A Guide To Backlog Grooming

Photo Credit: Leanpub.com
Photo Credit: Leanpub.com

Backlog grooming is a highly recommended maintenance activity a scrum team should execute each sprint. This is the process of adding detail, estimates, and order of priority to items in the Backlog. This is an ongoing process in which the Product Owner and the Team collaborate on the details of Product Backlog items. During Product Backlog refinement, items are reviewed and revised.  The Product owner is responsible accountable for having stories ready for grooming, and the Scrum Master is responsible for making sure the stories are groomed before sprint planning.

Grooming will allow for:

  • A better understanding of user stories
  • Identification of dependencies and potential gaps for stories
  • User Story estimation for upcoming and future sprints

Product Owner’s Role

The Product Owner’s role in backlog grooming should start before the actual meeting. The PO will need to make sure that the stories are already prioritized. This is vital to making sure the team’s time is used to groom the most important items first. The PO should also add acceptance criteria or user acceptance test cases to stories as appropriate, depending on how soon each story will be pulled into a sprint. Backlog grooming should not be done without the PO.

Scrum Master’s Role

For this project The Scrum Master will schedule the meeting and take care of any other logistics.  The Scrum Master should also be in contact with the PO before the grooming session to make sure the stories are ready to be groomed.  Backlog grooming can be done without the SM.

The Team’s Role

Having the team involved with grooming is imperative.  While the PO has a great deal of the requirements identified up front, the team can help round out the technical aspects, dependencies, and other considerations.  With the team’s help, the acceptance criteria can be modified and expounded upon.  If the team has the ability to even briefly review the top upcoming items, its ideal.

What’s the potential impact of not having backlog grooming?

  • Your stories will not be prepared for sprint planning.
  • The connection of work items to big picture vision will grow stale.
  • A dev may be looking or hearing about a story for the first time as they are having it assigned during sprint planning. This typically can increase ramp up time.

Who Should Attend Grooming Session(s)

  • Level 1: Discipline Leads (UX/Component), Product Owner, Scrum Master (OPTIONAL)
  • Level 2: Same audience as above and including all Dev members and the QA teams.

Just Getting Started?

For the initial 1-2 sprints it’s suggested that both Level 1 and 2 sessions take place.  Cadence and details for L1 & L2 grooming is below:

L1 Backlog Grooming

(Optional but highly recommended): More focused/collaborative group review to fully prepare stories for the L2 Full Team grooming sessions. Goals:

  • Review story scope
  • Estimate stories at a high level (estimates may change in L2 Grooming)
  • Identify blockers and agree on an plan of action to unblock items

Pre-Requisite: Product Owner has reviewed stories for L1 Grooming and they are ready for review.

Timebox: Try to have 2 hours planned each sprint for L1 grooming (may be two sessions).

L2 Backlog Grooming

A collaborative discussion and elaboration of user story details and estimates.  All stories on the agenda won’t always be estimated as some will require additional discussion / decisions. Goals:

  • Stories should be understood by all members of the team
  • Blockers should be closed or workable
  • Stories should be ready for sprint placement

Pre-Requisite: Product owner has reviewed stories for L2 Grooming and they are ready for review.

Timebox: Try to have 2 hours planned each sprint for L1 grooming (may be two 1 hour if needed sessions).

Back To Basics

After your backlog begins to take on a level of refinement, you may find that it’s no longer necessary to have two separate backlog grooming meetings.  A great indicator for determining this would be to ask the following question: “Are all of the stories for the next two sprints containing enough detail that the entire team attend grooming without wasting time?”

Questions?

If you made it this far, you’ve consumed a lot of information.  And there wouldn’t be agile coaches our there if all you had to do is read a guide and be able to master the backlog grooming event.  Feel free to comment with questions or some suggestions you might have.

Agile Certifications…What’s The Value?

Scrum certs

Last week I attended an agile training seminar for the Certified Scrum Master (CSM) certification. It got me thinking about what is really the value of going to an agile training session.  Having already attended the Certified Scrum Product Owner (CSPO) training last year I was curious as to how much I would benefit.  When I attended the CSPO training the trainers take was that you needed to learn almost as much about the scrum master role as you do the product owner to be able to understand better. I have to say I was pleasantly surprised with the amount of new knowledge I walked away with. I’ve noticed that each trainer has had a deep background leading and coaching agile teams, and with that comes different nuggets of wisdom. While the first 1-2 hours were mostly review, after that it seems that each session had a life of its own and had tremendous value.

Do you really need an agile certification to be effective on an agile team?  Technically no. But if you are someone who is looking to make a role transition or have an extensive background in waterfall environments, it could be a great tool and demonstration of your ability to make that transition. Obviously time and experience with agile is more valuable, but if I were going to make a statement in the same format of the agile manifesto it would look something like this “Working experience over training seminars and certifications.  That is, while there is still value in certifications, there is more value in working experience.”

Why should you keep going to training seminars like this? For me I realized that when you work in an agile organization you can start to get used to the way you are doing things.  And being with a room full of people talking about what they do gives your copious amounts of inspiration for what you are doing. I was furiously writing out sticky notes with ideas for things to try, and now the challenge will be slowly introducing some of those ideas to the team without being “that overly hyped out conference high let’s change everything” guy.

Something else I was pleased with is that after attending the CSM training I was required to take an exam (open book), that required me to prove my knowledge. It didn’t sit right with me that I could attend a 2 day CSPO training and leave with a certification.  The CSM exam was actually pretty challenging, even with the internet at my disposal.  It was a good exercise all in all.