A Pre-refinement is needed to have a successful Sprint Planning


In this “Myth or Fact” blog post we will have a look at the Sprint Planning event. What are the ingredients to make this successful? Is pre-refinement needed to make this Sprint Planning session succesful? Is there something as a pre-refinement at all in the Scrum framework? Let’s dig into this one.

This blog statement, may feel that there is some moment in the Sprint that you do refinement work for the Product Backlog Items (PBI’s). In Scrum, we have five events which help us deliver a done increment. The following five events are described in the Scrum Guide:

  • The Sprint
  • Sprint Planning
  • Daily Scrum
  • Sprint Review
  • Sprint Retrospective

Refinement is not one of the five Events in Scrum. So where do we do refinement work as a Product Owner / Development Team? Searching in the Scrum Guide, you will find it eight times, within the paragraph of the Product Backlog. What does it state;

Product Backlog refinement is the act of adding detail, estimates, and order to items in the Product Backlog. This is an ongoing process in which the Product Owner and the Development Team collaborate on the details of Product Backlog items. During Product Backlog refinement, items are reviewed and revised. The Scrum Team decides how and when refinement is done. Refinement usually consumes no more than 10% of the capacity of the Development Team. However, Product Backlog items can be updated at any time by the Product Owner or at the Product Owner’s discretion. – Scrum Guide 2017

What we can learn from this statement in the Scrumguide that refinement is an ongoing process, not a single moment in the Sprint that we need to use to do some backlog refinement. And this makes sense, because maybe you need to adjust your PBI’s at a certain moment in the Sprint, because of new (business) circumstances, new technology etc.

The other important sentence we see here is that it is a decision of the Scrum Team how and when refinement is done. The PO is the person who is responsable to make sure that PBI’s are clear and are visable at the Product Backlog. And that they are clear enough so that the Development Team understands it to the level needed. The Dev Team refines it further into tasks and other actions, to create a Done Increment. If you want to do it every day 30 minutes of your time, it is OK! You want to plan 1 refinement session of 4 hours every Sprint? It’s OK! It comes down at self-organising and a self- managing team, as long as you keep the maximum of time spent to refinement into mind. It doesn’t make sense to focus on PBI’s at the bottom of the Product Backlog, cause there is time left.

Now we know that there is room for the Scrum Team to decide HOW and WHEN to do Backlog Refinment, we need to have a look at the Sprint Planning. Is it also possible to do some refinement in this Sprint Planning event? Let’s have look at the Scrum Guide:

The Product Owner can help to clarify the selected Product Backlog items and make trade-offs. If the Development Team determines it has too much or too little work, it may renegotiate the selected Product Backlog items with the Product Owner. The Development Team may also invite other people to attend to provide technical or domain advice. – Scrum Guide 2017

If we read carefully, we see that there is still room for Backlog Refinement at the Sprint planning. So we don’t need to do it before the Sprint Planning starts. Because the work is changing continuous.

Refinement has a significant effect on your Sprint Planning. When is this Sprint planning successful? To my opinion it is successful when the Scrum Team manages to create a proper Sprint Goal, enough work is refined for the first few days of the Sprint, based on empirical data what the Development Team can perform.

So let’s wrap up, we don’t need a pre-refinement moment, it is a continous proces between the PO and Dev Team. In order to be successfull you can even do refinement at the Sprint Planning session. So yes, this is a Myth. It isn’t needed to have pre refinement to have a succesfull Sprint Planning, other things are much more important then refinement. Let’s start with a proper Sprint Goal ;-).