The refinement process for those practicing Scrum determines the detail, order and size of the items in the Product Backlog. The purpose is to ensure that we have the highest-ordered Product Backlog items (PBIs) ready to Sprint. During refinement, the team discusses what we will deliver with each Product Backlog item. Although it’s easy to drift into sorting out how we will deliver each PBI during these discussions, planning at this stage is a mistake.
During refinement, we want to determine who the work item is for and what we are trying to accomplish. We might discuss ways to eliminate dependencies for each PBI or how we can cut each item smaller so that we can deliver it within a Sprint. Creating the complete delivery plan (the how) for each PBI happens in Sprint Planning, not during refinement.
Let’s unpack why.
Imagine the product our Scrum Team is working on is a house renovation. Our PBIs include painting the living room, dining room, and bedroom and replacing the kitchen counter and flooring in the living and dining room.
Alt-text: A clipboard with a list of items including: paint the living room, paint the dining room, paint the bedroom, replace kitchen counters, replace flooring in living room, replace flooring in dining room.
Now imagine that our team spends a lot of time during Product Backlog refinement deciding how we will deliver each item. For painting the living room, we decide Sue will purchase the paint, paint brushes, and other painting supplies. George will buy the paint and brushes for the living room. At Sprint Planning, the team decides to pull painting the living room and the dining room into the Sprint. Should we have two different people going to the paint store? Our delivery process no longer makes sense. Our Scrum Team will now need to replan the approach for delivering these PBIs.
Planning the how in refinement is wasteful. If we spend time detailing our plan for completing each PBI and the Product Owner later changes the order of items in the Product Backlog, it will likely impact our delivery plan. Further, when our Scrum Team plans the delivery approach in refinement, we risk locking the Product Owner into a particular Product Backlog order or creating waste by having to replan at the Sprint Planning event.
How can we size PBIs without planning our approach?
You may wonder how we can size a PBI without discussing how we will deliver it. This is where the balancing act comes into play.
Our Scrum Team might need a high-level idea of how we will deliver the item to help us size it. But we should keep our discussion about the approach to a minimum, stopping once we have just enough information to estimate the PBI size. Save the details for the Sprint Planning event.
Returning to our house renovation example, we might discuss that we will need to consider the time required to purchase supplies as part of sizing, but we don’t need to assign the tasks or break them down any further.
It’s during Sprint Planning that our team will select the Product Backlog items they will deliver, decide how to complete them, and craft a Sprint Goal. We sometimes refer to the “how” details as “tasking out” because Scrum Teams often add their task plan for each selected PBI to the Sprint Backlog at this event.
The approach for delivering Product Backlog items may change depending on which items our Scrum Team pulls into the Sprint. It, therefore, makes the most sense to discuss the delivery approach for each PBI at the Sprint Planning event rather than during the refinement process. Scrum Teams might have to discuss the delivery plan at a high-level during refinement to help with the sizing process. But, we should take care to limit planning at this stage to avoid the potential waste of replanning once we know what items we’ll pull into the Sprint.
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