How to Master the Process of Backlog Grooming?

Backlog refinement or grooming is the key process within the Agile methodology.

All we know that a product backlog is an ordered set of all items that are known to be needed in the product.

The backlog evolves as the product and the environment in which it will be used evolves.

The refinement is the process through which product backlog items are reviewed by the project team and revised, providing more details.

Often, the backlog refinement process occurs together with Sprint planning since they are intimately interrelated.

I’d like to share 6 tips to tune your backlog refinement process. These tips were originally written by Dreamcatchersoftware.

Cross-team participation

It is critical to involve other Agile teams that have some level of dependency with your own team to carry out the refinement process effectively.

At least it’s a good idea to include product owners, Scrum masters and architects from other teams. This will help you achieve a much wider visibility and help you uncover the dependencies and risks.

Right size your user stories

One of the key goals of the grooming is to fix any deficiencies in the backlog in compare with the size of the user stories. There are many strategies and best practices around breaking down larger user stories.

Prioritization matters

One more important point is about grooming is making sure the right user stories are at the top of the list. Prioritizing the user stories needs to be done keeping the customer in mind.

Estimate it like a Pro

Do not forget that good estimation helps product owners optimize resources for efficiency and better outcomes.

Estimation needs to be fact-based and data-driven. You should update user story estimates based on what you learn about hidden dependencies and risks, which you are likely to uncover in the refinement sessions.

Uncover dependencies

Many user stories depend on other stories within the team and indeed on other Agile teams as well. There are two types of dependencies: hard and soft ones.

Hard dependency means the user story cannot be started before the dependent user story is first completed.

Soft dependencies may mean the user story must be at least done concurrently in the same sprint or in a later Sprint.

Identify risks

Risks are unforeseen occurrences. They are difficult to predict but they tend to derail progress in the most unexpected ways.

A good way to identify the risks is to learn from the team’s past experience. It is good to maintain a running checklist of past risk items, and check them against the currently planned user stories. Once a potential risk is identified, the team should brainstorm and develop possible risk mitigation strategies for each risk.

Were these tips useful? What is your experience around backlog refinement?

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