Story Refining with Distributed Team


Hi friends,
I am a ScrumMaster working with two teams, most of whom are in India with the team leads, product owners, and some others onshore.

My challenge is that refining meetings are us pulling up JIRA, story by story, and discussing each story. It’s painful with lots of awkward silences, and I don’t know that everyone on the call is engaged. Because we’re not co-located, I can’t break out the stickies and Sharpies like I wish we could.

Does anyone have a better way to discuss these stories that isn’t so painful?



Have you ever tried using ? I did this a lot with distributed teams in the past. After reviewing each story then use planning poker and there will usually be differences in their votes. This is the best time to call out highest and lowest votes and have them both explain why they voted that way. Very effective for bringing more to refinement meetings.


You have quite a challenge. One of the ways to help create at least some feeling of co-location is to use video during stand up. If you have Jira, they can have it up on their individual screens and you can at least read faces. This can be useful if you haven’t even met some of your team.

The other question I would have here is how does the teams view the stand up ceremony? Do they view it as reporting to a boss or sychronising with the rest of the team? If they feel that you are there to check up on them, then you lose the power of the stand up and will have just a status report. They will definitely feel unengaged with the process. Exploring the reasons for the ceremonies with the teams may also be of benefit.

Good luck, I’m keen to here how you deal with the challenge.


Video is huge…we all have heard the discussions around non-verbal communication, being able to see my team has made some improvements.

If you don’t mind me asking…how mature is the team? How long have they been working together? I’ve found that over time my team members address each other and ask questions, regardless if they’re in the room or not (our devs are offshore, our QA is nearshore, it’s quite exciting!). Without me trying it’s become more of a group discussion, not the scrum master acting as lead.


I’ve had success with remote story pointing done via polls (Webex and other conferencing solutions offer polling). Now, the discussion side of refinement was a different thing… Leads were the most vocal and other team members would defer to the leads.


Tools will help but they might not resolve the “awkward silence” problem. As scrum master, perhaps you want to have a coaching session with some of the senior developers on the team to help fill the gaps with asking questions to other team members, encouraging them to provide their thoughts. This approach will keep the conversation moving, and also help create a safe environment for everyone to provide their input.


use video. Create conversations. that way they would feel involved.
That’s the only way.


HI Sara - good to see you here.

All good suggestions above… planning poker, video.

And do you have a good Definition of Ready?


Hi friends,

Thanks so much for your thoughts! I have been trying to use my camera, they say they don’t have one. I’ve got to follow-up on my request that they get one - so thanks for the reminder.

We do use pointing poker, and I think it’s very good for getting everyone engaged. We have a draft version of DoR and DoD but I still need to get everyone into one “room” to discuss and say it’s good enough for now, I have that scheduled for the next few weeks.

I appreciate everyone’s ideas and thoughts. I think time is probably going to be the biggest factor - just getting to know each other and building trust. It’s so much harder with the time zone and location differences.

Thanks again!


You could also consider pulling back the amount of depth you go into each story and stay higher level. Then inspect impact at the next retro and tune it. Sometimes sacrificing detail is acceptable to get the team into a rhythm.


If it’s true refinement you’re after, there’s a technique I use sometimes called “Telling the Story”.

Someone on the team (not the PO) reads the story out loud along with the acceptance criteria. They then give their take on what they think the story is asking for. Feels forced the first few times, but it allows the team to read the story in their own voice and words. Piques conversation and gets them talking.

Also allows for easy collaboration with product to clarify requirements. I’ve had lots of success with the technique.


I love this idea, Chris, thanks. I think I will try it tomorrow!