A Guide To Backlog Grooming

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

Backlog grooming is an activity many agile teams perform 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 for having stories ready for grooming, and the Scrum Master is responsible for making sure the stories are groomed before sprint planning (via backlog grooming).

What is Backlog Grooming?

  • Removing user stories that are no longer relevant or needed
  • Re-assessing the relative priority of stories based on emerging information
  • Applying estimates to stories which have yet to be estimated
  • Correcting estimates based on newly discovered information
  • Creating new user stories in response to newly discovered needs by the team, product owner, or customers
  • Splitting user stories which are high priority but too large to fit in an upcoming sprint

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 content 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)

  • Pre-Grooming: Discipline Leads (UX/Component), Product Owner, Scrum Master (OPTIONAL)
  • Grooming: 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 Pre-Grooming and Grooming sessions take place.  Cadence and details below:

Pre-Backlog Grooming

(Optional but highly recommended during early stages): A more focused group review to prepare stories for the full team grooming sessions. Goals:

  • Review story scope
  • Identify blockers and agree on an plan of action to unblock items
  • Ensure the stories contain the minimum needed information to the team to be able to discuss and estimate.

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

Timebox: Try to have 30-60 min planned each sprint for pre-grooming .

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  Grooming and they are ready for review.

Timebox: Try to have 1-2 hours planned each sprint for grooming. For teams that are new to this you may want to plan for 2 hours and finish early if you get through everything.

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.  Feel free to comment with questions or some suggestions you might have.

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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.

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.