October 28, 2015

Backlog refinement techniques

It never ceases to amaze me that teams can come up with more and more inventive ways of improvement. Just yesterday, I was in a backlog refinement meeting where we resized / refined the entire backlog in 15 minutes.

The technique starts with a free jira plugin called Cards, which allows you to format the stories for printing in anyway you like. Someone had created a template which printed each story out with the title on one side and the description on the other. Each card was around the size of the traditional index card.

These were quickly printed out in the meeting, and cut out using the scissors in the big box of Agile gear (which includes post-its, coloured pens, scissors, sharpies, poker cards etc..).

The pile of about 25 cards (this team keeps their backlog well refined and not too deep), were given to a random developer. Each person has a go, and the pile of cards is passed around from one developer to another. Each go, consists of either placing a card on the table or moving an existing card on the table to another location.

The cards begin to form a long line in relative size order. No story points are allocated at all, only whether the story is larger or smaller than the one next to it.

Once all the cards are on the table and everyone is happy that the stories are in relative size order, then we go onto the second part of the game. (No story can be considered the same size as another). This took about 7-8 mins for a backlog of about 25.

Then the team takes a single range of poker cards and going around the circle again, each person can place a poker card at the point they think that size story starts, or they can move a poker card that is down already along the line to the point they feel the story matches the size.

Once everyone has agreed, the line is now in size order with cards marking the regions which fit that size.

The team does the same thing for the sprint backlog, with the additional step of taking any story which is a 13 or higher and breaking it down into smaller stories with the help of the attending PO.

This is an extremely efficient way of prioritising the entire backlog and creating a sprint backlog all of which tool the team less than 30 mins.

Im sure this is probably documented elsewhere, but I hadn’t seen this before and hope it will be useful for you too.

Simon Powers is the CEO and founder of Adventures with Agile. He has over 20 years’ experience helping very large organisations to thrive in the market and to be better places to work. His approach led him to create our transformative ICAgile Certified Enterprise Agile Coaching training courses, which run worldwide and online. Simon is one of the first ICE-EC experts in the world.