Dear John: How Should We Handle Refinement and the Definition of Ready?

Scrum provides a framework that guide teams towards effective work but often leave room for interpretation. One such gray area is the Definition of Ready (DOR). While not explicitly required in Scrum, having product backlog items “ready” for Sprint Planning is stipulated and is a good practive. So, how do you go about it? Let’s consider a real-world question from a CTO and offer some down-to-earth advice.

Dear John,

“Our team is having a tough time refining work and getting it to meet the Definition of Ready (DOR) outside of a Sprint. They believe a product backlog item should be in a Sprint to be refined. I think it should be in a different status and kept outside the Sprint until it meets DOR. What’s your take?”

Matt, a CTO at an insurance company.

Dear Matt,

“Who crafted your DOR? If it wasn’t a team effort, that might be the issue. Revisiting and adjusting the DOR with everyone’s input could be beneficial.

You’re on point about the DOR serving to refine items ‘just enough’ before entering a Sprint—enough to instill confidence but not turn into a cumbersome Big Design Upfront.

It seems like we’re on the same page: refinement for work slated for upcoming Sprints should be happening in the current Sprint. Is your team pulling in product backlog items to ensure they set aside time for that? A practical solution might be a Kanban board with a ‘Getting Ready’ column. This could help your team focus on what needs to be refined before diving into development work.

Another angle to consider is a method I call the ‘Dialogue of Ready.’ It’s not a universal fix, but it could offer you some fresh perspectives. The “Dialogue of Ready” is about balancing being over-prepared and under-prepared. It encourages team discussion to assess readiness, advocating for a collective and flexible decision-making process rather than a rigid checklist. Read more here.”

Final Thoughts

  1. Team-Crafted DOR: Keep it a team agreement. That way, your DOR becomes a guide that reflects your team’s capabilities, not a constraint.
  2. The ‘Just Enough’ Principle: Strike a balance. You want enough detail to move forward confidently without getting bogged down in excessive planning. For creative and knowledge work, you need clarity, but make sure to leave some mystery to leave room for team autonomy.
  3. Refinement Timing: Make room in the current Sprint for refining items for future Sprints.
  4. Visual Tools: Use a ‘Getting Ready’ column on a Kanban board to keep everyone focused on what needs refining next.
  5. Dialogue of Ready: This alternative to a Definition of Ready promotes discussion and adaptability, providing a flexible alternative to a rigid DOR.

Being Agile isn’t just about following a set of rules; it’s about adapting to change and improving continuously. So, whether you’re revisiting your DOR or thinking about introducing the ‘Dialogue of Ready,’ the key is to keep the lines of communication open and work together as a team.

Stay Agile,


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