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What is Product Backlog Grooming? What is the Goal of Backlog Grooming?

Product Backlog grooming (also known as backlog refinement) is a recurring event or meeting where backlog items are reviewed and re-prioritized by product managers, product owners, and the rest of the team. The main objective of product backlog grooming is to keep the backlog up-to-date and ensure those backlog items are equipped for future sprints. Regular product backlog grooming sessions also provide that correct stories are prioritized and that the product backlog does not become a black hole.

Product Backlog refinement meetings are an excellent opportunity to explore progress with the products being worked on by a cross-functional team. In these meetings, product managers and product owners can easily explain the strategic purposes behind prioritized items in their backlog to help improve the alignment across groups.

Here are some activities that take place during product backlog grooming :

  • Eliminating out-of-date user stories and tasks.
  • Adding new user stories as per newly discovered needs.
  • Breaking down prominent user stories into smaller items.
  • Rearranging user stories appropriate to their priority.
  • Clearly outline user stories and tasks to avoid doubt.
  • Assigning or re-assigning story points and estimates.
  • Identifying dependencies and reducing risks related to backlog items.
  • Ensure upcoming stories are adequately defined by adding additional information and acceptance criteria.

Benefits of Backlog Grooming

Some people feel that grooming backlogs once a sprint is essential for productivity. Hence, they remember what was decided from gathering all tasks for the next sprint! Other people are more relaxed about it and don’t want to spend a lot of time planning out every detail of their next sprint before starting it. However, if you find yourself in this position and care about improving the team’s efficiency, having a thorough grooming process allows everyone to prepare themselves during the sprint better.

Regularly grooming your backlog can prevent it from exploding.

There are various important reasons to adopt backlog refinement:

1. Increases Team Efficiency

The most significant way to motivate your team ahead of sprint planning is by grooming the backlog beforehand. This helps teams push forward continuously and increases the team’s overall efficiency. Product backlogs are there to help us handle our tasks more efficiently, helping us establish what we should be working on right now. That doesn’t mean backlogs need to be overthought — they simply need to give clear directions regarding what work needs to be done next and when.

2. Manages Backlog Mess

The backlog is constantly updated by the product manager, QA tester, developers, or other team members. This can cause a messy and chaotic backlog with many outdated items. Nothing gets done unless it’s on the backlog, but listing an item doesn’t guarantee it will be accomplished. Product backlog refinement is selecting which tasks are the most relevant to work on next — so you’re only working on what matters.

Also, read 5 Phases of Project Management

3. Keeps The Product Team Up-To-Date

Another advantage of backlog grooming is that it’s a way for everyone involved to stay informed about the status of different features and other aspects of the project at any given time. It’s a way to ensure transparency among all team members, ensuring they know what one another is working on instead of interrupting each other to ask what’s going on constantly. With a well-groomed backlog, no one has to re-explain their task because everyone already knows about it by heart: the fewer interruptions, the more productive the work.

4. Increases work velocity

A groomed backlog helps you not get overwhelmed by the number of incomplete tasks. It forces teams to deliver their product more rapidly and ensures the organization is moving forward on schedule. A well-groomed backlog reduces the time spent on planning sprints and increases the productivity of everyone involved in building the product.

Some other benefits include:

  • Prioritizes user stories based on value and urgency
  • It helps improve sprint planning productivity
  • Decreases the time spent on sprint planning

Owner of Backlog Grooming Process

Typically, the product owner or product manager assists in backlog refinement sessions. But this isn’t always the case. Depending on the organization’s hierarchical structure, the Scrum Master (in Agile Scrum teams), a project manager, or another team member may also lead these sessions.
The most important thing about identifying a Product Backlog Grooming facilitator is ensuring they have the right skills and experience to perform the role at hand. In other words, you’ll want to choose a person who can organize the grooming sessions and help keep them focused on achieving their larger purpose by doing things like preventing unnecessary digressions into trivial or off-topic topics. Moreover, the facilitator ensures that the sessions are regularly scheduled, the right people are invited, and follow-up communication is sent out to the team after the session concludes.

Attendees of Backlog Grooming

There’s no hard-and-fast rule for who needs to attend a backlog grooming session. However, it is ideal that the entire cross-functional team is represented to have the most effective session. The combined expertise of the various individuals on your team is what you need to flesh out your user stories effectively.

A well-rounded grooming session should include:

  • The backlog grooming facilitator (product owner, product manager, project manager, Scrum master, or other team members)
  • The product owner or another product team spokesperson
  • The delivery team or a delivery team representative
  • QA team representatives

Remember that while you want entire team representation, don’t invite too many people because they can slow things down. Requesting just a few key people is best because they will pitch in with ideas if and when needed.

While executive stakeholders may want to oversee progress, they usually do not need to be present during grooming meetings.

How Long Should Backlog Grooming Take?

Product Backlog refinement meetings must be consistent. The consensus is that the ideal length for a backlog grooming session is between 45 minutes to an hour, depending on the team’s availability.

The best way to be efficient about grooming agile sessions is to keep things moving and ensure conversations don’t become sidetracked. Most teams decide that a project manager, Scrum master, or facilitator helps keep people on track during meetings. Some teams even decide to assign time limits to each user story to keep things moving.

Read the full guide about 10 Backlog Grooming Best Practices You Must Know

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