When working with Scrum teams, getting your Refinement process right is key. I just finished reading ‘When’ by Daniel Pink (the author of Drive etc). It’s a great book and I can recommend it to anyone interested in improving your personal effectiveness or in human behaviour (and who isn’t!). I also learned something important about when you plan your refinement meeting…

Refinement meetings

Let me back it up a bit. Most Scrum teams have ‘refinement meetings’: meetings in which the team comes together to discuss and estimate user stories. Those meetings can be pretty intensive and exhausting as well as ‘expensive’ (I like to have the whole Scrum team there, so 1hr with a 7 person Scrum team means 7hrs spent on refinement), so planning at the right moment of the day might help keeping it efficient.

agenda with coffeeWhat time?

So what time is the right time? I am always aware that it is hard for developers to get into a ‘flow’ in a lot of organisations (or even to work undisrupted for a longer period of time). My Daily Standup is usually in the morning. I have experimented with doing the refinement meeting immediately after, later in the morning or somewhere in the afternoon. Having just a little bit of time between the Standup and the Refinement (more than just a couple of minutes to get coffee or whatever) is usually found very inefficient, so I plan my Refinement meetings in the morning after the standup or somewhere in the afternoon. But which is actually the optimal choice? Is there such a thing?

Larks, Owls and Third Birds…

Here is the point where the research from Daniel Pink’s book provides some facinating insights. In summary: There are different types of tasks we do during the day. Which type of task you should do when depends on the type of biorhythm you have. It turns out you can split people into three groups, each with a different biorhythm: Larks, Owls and Third Birds.

You can determine which one you are by answering the following questions: If you can go to sleep at the time you want, what time do you go? What time would you wake up then? Now take the moment in the middle of these two times. This moment in the middle will determine your type.
  • Lark: the middle is before 3:30am.
  • Owl: the middle is after 5:30am.
  • Third Bird: the middle is between 03:30am and 5:30am.

Types of tasks

According the research, the amount of energy and concentration available differs during the day. However, how it exactly differs depends on your type.
For both Larks and Third Birds the pattern during the day looks like this: PeakTroughRecovery. Your Peak is the initial period of concentration and energy, afterwards you will have a dip (Through) followed by another period of concentration and energy (Recovery). However, Peak and Recovery are not the same (see the book for more details) and as a consequence you should do analytical tasks during the Peak and creative tasks during Recovery. So for all Larks and Third Birds, you should do your Refinement meetings (analytical) in the morning, leaving the afternoon free for software development (creative tasks). The period in between (Through) can be spent on more administrative tasks, such as email.
For Owls the daily pattern is the exact opposite: RecoveryThroughPeak. This means that for those people any creative task should be in the morning and analytical tasks should be planned later in the day. So for those people the Refinement meeting should probably be later in the day. 
In most Scrum teams you will probably have a mix of Larks, Third Birds and Owls in your team, so you might have to find kind of compromise. But at least being aware that the above is a factor should help you a bit to optimise your Refinement process.

Jasper Verdooren
Certified Agile Coach | Senior Scrum Master | Scrum trainer