Tales of the Bizarro Scrum – Refining the upcoming 8 Sprints?

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Business Analyst: “I just finished refining all stories for the upcoming 8 Sprints. I marked them all as Ready.”

This is a common statement I usually hear from business analysts. Here we need to look at the who/when/how much of product backlog refinement.

We previously discussed the who of product backlog refinement and emphasized that refinement is not just the responsibility of the business analysts and that it should not be done in a silo but collaboratively with the members of the Scrum development team.

Product backlog refinement is an ongoing activity that the product owner actively does with the scrum development team throughout the Sprints. It is not something done once at the beginning of a release and then that is it. In fact, one product backlog item or user story is refined and clarified bit by bit, over and over again as the product backlog item is moving up the product backlog and getting closer to be worked on in the upcoming Sprint. Doing it in detail all at once and just at the beginning of a release is the same as big up-front requirements gathering and goes against the principle of simplicity or maximizing the amount of work not done.

Similarly, refining up to 8 sprints worth of work makes welcoming changing requirements more expensive as time and effort has been put into clarifying these items that are likely going to change, get deprioritized, or deleted, to make way for newer more valuable items.

In general, I recommend refining 2 Sprints worth of user stories. That should be more than enough to maintain a healthy product backlog with the flexibility of regularly being able to inspect and adapt based on the latest feedback from the stakeholders.