The Backlog Refinement Meeting is also called Product Backlog Grooming, Backlog Estimation, and even Story Time. Ken Schwaber didn’t give it an official name in the original Scrum books but he did say the team should set aside a little time for this every single Sprint. For example, if you’re doing two-week Sprints, the team should take a two hour break somewhere in the middle for Product Backlog Refinement. If you haven’t groomed the Product Backlog during Sprint Execution, or if it’s your very first Sprint, it will occupy more of the time of your Sprint Planning Meeting.
The purpose of the Backlog Refinement Meeting is to help the Product Owner get the top of the Product Backlog ready for the next Sprint Planning Meeting. The Product Owner cannot do this alone — the whole team must help. Remember Agile means business people and technical people working together daily. The Product Owner makes the final call about the requirements, especially prioritization.
Backlog refinement includes estimation of effort, clarification of requirements, and decomposition of large Product Backlog Items (often called “epics”) into smaller ones (such as “user stories”). A well formed Product Backlog Item is no bigger than one quarter of a Sprint. As Bill Wake recommends, each one should be independent, negotiable, valuable, estimable, small, and testable. Converting large requirements to small ones, still representing business value, seems difficult at first, especially when the existing system is deep in technical debt. A skilled Scrum Master can help the team identify thin vertical slices.
Watch an example Backlog Grooming Meeting. For more information about Scrum Master responsibilities, please see An Example Scrum Master Checklist. For more information about Scrum, please see The Scrum Reference Card.