How To Refine Your Jira Backlog As A Product Owner?

The product owner plays an important role in Agile development since he is responsible for expressing stakeholders’ interests and guaranteeing the product meets the needs of the stakeholders. In this context, Jira is a Product owner’s best friend when it comes to managing tasks and establishing a viable Jira roadmap for a smooth project.

Read further to learn more about the Jira Backlog and its features.

Jira Backlog 101

The Jira backlog is a component of the Jira project management tool, serving as a repository for an ordered list of product backlog items associated with an ongoing project. The Jira backlog presents product backlog items or issues organized into backlog and sprints, providing visibility into the prioritized tasks for the project. According to the Scrum guide, a product backlog is an emergent, ordered list of what is needed to improve the product. It is the single source of work undertaken by the Scrum Team. 

Exploring the Components of Jira Backlog

There are several key components of a Jira Backlog such as: 

User Stories or Issues: User stories or issues represent the specific tasks, features, or improvements that need to be addressed in the project. There are three levels of issues hierarchy in Jira Backlog:

  • Epics: Represent high-level initiatives or larger pieces of work, such as new features for software teams, major service changes for IT service teams, or significant deliverables for business teams.
  • Standard Issues: Regular business tasks discussed and carried out by team members. For software teams, they include bugs and stories, tracking effort for software development.
  • Subtask Issues: Used to break down standard issues into smaller chunks, aiding collaboration and task management in a sprint.

Priority: Each issue is assigned a priority level to indicate its relative importance or urgency in the backlog. Prioritization helps the team focus on high-value items first.

Estimates: User stories or issues often include estimates of the effort or complexity required to complete them. These estimates help in planning and resource allocation.

Dependencies: The backlog may indicate any dependencies between user stories or issues, highlighting tasks that need to be completed before others can start.

Sprint Assignment: User stories or issues can be assigned to specific sprints, which represent time-bound iterations or cycles of work within the project.

Status: The current status of each user story or issue, such as “To Do,” “In Progress,” or “Done,” helps track progress and facilitates team collaboration.

Description and Acceptance Criteria: Detailed descriptions and acceptance criteria provide clear guidelines and expectations for completing each user story or issue.

Additional Labels or Tags: Backlog items may be labeled or tagged with additional metadata to aid in filtering, categorization, or organization.

Amalgamated together, these components in a Jira backlog help in breaking down work, prioritizing, estimating effort, and tracking progress, and enabling efficient and effective project management.

Want to create a product backlog item in Jira?

To create an issue (product backlog item), you can follow the given steps:

In the project sidebar, select Backlog. If you don’t see it, expand the sidebar by clicking the >> icon in the lower left corner of the screen.

Jira backlog

You can quickly create issues using the inline issue create feature. Just click + Create issue.

Backlog refinement

Backlog refinement, also known as Jira backlog grooming, is an iterative process that involves review, clarification, and improvement of the items in the product backlog. Backlog refinement encompasses various activities, and by engaging in a grooming session, the team engages in better understanding, facilitates effective planning, and enhances their ability to deliver value and achieve project objectives.

Why should you have a well-refined Jira backlog?

Product Backlog refinement is the act of breaking down and further defining Product Backlog items into smaller more precise items. This is an ongoing activity that takes place as needed to add details, such as a description, order, and size. Attributes often vary with the domain of work With a refined backlog in place, the team gains a comprehensive understanding of the project’s scope, enabling effective sprint planning, efficient resource allocation, and timely delivery of valuable product increments. By enhancing visibility, reducing ambiguity, and allowing collaboration, a well-refined backlog empowers the team to work productively and aligns with stakeholder expectations throughout the project lifecycle. Regular backlog grooming sessions help the team maintain a clear understanding of upcoming work and enable effective planning and prioritization.

Refine your backlog at the right time!

Backlog refinement should ideally occur regularly throughout the project. The frequency of backlog grooming sessions may vary depending on the team’s needs and the nature of the project. Generally, it is recommended to conduct backlog grooming sessions at least once per sprint, before the sprint planning session. However, the frequency can be adjusted based on factors like the size and complexity of the backlog, the pace of change in requirements, and the availability of stakeholders. 

How to refine your Jira Backlog?

