ADAPT Methodology® Blog

Backlog Grooming: Navigating the Pathway to Agile Excellence

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In the evolution from a project-focused mindset to a product-centric approach, "Backlog grooming" (often referred to as "Backlog refinement") plays an indispensable role.


Traditional project management typically revolves around fixed scopes and rigid timelines, whereas a product-centric approach thrives on adaptability and the consistent delivery of value.


Backlog grooming ensures that the product backlog – a dynamic list of features, enhancements, and bug fixes – is continuously prioritized, detailed, and adjusted to align with changing business goals and user needs.


It facilitates clear communication among team members, stakeholders, and users, ensuring that everyone remains on the same page regarding the product's direction.


By diligently refining the backlog, teams can swiftly react to market shifts, technological advancements, or user feedback, solidifying its importance in the transition from projects to products.

Defining Backlog Grooming

Backlog grooming, also known as backlog refinement, is a recurring process where the Scrum team reviews, prioritizes, and estimates the items in the product backlog to ensure they are ready for sprint planning. It involves shedding outdated items, refining user stories, and aligning the backlog with the product roadmap and customer needs.

Stakeholders in Backlog Grooming

Let’s acquaint ourselves with the key players involved in the grooming sessions:


Product Owner

Leads the session and clarifies the details and priorities of backlog items, steering the backlog in line with the product vision.


Development Team

Engages actively in the session, providing estimates and insights on the technical feasibility of backlog items.


Scrum Master

Facilitates the session, ensuring a smooth process and encouraging collaboration and discussion.

Backlog Grooming Sessions: Step by Step

Understanding the backbone of grooming sessions will equip teams to undertake them successfully. Here is a step-by-step guide to a backlog grooming session:

1. Review Existing Items

Begin with reviewing existing backlog items, and assessing their relevance and priority.

2. Refine User Stories

Break down complex user stories into smaller, manageable units and define acceptance criteria.

3. Estimation

Employ estimation techniques, like planning poker, to assign story points to each item.

4. Prioritization

Prioritize the backlog items based on their value, risk, and dependency factors.

Benefits of Regular Backlog Grooming

Engaging in regular backlog grooming offers numerous advantages, including:


Improved Visibility

Teams gain a clearer view of the project status and the items pending in the backlog.


Enhanced Productivity

With a refined backlog, teams can swiftly move through sprint planning, saving time and fostering productivity.


Aligned Goals

Grooming ensures that the backlog aligns with the product vision and stakeholder expectations, promoting cohesive progress.

Navigating Backlog Grooming Potential Pitfalls

Backlog grooming, while pivotal, comes with its set of challenges. Here, we discuss how to navigate potential pitfalls:


Avoiding Over-Refinement

Strive to maintain a balance; while it’s essential to refine backlog items, overdoing it can lead to wasted efforts and diminished returns.


Sidestepping Gold-Plating

Gold-plating refers to unnecessarily adding features that don’t enhance the product’s value. Teams should avoid this to maintain focus on priority items.


Evading Vague Requirements

Ensure that the backlog items are well-defined, avoiding vaguely outlined requirements that can lead to confusion and deviations in later stages.

Backlog Grooming vs. Sprint Planning

To get a clear idea of how backlog grooming works, it is best to distinguish it from sprint planning.


During the sprint planning, your Scrum team agrees on a goal for your next sprint and the Product Owner determines a set of backlog items, ensuring that everyone in the development team understands every user story, epic, and task and their expected turnaround time.


Planning is the first meeting that the Scrum does in preparation for the sprint. And it’s more than setting requirements. It’s also about learning together, considering options as a team, and making decisions.


During the meeting, the Scrum team prioritizes backlog items and agrees on the delivery time based on the team's capacity. The sprint planning is attended by the entire Scrum team.


The backlog items are not fixed. Along the way, as the product development progresses, the Scrum team may realize that some items should be scrubbed off the backlog, resorted, rewritten, or split into smaller items.


Unlike sprint planning, backlog grooming is not an official Scrum meeting.


However, it is deemed as a valuable process that leads to a more productive sprint-planning meeting.

When does backlog grooming take place? Since the agile team faces time pressure, it is a must that they maximize the value of backlog grooming and minimize the need for lengthy discussions so as not to affect the team’s productivity.


As a rule of thumb, about 5 to 10% of the sprint effort should be spent on backlog grooming. And unlike sprint planning, not everyone in the Scrum team can participate.


The main person involved in backlog grooming is the Product Owner (PO).


He does the refinement of user stories and product backlog items together with the Scrum stakeholders or the customers before discussing it with the entire team.


During the ‘clean-up’, the following things are done:

  • Remove user stories that are no longer relevant to the delivery of the final product increment.
  • Re-assess the value of user stories.
  • Create new user stories based on newly discovered needs.
  • Split bigger stories into smaller, more workable items.
  • Redefine acceptance and testing criteria.
  • Add new product features as necessary, estimate, and prioritize them.

How to Maximise the Value of Backlog Grooming (Best Practices)

Again, backlog grooming should make the Scrum team more focused and efficient, and not less productive. In order to facilitate an effective backlog grooming meeting and maximize its value, below are the best practices that successful Scrum Teams swear by:


Timing is important. There is no defined rule as to when, exactly, should the backlog grooming take place. Some teams do it 2-3 days before the next sprint, others – a week before.


When deciding on the schedule, take note that your goal is to update the backlog items before the new sprint begins to lessen the risk of taking the product in the wrong direction. This should be done before your next sprint planning session.


However, if it isn’t possible to wait until the end of the current sprint to have some changes in the product feature or functionality, you can have a backlog grooming continuously and incorporate them in one of your daily meetings.


Keep it organized. Since time is of the essence, you want to keep the refinement meeting as short as possible.


You can do that by showing up prepared, giving participants a brief beforehand to set their expectations and encouraging everyone to participate.


As they leave the meeting, participants need to have a full understanding of what is left on the backlog items for completion and product delivery.


Having a well-organized backlog grooming meeting greatly saves your Scrum team time and valuable resources.


Have the right people. The backlog grooming should be done by the PO, the customer point of contact, the stakeholders, and key individual development team members, if needed.


As agile teams immerse themselves in the rhythmic cadence of backlog grooming, a panorama of organized, prioritized, and ready-to-implement backlog items emerges, steering the team towards sprints punctuated with productivity and success.


It is within the realms of strategic backlog grooming that teams find their blueprint to agility, a navigation chart guiding them through the vibrant seas of Agile project management to shores adorned with innovation and excellence.


There is no denying that backlog grooming is vital to the successful implementation of the Scrum process. It ensures that the backlog items are relevant, up-to-date, and prioritized.


Even if it isn’t considered an official Scrum meeting, it still has to be incorporated into the Scrum events so that the team stays on track and focused on their goal.


Remember that the product backlog items are at the core of every sprint. They have to be executed properly so that a completed product of the highest quality is achieved in the end.

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