Backlog grooming — goals, benefits, and best practices
Without an effective backlog grooming session, teams risk a backlog that’s susceptible to disorganization, resulting in decreased collaboration and project delays.
Learning how to run grooming sessions effectively can make for more productive sessions and help keep your team aligned.
This article will explain:
- What backlog grooming is
- The goal of backlog grooming
- Benefits of backlog grooming
- Who owns the backlog grooming process
- Who should attend backlog grooming sessions
- How long backlog grooming sessions should be
- Backlog grooming best practices
- The right collaboration solution for backlog refinements
What is backlog grooming?
Backlog grooming is a session in which backlog items are communicated, analyzed, and prioritized by project managers and other project owners. Commonly referred to as backlog refinement — but also called backlog management, story time, or pre-planning — backlog grooming aims to keep the backlog up to date and confirm that items are ready for impending sprints.
Backlog refinement meetings serve as opportunities to dive into progress on the products that are in the works with a cross-functional team. When done effectively and on the right cadence, these sessions can help prevent the backlog from growing into an overwhelming amount of content.
The goal of backlog grooming
The main goals of backlog grooming are to examine outstanding user stories in the backlog, confirm they are properly prioritized, and ensure that they’re ready for sprint preparations. At the end of the session, you should have an organized and prioritized list of user stories.
Many agile practitioners say that a “DEEP” product backlog is the key outcome of a backlog refinement session. The DEEP acronym highlights some important traits associated with the product backlog:
- Detailed appropriately. Stories and other backlog items should contain enough contextual information to be understood and discussed by the cross-functional team.
- Emergent. Adding new items and stories should be simple as new information comes up, so nothing final is decided.
- Estimated. The effort required for each user story should be estimated through a measurement that’s agreed upon by the team.
- Prioritized. Items in the backlog should be ranked depending on their tactical purpose and the value they provide.
The DEEP product backlog acronym can be a good way to keep your team on track, but it’s up to your organization to determine what processes work best for your teams.
Benefits of backlog grooming
There are many benefits to your teams of using a backlog grooming process. From less stress to more productivity, your team will be well-rewarded for keeping the backlog in great shape.
Here are several specific ways your team can benefit from backlog grooming:
- Organized and uncluttered backlog. An unattended backlog could lead to disorder with a lack of cohesive components across backlog items and a large number of outdated items.
- More relevant initiatives. Backlog grooming serves to organize and prioritize customer and business needs. By using this process, you can certify that the most relevant tasks get taken care of for delivery in the upcoming sprint.
- Greater team efficiency. By grooming the backlog ahead of time, your team can work more efficiently. Backlogs should simply serve as directions for what tasks need to be prioritized — there’s no need to overthink them.
- Effective sprint planning. With all the tools needed for sprint planning, your teams can host more efficient meetings and spend more time on development.
- Objective cross-team review. Using backlog grooming, stakeholders are held accountable while insights can be offered for how to best plan for the upcoming sprints.
- Increased work velocity. A groomed backlog means less stress surrounding the number of incomplete tasks. Successful backlog grooming leads to less time planning sprints and more productivity from everyone involved with creating the product.
- Up-to-date product team. Everyone involved in the project is in the know and understands the status of different aspects. This ensures transparency across the board, leading to fewer interruptions and more productive work.
Backlog grooming can produce real benefits — but to take advantage of them, someone needs to manage it all. Delegate tasks properly, and your team will be in great shape.
Who owns the backlog grooming process
The product owner or product manager should own the backlog grooming process — but they may not solely be responsible for hosting backlog grooming sessions, depending on the hierarchical structure of your organization. The Scrum Master, a project manager, or a different team member could also lead these sessions.
An even more important component of the process is ensuring your designated team members have the skills necessary to manage backlog grooming. How the designated person conducts the sessions will determine the future productivity and success of projects. You can experiment with different roles before determining who’s the best fit to lead the refinement session.
Some of the core responsibilities of the backlog grooming process owner include:
- Scheduling the session and ensuring the right people are invited (and actually attend)
- Keeping conversations focused and on topic
- Playing timekeeper and moving the conversation forward if the team gets stuck
- Sending follow-up communication to the team after the session
These sessions should be productive and keep projects moving forward. Too many cooks in the kitchen can lead to less-focused teammates and less-effective conversations.
Who should attend backlog grooming sessions
These events are meant to be collaborative, so the entire cross-functional team should be represented at refinement sessions.
But at a minimum, the following people need to be involved in backlog grooming sessions:
- Facilitator. This should be someone who facilitates the session. It could be a product owner, product manager, Scrum Master, project manager, or even an Agile coach or consultant.
- Engineers or developers. These people own the narratives stored in the backlog.
- Delivery team. While this entire team plays a key role in bringing your company’s products to your customer base, if the group is too large to include everyone, you can consider only inviting members of management.
- Quality assurance representatives. These team members can share user insights related to backlog inputs.
The key is to only invite those people who are absolutely critical for the task at hand since too many collaborators and ideas could overwhelm the session. Also, be sure to have conversations with stakeholders before backlog refinement, not during the sessions.
How long backlog grooming sessions should be
While sessions will vary based on team priorities, the optimal length for backlog grooming is 45 minutes to an hour. However, there’s no universal timeframe.
Some teams set time limits on each user story to help the meeting move efficiently. The best thing to do is prevent side conversations and ensure your team stays on task.
Backlog grooming best practices
While individual business needs will vary, there are some best practices you can abide by to make good use of the team’s time and efforts.
Everyone who attends a session should do some form of preparation ahead of time — failure to do so can lead to inefficient backlog grooming. Stakeholders should review the overall project strategy and study key metrics. During the session, it can be helpful to share any preliminary results or promising measurements.
It’s important to split your development backlog from your product backlog and your insights backlog while ensuring that each item is named properly. Don’t add all of the inputs into a single backlog list without any categorization.
Some backlog items could include:
- User stories
- Feature requests
- User insights and feedback
- Feature specifications
Establish workflows that include a dedicated backlog folder so all incoming tasks and requests will be funneled into the backlog, which makes prioritizing simpler. With the right tools, implementing productive processes and keeping projects moving forward is a breeze.
The right collaboration solution for backlog refinement
Teams need to run more effective backlog grooming sessions and create a backlog that’s refined and easy to follow to encourage better collaboration and minimal project delays.
When you’re ready to get started, explore the benefits of cross-team collaboration made easy with empowering digital collaboration software.
Adobe Workfront helps teams create high-quality work together with speed and efficiency — from highly visual collaboration tools to automation that streamlines review workflows. This project management solution seamlessly integrates your collaborative tools into a centralized location so everyone has equal, real-time visibility into the status of a project.