What is backlog grooming? Definition and benefits

Atlassian By Atlassian
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Backlog grooming, or backlog refinement, is the regular updation of the product backlog. The key goal is to keep the backlog current and prep backlog items for future sprints. The product manager, product owner, and the team prioritize, review, and discuss backlog items, ensuring the workload for upcoming sprints is always correctly prioritized. 

If the backlog is not up to date, the project team may find it challenging to prioritize work. At best, they might work on out-of-date tasks or requests, wasting time and resources. At worst, the list could grow so long that it becomes nearly impossible to prioritize tasks. A well-groomed product backlog is essential for any team practicing an Agile methodology.

This guide outlines the backlog grooming process, best practices for effective backlog grooming, and more.

Understanding the purpose of backlog grooming in Agile

Backlog grooming is essential for any Agile team to continually iterate on their products or services. This is because the backlog is composed of fixes, improvements, and new features. “Too much refinement and you’ve introduced waste to the process,” says Atlassian’s Modern Work Coach Mark Cruth. “Too little time and planning will not be effective.”

Agile backlog grooming involves: 

  • Deciding which user stories to pursue in the next sprint
  • Pruning the backlog of stories that aren’t relevant to the team’s current objectives 
  • Adding stories based on current or changing customer needs 
  • Estimating timelines and deliverables
  • Dividing user stories that are too large to tackle into smaller tasks.

A backlog refinement meeting allows the team and stakeholders to agree on strategic task priorities. The ultimate goal is a current backlog that aligns with customer and business needs, improving overall agile project management and preparing the team for the next sprint.

Backlog grooming benefits

A well-maintained backlog has many benefits for Agile teams seeking continuous improvement in their processes. Some of the many benefits of backlog grooming include: 

  • Enhances sprint planning: An organized and prioritized backlog makes planning the next sprint a snap. Your team will be better able to pick items for the sprint. 
  • Improves teamwork: Since backlog grooming involves everyone on the team, it improves team communication and encourages collaboration. 
  • Ensures impactful work: Your team’s sprints will focus more on necessary tasks when you continuously review your backlog and prioritize important items.

The backlog grooming process

The backlog grooming process involves the product owner, project manager, and the team. They aim to prioritize backlog items that align with customer and business needs. Let’s take it one step at a time:

1. Gather and analyze data

Collect as much data as possible, such as customer feedback, user testing information, and usage analytics. Look for places where users get stuck or drop out. These friction points will become items on the backlog. Drawing on previous sprint experiences may be helpful. This data will help you prioritize what needs to be worked on first. 

This should naturally be part of the company’s process. Customer success, support, and quality assurance are likely already collecting much of this information.

2. Categorize backlogged items

Take those friction points and make them backlogged items while grouping and categorizing them properly.

List user stories, feature requests, new features, customer feedback, and bugs in the backlog.

3. Reprioritize backlogged items

Reprioritization centers backlog items around customer value, with items that offer the most value having the highest priority. Opportunity scoring is just one of many options for backlog reprioritization. It utilizes user research to understand user expectations and scores items based on that metric. 

Regardless of the method, reprioritization is an ongoing and regular grooming activity. Sprint reviews are a good opportunity to reprioritize during an active sprint.

4. Build your sprint

Once backlogged items are prioritized, you can build out a sprint based on the highest-priority items. Use any takeaways from the last sprint to determine which items to include. 

It’s helpful to have a backlog of at least two weeks’ worth of sprints. A longer list allows the team to create a better roadmap for the product, making it easier to build each sprint.

Best practices for effective backlog grooming

Effective backlog grooming doesn’t need to take trial and error. Rather, “it should be a ritual your team establishes to provide feedback on potential work,” says Cruth. “Start with a weekly cadence where the backlog owner meets with the team to review upcoming tasks and adjust the frequency as needed.”

There are some backlog grooming best practices you can follow: 

  • Conduct effective backlog refinement meetings: Project managers should conduct these meetings often, using a detailed meeting agenda, such as the one in this meeting agenda template, to keep them running smoothly. The meetings should be 45 to 60 minutes long, and project managers should play the role of a Scrum master
  • Leverage DEEP: Use DEEP (detailed appropriately, estimated, emergent, and prioritized) criteria to prioritize the backlog. This method is adaptable, has plenty of detail, and includes accurate estimates for high-priority items. 
  • Leverage DoR. A DoR (definition of ready) provides the team with an all-go for items. It is a clear set of criteria to determine whether a task is ready for a sprint.
  • Prepare for backlog grooming. Gather information from customer success, support, QA, and the team. This information, coupled with information from previous sprints, will guide the grooming process. 
  • Use more than one sprint. Break up the work into manageable chunks with smaller sprints instead of trying to complete the work in one sprint. 
  • Elicit input from team members. Team members will have the best hands-on insights into the product and sprints. Use this knowledge to groom the backlog. 

Manage backlog grooming with Jira

Backlog grooming is an essential activity that benefits any company. A well-maintained backlog provides an opportunity for continuous improvement and iteration. It gives your team a list of priorities when planning their work sprints. 

Jira makes backlog refinement easy. You can easily create a backlog and share it among the entire company. Your entire team will have a single source of truth regarding all work, leaving little room for ambiguity as to what the priorities are.

Jira has other benefits beyond your backlog maintenance. Trusted by millions of high-performing software teams, Jira makes it easy to organize work, stay aligned, and build better products. Jira streamlines communication between software teams and their cross-functional partners, unlocking better collaboration. Effortlessly track projects at every stage of the development lifecycle, keeping team members and stakeholders aligned. And as the product becomes more complex and the team grows, build workflows and processes that scale.

Backlog screenshot

Backlog grooming: Frequently asked questions

Who is responsible for the backlog grooming process?

Backlog grooming is a collaborative effort that includes the entire project team. However, running a backlog refinement meeting can fall to a product owner, product manager, project manager, and/or Scrum master.

Who typically attends backlog grooming sessions?

The entire cross-functional team should attend these meetings. Their combined expertise can help craft stronger user stories. The meeting should include at least the following team members: 

  • Session leader: This can be the product owner, project manager, or Scrum master. 
  • Product team representatives: Leverage their deep product knowledge at these meetings. This is anyone on that team that helps build and maintain the product.  
  • Delivery team: Team leaders can represent the team if it is large. 
  • Quality assurance representatives: This team knows all the bugs and can add insight into what needs immediate attention. QA testers and/or their supervisor are good candidates for this. 

What are the differences between backlog grooming and sprint planning?

The main difference between these is their focus and timing. Grooming the backlog focuses on the entire product and its roadmap, which is a long-term planning activity. Sprint planning only considers requirements for the next sprint, so it is a short-term planning activity. 

How long are backlog grooming sessions?

Grooming sessions should occur regularly so they can be kept short. It is recommended to limit backlog grooming sessions to 60 minutes, but this can vary from team to team and company to company. However long the meeting is, it is vital to stick to the agenda so the meeting does not derail.