Why does Product Backlog Grooming Matter?

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Product Backlog grooming is something that we have discovered to be valuable, and it has lead to a more productive sprint-planning meeting. Purpose of backlog grooming is to make improvements to the product backlog by providing input on the current state of upcoming stories. This includes getting clarity, identifying dependencies, risks, assumptions, acceptance criteria which can lead us to estimate & plan better.

A Backlog Grooming session should be used for:

  • Detailing out user stories to define “what” and “how”
  • Breaking down user stories that are too big (epics) – it could be vertical or horizontal slicing of stories depending upon need
  • Adding acceptance criteria, alternate paths, test cases
  • Looking deeper into the backlog to do longer-range technical planning
  • Discuss and identify the technical design, tech tasks and cross team dependencies
  • Integrate the latest insights/learnings into the backlog

Here at Naukri we have devised the product backlog refinement meeting to be taken up by few senior representatives of the team from all roles (back-end/front-end development, testing) thus eliminating the participation of the whole team at first level. After the stories are groomed they are shared with the entire team. Now the team is in better shape to understand, analyse and contribute towards these groomed stories. Backlog grooming is something that we typically do one iteration in advance.This ensures that we develop the right product in the right way. It also makes sure that the product backlog is workable, and that there are enough ready items to start the next sprint.

Why is this needed?

Groomed backlog helps streamline pre-iteration and iteration planning meetings and makes them more organized and productive. Due to the groomed backlog we have shorter pre-iteration meeting where entire focus is on story point estimation and may be clarifying few last minute doubts. Post the pre-iteration meeting having estimated stories helps the product team prioritize the backlog items for upcoming iteration leading to very effective & shorter iteration planning meeting. By dedicating time for backlog grooming, the team ensures that the preliminary planning always occurs prior to the iteration planning meeting.

Effects of Backlog Grooming

Reduction in Meeting Timings

In Jobposting (one of our naukri product) scrum team, when we started implementing agile we used to take 4-7 hours for our pre-iteration planning meeting and same amount of time for iteration planning meeting. After we started doing proper backlog grooming, time spent in our pre-iteration and iteration planning meetings has reduced by 50%.

Now that’s an improvement !

Better Planning

Since we are focusing on doing our planning homework one iteration in advance through working hard on our backlog grooming we have achieved 30 % Planning Efficiency improvement over the last 6 months.

Impact on planning efficiency

Planning efficiency

Note: Planning Efficiency is defined as the ratio of planned completed to committed story points

Leads to Smaller Stories

Backlog grooming helps us carve smaller stories out of the epics in order to reach our goals. It’s best to perform this breakdown as a large user story moves closer to the top of the backlog.

estimationpyramidImage Credit : https://help.rallydev.com/sizing-and-estimates

Who should attend backlog grooming meeting ?

At Naukri Product Managers, Senior front end developers, Senior backend developers, Senior Testers and Architects of each scrum team attend their respective backlog grooming meeting.

Here are a couple of reasons, why:

  1. We want to ensure that the entire team contributes towards the entire product backlog but their effort and energy should be focused and efficient. By ensuring that few senior folks first provide details in the stories leads to reduction in the time and effort needed by the entire team in reading, analysing and processing a story.
  2. Having a dedicated smaller team for grooming ensures that the activity gets done as opposed to having a large/entire team where gathering everybody is an operational challenge mostly.

How much time should be spent on Grooming?

At naukri mostly grooming takes 5% to 10% of the effort of designated team members from their iteration time. The more stable and mature your product is, the lower the grooming effort tends to be in the sprints. The reason for this is that there are lesser unknowns and you rely less on feedback and experimentation to discover the right requirements.

When should Grooming be done?

At Naukri we try to start product backlog grooming one iteration in advance, one/two stories on daily/every-other-day frequency basis. This gives the product owners sufficient time to act on any gaps that are identified. This gives ample time to the entire team to do thorough analysis and understanding of the backlog items. Some teams find that doing shorter frequent meetings every week rather than once per sprint are more suited to their cadence, and that is, of course, fine.

To Sum Up

When grooming your product backlog, don’t forget to collect and analyse the user feedback. Integrate your insights, select your next goal, write small, detailed stories, and get them ready for implementation.

And don’t forget to consider your grooming sessions when calculating team capacity. Reserve ~5% – 10% of each team member’s time for this activity. Encourage specialist or subject matter experts to attend this meeting.

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Posted in Agile