What is backlog grooming in Agile?
Backlog grooming, also known as backlog refinement, is an important part of software development in Agile models. This process is critical for keeping the project organized. Backlog grooming is when the developers analyze and prioritize the tasks to be completed in the next ‘sprint’, or working period. During this process, the team removes tasks, breaks down large items into smaller units, and provides more details for each item. This is done so that the next sprint planning meeting is clear, concise, and time-efficient. The end goal of backlog grooming is to have a detailed and prioritized list of the next user stories the team will work on. The length of these meetings varies, depending on the size of the backlog.
Read Product Backlog prioritization techniques & tips on how to prioritize the tasks in Backlog Grooming.
In a nutshell, here’s what a team does during a backlog session:
- Remove obsolete items from the backlog
- Break down big tasks into smaller ones
- Prioritize items, based on the results of the last sprint
- Rewrite the backlog items to be more detailed
Learn more on Backlog items and how developers use them in Epic, Story, and Tasks in Agile article.
How is it different from sprint planning?
Sprint planning and backlog grooming are often confused with one another because they look similar at first. Think of backlog grooming as preparation for sprint planning, similar to writing a detailed outline for a presentation, or an essay. It can be chaotic to try to present or write your information with no organization or preparation. The same is true when using Agile methods for software development.
Sprint planning is when the new assignments (that were chosen during the grooming session) are given to the team. During the planning meeting, team members can ask questions, discuss the criteria for completion, and set deadlines. The team aims to come away with the Sprint goal. Sprint planning can last anywhere between one and four hours.
Here’s a short list of what happens during sprint planning:
- Team leader describes the next tasks and highest priority items
- The team agrees on the amount of work to be done during the next sprint
- All questions and issues are resolved
- Deadlines are agreed upon
- Team experiences and other things worth mentioning are discussed
Find out more detailed information on Sprint planning meeting and Backlog grooming meeting in our Agile meeting types article.
Why is backlog grooming so important for sprint planning?
The short answer is: organization. Without a consistent organization regimen, the project can fall apart very quickly. In most Agile methods, changing requirements is normal, and happens often. Without staying on top of all the changes, it is difficult to remain in control of the development process and could lead to errors, confusion, and having to backtrack or re-do work.
Another reason backlog refinement is so important is that it keeps the backlog relatively short. If no one paid attention to the backlog, it would grow rapidly and become a jumbled mess in no time. Just like a neglected garden, the longer the backlog is ignored, the harder it is to clean up.
What are the advantages of backlog grooming?
Effective sprint planning
By being thoroughly prepared for the sprint planning phase, teams spend less time discussing the details and more time developing. Regular backlog refinement saves time and eliminates any ambiguity, as well as redundant tasks.
The team leader and the product owner have the opportunity to further define the user stories that will be completed next. Sometimes, as the project grows, requirements change, or new ones arise. Updating and fleshing out the requirements gives more clarity to the story.
By breaking down the larger user stories into smaller increments during the refinement process, the team can deliver software to the customer more often. This helps the client because they can track progress, and make other requests if needed.
Tips for successful backlog grooming
Usually, team leaders choose to alternate these meetings with sprint planning meetings. Ideally, sprint cycle last for two to three weeks, and a backlog session would occur sometime between sprints. Some teams choose to have grooming sessions less often. If the team has a well-defined definition of ‘completion’, if requirements have not changed, or if no refinement is needed, they may only meet once a month.
Fortunately, only some of the team members need to be present. This lets other team members focus on their work and keeps production in a steady rhythm. Of course, all team members should be informed of the meeting and invited to join if they wish, but it isn’t necessary for everyone to be there. Team leaders, product owners, and any other stakeholders who have relevant expertise should be present.
Ordering the backlog
The most relevant and urgent user stories should be at the top of the list. Less-defined and less critical stories should be moved further down the list, to be reevaluated during the next session. Keep in mind that the order of the backlog will often change, based on progress and other developments. To simplify this process teams use specific agile tools like Wrike, Backlog from Nulab, etc.
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