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.

Planning tool: Pointing Poker (website)

What is it?

Someone developed this handy website for online Planning Poker sessions. Their website says it best “Online, virtual and co-located agile teams use this application during their planning/pointing sessions to effectively communicate points for stories.”

https://www.pointingpoker.com/

Pros:

  • It’s FREE!  It’s hard to be overly critical of a free tool right?
  • You can set custom point values.  this is useful if you want to simplify your backlog grooming discussions.
  • It’s fast to setup a session and requires no authentication.  In my opinion you want to spend as little time focused on getting into the tool as possible.  No credentials or software = a breeze.
  • Enables remote team members or distributed teams to work together.
  • The timer is super useful for keeping on track.  Until you press “Clear Votes” the timer keeps going.

Cons:

  • The interface is a bit outdated.
  • If you are concerned about security, this may not be the tool for you. While it’s not required to put sensitive or specific information on the site, all one needs is a session ID to see the contents of a session.
  • You can make your name whatever you want when you join the session.  Follow me on this one.  Depending on your team’s sarcasam-o-meter you could see some interesting names join your session. 🙂  If you are trying to run a smooth session with multiple people it could be a little clunky until you figure out who’s who.

Conclusion:

I love the tool, and have yet to find anything that works as well as this.  Well done!

Screenshots:

Do You Lean Coffee?

Have you ever used the Lean Coffee format for a meeting?   It’s a tool I’ve been so pleased to use in a variety of formats in recent years.  I’ve used it for governance meetings, team retrospectives, and open agenda meetings where there is no pre-existing agenda other than to do Lean Coffee.

What is the Lean Coffee format?

The following content is copied from http://leancoffee.org/  “Lean Coffee is a structured, but agenda-less meeting. Participants gather, build an agenda, and begin talking. Conversations are directed and productive because the agenda for the meeting was democratically generated.”

1. Set up a Personal Kanban

Simple Personal Kanban for Lean Coffee

In this Personal Kanban we have the items to discuss, what we are currently discussing, and the discussed columns.

This provides a structure for the conversation. Next we populate it

2. What to Discuss

A Populated Backlog for the Personal Kanban

People all get pads of post-it notes and a pen. They then start to add their topics for conversation into the “to discuss” column. These can be literally whatever people want to discuss or follow a theme. Right now, we want to encourage as many unique ideas as we can.

When the ideas start reach a certain point (an you’ll be the best judge of when that is), each topic gets a 1 to 2 sentence introduction. This way people know what to vote for.

3. Vote and Talk

Stockholm Late Night Lean Coffee

Each participant gets two votes. You can vote twice for the same thing or for two different topics. Simple put a dot on the sticky you are interested in. Tally the dots. Then you are ready to have a conversation.

The power here is that you now have a list of topics everyone at the table is interested in and is motivated to discuss for real.

End of content from leancoffee.org website.

Some benefits of using the Lean Coffee format:

  1. It’s highly collaborative!
  2. It supports the discipline of being a self organizing team.
  3. It helps to crowd-source the agenda. People have skin in the game because they got to vote about what is being discussed
  4. Time boxing helps to keep the meeting from getting stale and boring.
  5. The proof is in the pudding. Some of the best conversations I’ve every been a part of have been while using the Lean Coffee format.

Examples of when Lean Coffee may not be the best idea:

  1. You have a very specific agenda that needs to be adhered too.
  2. There’s only 2-3 participants in the meeting.
  3. You are talking with customers or the participants may have never heard of lean coffee.
  4. Your participants are knowingly “anti agile”.
  5. If you know the majority of the participants of the meeting are not typically not inclined to talk in a group. Dominating personalities will control the conversation and others could become bored and find it a waste of time. (with the right coaching this risk could be avoided)

Need more info still?  Here’s a great video showing a sample lean coffee meeting.

Agile Tool: Trello

Capture

If you are anything like me, I’m always looking for great agile tools to add to my arsenal.

I stumbled Trello the other day and I must say I’m pretty impressed! So far I can say that it’s great for personal Kanban or small internal projects. And it’s free!

Notable Features: You can easily invite people into your boards to collaborate,  view version history, add pictures to cards, and create custom lists. There’s a guided tour function that is really helpful to give you a jump start into using the tool.   Another feature I think is really helpful is the ability to create check lists within a card.  This would be a great way to keep track of tasks within a story.  My personal favorite feature is the ability to add a deadline to a card…So helpful for planning out a light weight project or really any small effort needing coordination.

Enterprise Use: From what I can tell this would not be a great Enterprise tool due to some features missing like rolling up cards into epics or portfolios.  I’ve heard this same feedback from 4-5 colleagues.  However, my observations are based on the free version, not some of the paid options they have, which very well could have those additional features.

Personal Use: I created a board for a home projects and invited my wife to the board.  We can both individually add projects or honey do’s and change the order of the stack rang for our backlog. (It’s fun to see how we have different priorities 🙂 )  The mobile app works quite well and does pretty much everything I would want it to do from my phone.

Conclusion: If you are looking to get more organized and incorporate some of the agile principles into your life and work, Trello is worth checking out!

Image source:  Trello.com

Brainstorming, Story Boarding, and Retrospective Tool – IdeaBoardz

This week I was talking with some fellow colleagues about starting a Lean Coffee for our organization.  We have a national (soon to be international) footprint and a ton of knowledge out there, but how to bring it together?  So I thought the lean coffee meetings would be a great way to bring people together to inspire, encourage, equip, and empower each other. It could also create a consistent venue where we can work together to solve challenges for our clients.

I had a few different people suggest using a tool called IdeaBoardz.  I want to share this tool not only because think it will be great for Lean Coffee but it has value for things like brainstorming, story boarding, and retrospectives.  Especially if you have co-located teams.

It’s simple to use and has just enough functionality to make it useful. And best of all…it’s Free!

You can take it for a test drive without having to sign in or create an account.

IdeaBoardz

Please Note I am in no way affiliated with IdeaBoardz and receive no compensation for writing this article.