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Backlog grooming is a regular session where backlog items are discussed, reviewed, and prioritized by product managers, product owners, and the rest of the team. The primary goal of backlog grooming is to keep the backlog up-to-date and ensure that backlog items are prepared for upcoming sprints. Additionally, the process helps product managers explain and align the organization behind the strategy that informs the backlog items.
Backlog grooming, referred to also as backlog management, backlog refinement, pre-planning, or story time, is a widely adopted activity by Scrum and agile product teams. The most common tactical activities that occur during backlog management include:
When done effectively, recurring backlog grooming sessions can keep your backlog in check and improve the organization of the items listed in it.
There are several important reasons to adopt backlog grooming:
Depending on how big your organization is and your company structure, your backlog can receive input from several different teams and departments. Left unattended, this could lead to a messy backlog with a lack of cohesive qualities across backlog items and an overwhelming number of outdated items.
Conversely, a groomed backlog is always in a manageable state. This makes it easier for the whole team to navigate through the backlog items and contribute more efficiently.
The purpose of backlog refinement is to ensure that the backlog is populated with initiatives that are relevant, well-documented, and prioritized in accordance with the needs of the customer and organization. Nothing gets built unless it’s on the backlog, but listing an item on the backlog doesn’t guarantee that it will be executed. The backlog refinement process ensures that only the most relevant tasks get committed for delivery in the following sprint.
An unorganized backlog with poorly formulated backlog items can lead to ambiguity and miscommunication across teams, as well as bad product decisions. In contrast, a refined backlog supports effective team conversations and allows everyone to be on the same page when it comes to new features, bugs, user insights, or other product-related initiatives.
A groomed backlog helps your product team deliver features more rapidly and keeps the organization moving forward. It reduces the time product managers and product owners spend planning sprints and increases the productivity of everyone involved in building the product.
Depending on the structure of your organization and whether you employ Scrum and agile methods, the backlog grooming process could be performed in the form of regular recurring meetings.
Usually, the product manager or product owner is in charge of leading backlog grooming sessions and ensuring that they are carried out smoothly. Since backlog grooming is not an official ceremony according to the agile method, it’s not uncommon to also see project managers, Scrum Masters, or other team members facilitating the sessions.
It’s important that you encourage every department across your organization to participate in backlog grooming sessions. Yet, you don’t want to invite too many collaborators, as the sessions could easily become overwhelming and ineffective when too many ideas and viewpoints are presented.
The backlog refinement ceremony must be attended by team members with the highest involvement in the product building process:
Roman Pichler, author of “Agile Product Management with Scrum,” used the acronym DEEP to sum up the essential traits of a good product backlog:
The Scrum Guide suggests a clear set of qualities for your backlog items:
It may take some experimentation before you determine the best set of backlog item qualities to track, and you don’t necessarily need to use the ones defined by scrum guidelines. With a product management platform like productboard, you can always define your own set of custom attributes and criteria to score and prioritize items.
Some of the items and initiatives that could be listed in a product backlog include:
A common mistake in backlog grooming is adding all of these inputs into a single backlog list without any categorization. It’s critical that you split your development backlog from your product backlog and your insights backlog, and make sure each item is labeled correctly. This will not only keep your backlog less cluttered but also speed up your backlog grooming sessions.
There are a few key things that everyone should revisit before a backlog grooming meeting:
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