Zen of Scrum: Backlog Grooming

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yin-yangLast time I wrote about sprint planning which is one of four formal events prescribed by Scrum.

In this post I explain what product backlog grooming is, when it is performed, and how it is done.

Backlog grooming is often performed throughout the sprint. Perhaps this is one reason why it’s not considered a formal event.

However, many teams do backlog grooming as an explicit meeting, and some people think it should be incorporated as a formal meeting in the guide, too.

In fact, as pointed out at ScrumCrazy, different types of backlog grooming often takes place side by side.

Zen of Scrum - Product Backlog Grooming

What?

The goal of backlog grooming is to keep the backlog updated with enough “ready” items at the top.

For a story to be “ready” to be given to a team, I think it should at least fulfill the INVEST rule.

A good rule of thumb is to have at least 1.5 sprints worth of backlog items prepared before sprint planning.

For a multi-team configuration, it might be necessary to plan 2-3 sprints ahead to handle dependencies between teams.

As Angela Druckman points out in her article, it might also be a good idea to do long-range technical planning.

Some people mistakenly believe that doing Scrum means never focusing on anything but what is coming up in the next sprint.  This is not true.

How?

The goal of a grooming session can vary, depending on the current needs. Some points worth considering are the ones outlined by Roman Pichler at All Things Product Owner:

1. Analyse the customer and user feedback
2. Integrate the learning
3. Decide what to do next
4. Create small stories
5. Get the stories ready

When?

Try to avoid doing backlog grooming at the very beginning or end of sprints.

Another post at ScrumCrazy discusses some good reasons why:

During the first 20% of the Sprint, the team is just getting started on this Sprint's work, so you'll want to give them some room to get a good start. During the last 20% of the Sprint, the team is working hard to get closure on the current sprint items, so that's not really an ideal time to do it either.

Whether you do backlog grooming as a specific meeting, or continuously throughout the sprint, is really up to you.

Most likely, though, you will find yourselves doing both informal grooming and a more formal weekly grooming. I find this meeting a good preparation for sprint planning. It highlights lurking ambiguities, which allows you to rework unclear stories in good time; keeping the planning session shorter and more effective.


That’s it for product backlog grooming. Next time I’ll cover the sprint: sprint rules, emergency procedures, and a little about the length of sprints.

Don’t forget to check out the Zen of Scrum slideshow over at SlideShare.net.

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