include the entire group from backlog building (POs and architecture lead), plus a small set of key stakeholders. Stakeholder refinement is a forum for validating assumptions, getting early feedback on wireframes and user flows, and prioritizing features based on what is most important to end users.

When recruiting stakeholders, we look for 3-5 people who can actively participate in the process. Who is the ideal stakeholder?

  • Has strong knowledge of end users

  • Can share common use cases and bring them to life with real-life stories

  • Is open to providing constructive, candid feedback

  • Will commit to participating on a regular basis

Backlog Refinement with the Scrum Team

Each scrum team holds backlog refinement prior to the next sprint. During this meeting, the PO walks through the acceptance criteria and wireframe(s) for each user story. Developers and QA ask questions, and the scrum team is empowered to push back if they feel a story is not quite ready to refine.

We've adopted this approach for multi-team products because the different levels of decomposition and collaboration across teams keep us working efficiently toward our goals. Continuous, candid feedback from people who are in the market day-to-day ensures large teams are well-coordinated and meeting a validated market need.

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About the author

Liz is an Engagement Manager with Small Footprint, where she leads Agile software development teams. She has 10+ years of experience developing technology and marketing strategies to achieve business goals.

Liz is a Certified Scrum Product Owner (CSPO), Project Management Professional (PMP), and holds a master’s certificate in Project Management from the University of Pittsburgh / PM Centers USA. She earned her bachelor’s degree in Psychology at the University of Rochester.

A lifelong Pittsburgher, Liz recently relocated to Winston-Salem, North Carolina. In her free time, she enjoys traveling with her husband, hiking, and all things pop culture.

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