Refining your Jira backlog as a Product Owner is an essential task to ensure the success of your Agile project. Here are some key steps to effectively refine your Jira backlog:

  • Schedule Regular Backlog Refinement Sessions: Set aside dedicated time at regular intervals to review and refine your backlog either weekly or depending on the demand of your project.
  • Prioritize Backlog Items: Start by reviewing the priority of each backlog item. Consider the business value, user needs, dependencies, and project goals. Reprioritize items as necessary to align with the evolving requirements and stakeholder feedback.
  • Breaking down epics into user stories and splitting user stories into smaller user stories as part of the refining process.
  • Define Clear Acceptance Criteria: You must ensure that each user story has clear acceptance criteria. Well-defined acceptance criteria help the development team understand the expectations and deliver the desired functionality in a better manner.
  • Remove unnecessary entries: Check the backlog on a regular basis for any obsolete entries.
  • Communicate with Stakeholders: this includes contacting customers, end-users, and the development team, to gather useful insights.
  • Keep the Backlog Visible and Organized: Use Jira’s features to maintain a visible and organized backlog. Use appropriate labels, tags, and filters to categorize and track backlog items effectively to ensure transparency.
  • Adapt and Iterate: Continuously adapt and refine your backlog based on feedback, changing requirements, and new information that arises during the development process.

These steps can be assistive for you to refine your Jira backlog as a Product Owner effectively. They will assist in better organizing your work.

When not to refine your backlog?

While backlog refinement is a valuable practice, it’s essential to consider the concept of “just-in-time” refinement to avoid over-refining items that might change or become unnecessary. By focusing on the immediate and highest priority backlog items, teams can reduce waste by avoiding excessive effort spent on refining stories that may not be relevant or may undergo significant changes. This has been inspired by Lean in Agile. There are some considerations to know regarding when not to refine your backlog:

1. Early project stages: While it is important to define clear priorities and prepare a buffer of refined stories, excessive backlog refinement during the early stages may lead to premature decisions based on incomplete information. In these stages, requirements and priorities may still be evolving, and investing significant time in detailed refinement sessions might result in wasted effort if priorities shift or requirements change significantly. A more iterative and adaptive approach, focusing on high-level backlog items and incorporating feedback as the project progresses, can be more beneficial.

2. Uncertain or rapidly changing environments: In such environments, maintaining a highly refined backlog for far-ahead stories may not be the most efficient use of time and resources. As priorities and requirements fluctuate, the effort spent on refining stories that might not be relevant in the near future could be better allocated to more immediate tasks. It is essential to strike a balance between maintaining flexibility and avoiding excessive refinement for stories that may undergo significant changes or become obsolete due to the rapidly changing nature of the project. 

Key Terms that you must know about!

Backlog refinement vs. sprint planning

Backlog grooming and sprint planning are two distinct activities in Agile development, but they are closely related. Backlog refinement, as explained before, is an ongoing process of reviewing and preparing the product backlog for upcoming sprints. It involves activities like clarifying requirements, breaking down epics into user stories, estimating effort, and prioritizing backlog items.

Sprint planning

The Sprint is initiated with Sprint Planning, where the Scrum Team collaboratively lays out the work to be performed. The resulting plan is created collectively by the entire team.

The Product Owner ensures that all participants are ready to discuss the most important items from the Product Backlog and how they align with the Product Goal. The Scrum Team may also invite additional individuals to provide advice during Sprint Planning.

Sprint Planning covers the following:

  1. Establishing the value of the Sprint: The Product Owner proposes ways to enhance the product’s value and usefulness during the current Sprint. The entire Scrum Team collaborates to define a Sprint Goal that communicates the value of the Sprint to stakeholders. The Sprint Goal must be finalized before the conclusion of Sprint Planning.
  2. Determining achievable tasks for the Sprint: In consultation with the Product Owner, the Developers select items from the Product Backlog to include in the current Sprint. The Scrum Team may refine these items to enhance understanding and confidence.
    Determining the amount of work that can be completed within a Sprint can be challenging. However, the Developers’ knowledge of their past performance, upcoming capacity, and Definition of Done increases their confidence in making accurate Sprint forecasts.
  3. Planning the execution of chosen work: The Developers plan the necessary tasks for each selected Product Backlog item to create an Increment that meets the Definition of Done. Often, this involves breaking down the Product Backlog items into smaller work items that can be completed in a day or less. The decision of how to accomplish this is entirely up to the Developers, as they have autonomy in transforming Product Backlog items into valuable Increments.
    The Sprint Goal, the selected Product Backlog items for the Sprint, and the plan to deliver them collectively form the Sprint Backlog. Sprint Planning is timeboxed to a maximum of eight hours for a one-month Sprint. For shorter Sprints, the duration of the event is usually adjusted accordingly.

