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What in the World is Software Product Backlog Grooming?

One quick technique to help you raise the bar on the quality of your software in every release is to make sure your sprint planning sessions are organized, swift and efficient.

Enter backlog grooming.

Backlog grooming is a meeting in which the Product Owner and the team meet to make necessary adjustments to the stories for the next sprints. Adjustments may include:

  • The creation, improvement or removal of stories.
  • The splitting up of stories to improve accuracy or adjust priorities within a story.
  • The re-prioritization of stories.
  • The Adjustment or assignment of estimates to stories.

During your current sprint, schedule in a few Backlog Grooming sessions to be prepared for your next Sprint Planning session. “Why?” you ask! Well, here are a few reasons:

  • Everyone will have the opportunity to ask questions, poke holes, review design documents to build a stronger story.
  • The team will refine the acceptance criteria to add alternate scenarios and paths or break higher-level acceptance criteria into lower levels.
  • Stories that are too big are discovered and cleaned up before (and not in the middle of) Sprint Planning.
  • Sprint Planning stays focused on determining complexity and velocity for your next sprint. We spend less time on grooming the story and more time planning our next sprint.

Some tips to make sure your next Backlog Grooming session is a success:

  • Time-box your discussion for each story. Keep it to 10 minutes or less for each story. Plan on meeting for only one hour per grooming session, with a goal of reviewing at least 6 stories.
  • By sprinkling a few grooming meetings throughout your current sprint (for example, two grooming sessions each week in two week sprints), you can ease your way through 24 or more stories in one sprint – all before your next Sprint Planning session.
  • Since your Product Owner is prioritizing the backlog, start at the top and work your way down. When you meet again, pick up where you left off – only reviewing stories above if they’ve been added or modified since your last grooming session.
  • Remember to include time spent in Backlog Grooming when you are considering capacity for the next sprint.

This doesn’t mean that the team doesn’t continue to read the backlog outside of Grooming and Planning meetings – changes to stories happen through the sprint cycle. Being prepared for Backlog Grooming by running through the stories also makes sure we are ready to go for anything.

Backlog Grooming is a great way to ensure high visibility and awareness of what’s in the queue, allows for a smoother journey for Sprint Planning and keeps the communication within the team strong and focused.

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