Backlog grooming, or “backlog refinement” as it is currently known, is a regular meeting where backlog items are discussed, reviewed, and prioritized by product managers, product owners, and the rest of the development team. Its goal? It intends to keep backlogs updated and ensure the items on them are prepared for updating. Backlog grooming also helps product managers explain what will be done and get the entire organization behind the process.
Think of it as meeting with all the members of your household in preparation for spring cleaning. You’ll discuss every task, and who will be responsible for it and prepare the materials you’ll need. Everyone who won’t be part of the cleaning crew will also be told about the plan so they can get out of the cleaners’ way.
Read More about “Backlog Grooming”
Mike Cohn was the first person to use the term “backlog grooming” in 2005 on the Scrum development mailing list. But it took several years before the practice was described more formally. In 2008, Kane Mar provided its first formal description, giving it the name “storytime.” He also recommended that backlog grooming be done regularly. In 2011, the practice became an “official” element of Scrum. It was, in fact, included in the Scrum Guide.
Backlog grooming is also known by various names, which include “backlog management,” “backlog refinement,” “preplanning,” or “storytime.” It requires teams to perform these activities to manage backlogs:
- Remove outdated user stories (smallest work units) and tasks
- Add new user stories that reflect newly discovered user insights
- Break down broad user stories into smaller items
- Reorder user stories based on their priority
- Explain and clearly define user stories and tasks to avoid uncertainty and “black box” communication (Black box communication refers to one that’s done with a minimal number of participants.)
- Assign or reassign story points and estimates. A story point is a number that tells the team how difficult a task is in terms of the complexities, risks, and efforts managing it would involve.
- Identify roadblocks and minimize related risks
Watch this video to learn more about the backlog grooming basics:
Backlog grooming provides several advantages to users, as described in more detail below.
Boost Team Efficiency
The only way for teams to move forward effectively is by making everything clear. By knowing what they should do and all the steps it involves, their overall productivity increases.
Manage Backlog Chaos
Any organization’s backlog keeps growing, as product managers, quality assurance (QA) testers, developers, and other team members add to it. That could lead to a messy backlog. Backlog grooming can clean up the list to make it more manageable.
Keep Everyone Updated
Backlog grooming lets everyone see where the product team stands regarding features, projects, bug fixes, and improvements. It ensures transparency, so everyone knows the current state of events at all times, thus reducing interruptions (asking questions).
Deliver New Information
Backlog grooming also serves as a communications tool. It keeps everyone on the same page while the development team also gets feedback from other teams and customers.
Tips and Best Practices
Like any process, backlog grooming only becomes effective when done right. Here are a few tips and tricks to make it work.
Eliminate and Add User Stories
Get rid of user stories that are no longer relevant, as they will only get in the way of progress. But this step also requires adding important stories to include. The important thing is to make sure all stories that need to be addressed are in the backlog.
Update Priorities and Estimates
Over time, priorities constantly change, which should be reflected in the backlog. Every story’s importance and estimated delivery and resources must also be assessed regularly. The updated backlog should account for all these.
Splitting User Stories
As time passes, user stories can grow to an unmanageable size. Teams need to break them down in a process called “splitting.” This step is critical for high-priority user stories that are too big to fit in a scheduled update.
Now that you know the answer to “What is backlog grooming?” and what it involves, you can have a prioritized list of user stories, which will lead to shared understanding and more efficient sprint planning meetings.