DOR and DoD

The Definition of Ready (DoR) is an array of criteria that must be met by a user story or backlog item before it can be declared ready for implementation. It ensures that the item is well-defined, understood, and prepared for the development team to work on it. Whereas, (DoD) is the criteria that must be met for a user story or backlog item to be considered complete. It encompasses all the necessary activities and quality standards that need to be fulfilled, such as coding, testing, documentation, and any specific requirements for deployment or release. The DoD ensures that the team has a shared understanding of what constitutes a finished and potentially shippable increment of work.

Scrum artifacts

Scrum artifacts are key elements used in the Scrum framework to facilitate the planning, execution, and inspection of work. The three main Scrum artifacts are:

Product Backlog

The product backlog is a prioritized list of all the features, enhancements, bug fixes, and other work items for a product that must be done. It is maintained by the product owner and acts as the development team’s single source of requirements. The product backlog is constantly shifting, with things being added, modified, reprioritized, or eliminated in response to changing demands and feedback.

Sprint backlog

The sprint backlog defines the specific tasks, user stories, or backlog items that the team commits to completing during the sprint. It helps the team to work in a productive way and also to track progress throughout the sprint.


At the end of a sprint, the increment is the total of all completed and possibly shippable product backlog items. It represents the tangible outcome of the sprint and is the incrementally improved version of the product. Each sprint builds upon the previous increments, and over time, the product evolves and grows with each iteration. The increment should meet the definition of “done” as defined by the team and the product owner, ensuring that it is of sufficient quality and can potentially be released to users or stakeholders.

These three Scrum artifacts work together to provide transparency, alignment, and focus for the Scrum team.

Prioritization as a critical key to better outcomes

By prioritizing the backlog, the team can focus their efforts on delivering features and functionalities that align with the project’s goals and provide maximum value to stakeholders and end-users. Effective prioritization enables the team to deliver incremental value, adapt to changing requirements, and maintain a steady flow of deliverables, ultimately contributing to the success of the project.

How to estimate issues?

Estimating issues is an important aspect of Agile project management and helps in understanding the effort required to complete tasks or backlog items. Here’s a general approach to estimating issues:

  1. Choose an Estimation Scale: Decide on an estimation scale that suits your team’s needs. Commonly used scales include story points, t-shirt sizes (XS, S, M, L, XL), or hours.
  2. Use a Reference Item: Select a reference item or a user story that represents an average or medium-sized task or story. Assign it a value on your chosen estimation scale. This reference item will serve as a baseline for comparing and estimating other items.
  3. Relative Estimation: During estimation, focus on the relative effort required to complete an issue compared to the reference item. The team discusses each issue and collectively decides whether it is smaller or larger in effort compared to the reference item.
  4. Discuss and Collaborate: Ask your team members to share their insights, perspectives, and concerns regarding the issues being estimated.
  5. Break Complex Issues: If an issue is too large or complex to estimate accurately, consider breaking it down into smaller, more manageable tasks.
  6. Revisit and Refine: Regularly revisit and refine estimates as you gain more information or as the team’s understanding of the work evolves.

Tips for Productive backlog sessions

Conducting productive backlog refinement sessions and meetings is crucial for ensuring a well-prepared and refined backlog. Some critical tips include:

Set Clear Objectives: Define clear objectives for each backlog refinement session. Communicate the specific goals and outcomes you want to achieve during the meeting to keep everyone focused and on track.

Involve the Right Participants: Invite the relevant stakeholders, including the product owner, development team members, and subject matter experts, to ensure a comprehensive understanding of the requirements and perspectives.

Break down Epics and User Stories: Collaboratively break down epics into smaller, more manageable user stories during the refinement session.

Prioritize and Re-prioritize: Review and prioritize the backlog items based on their value, urgency, and alignment with the project goals.

Define Clear Acceptance Criteria: Clearly define acceptance criteria for each user story to ensure shared understanding and avoid ambiguity.

Timebox the Session: Set a time limit for each backlog refinement session to maintain focus and ensure efficient use of time. This enables better time management for the team to make progress within the allocated time.

Communication: Foster an open and collaborative environment where team members feel relaxed sharing their perspectives, asking questions, and suggesting reviews.

Capture Action Items: Record or document action items and decisions made during the session. Ensure that any tasks or follow-up actions are clearly assigned to all the team members, with clearly defined deadlines and responsibilities.

Iterate and Continuously Improve: Continuously reflect on the refinement sessions and identify opportunities for improvement.

By following these tips, you can conduct productive backlog refinement sessions and meetings that contribute to a refined and well-prepared backlog, leading to more effective agile sprint planning and successful project execution.


Jira is a go-to option for project managers as it offers the right amount of customization, flexibility, and quality-of-life elements deal for teams. Refining your Jira backlog can prove to be a great help for the execution of your project. If anything is missing from the app, it is easy to find on the Atlassian Marketplace!