A Paragon Agile Perspective: Backlog Grooming is important because it sets priorities and ensures agile teams ‘commit’ to the sprint. Agile is iterative and is meant to be a just-in-time solution, but that does not mean spur of the moment. You must understand your backlog ... before you begin your sprint.
In the world of Agile, you must understand your backlog before you begin your sprint. It does not need to be perfect because you will have another chance to discuss the user stories at the Sprint Planning meeting. In my experience, you should be working at least two sprints in advance. If you have not prioritized and groomed the backlog adequately, you should plan on meeting at minimum several hours per week, and potentially up to four hours per week, until you reach two sprints of backlog.
At that point you can wind down a little.
- Invitations to the Backlog Grooming sessions should include the entire team.
- The Scrum Master and the Product Owner are required attendees, no exceptions.
- While the rest of the development team is desirable, it is not always feasible. At minimum, the lead developers should be present.
- Any other stakeholders interested in the discussed stories should also be invited. This may include members of other teams that may be impacted by your stories.
There is no way you can be productive without a healthy backlog. A healthy backlog means that you have enough stories sized and prioritized to keep the team working with as few interruptions as possible. At this point what we want is a Healthy Backlog.
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There is no way you can be productive without a Healthy Backlog.
The thing that amazes me is that it is such a fundamental, but incredibly straight forward and simple effort. I have seen this process fail when teams lose sight of the objective or try too hard to figure out every detail of every task. This is not required at this point. You can get into the details at the Sprint Planning meeting.
There are three steps to make sure your backlog is healthy.
- Prioritize the backlog. Don't even consider going to the next step until you have prioritized your backlog. It is a monumental waste of your time and worse, everyone else's time. Go through your stories and make sure that every story is in the order you want them worked. It is usually as simple as drag and drop. There's nothing special you have to do. Prioritize! Prioritize! Prioritize!
- Starting from the highest priority story that has not yet been sized, breakdown and discuss the stories. Make sure the entire team understands the deliverables. All stories should include any assumptions and acceptance criteria that might apply. The acceptance criteria are incredibly important as they typically form the basis of the test cases and act as a checklist for the development teams.
- Size your stories. With few exceptions, when stories are large it is a good idea to break them down further. With stories that are large you run the risk of not being able to complete the story before the end of the sprint.
So now you are going to ask me when do I stop?
When is enough...enough? In my opinion, two sprints is the magic number. At all times you should have stories broken down and sized that equal at minimum two sprints. Make sure you do not go crazy and size five times your average velocity. Agile is meant to be a 'just in time' methodology. There are several reasons you should not groom too far in advance, including the fact that additional grooming time could be better spent in development tasks. Final thought, please remember for your Backlog Grooming meetings:
- Come Prepared! Make sure you have a game plan for the meeting. An unproductive meeting is a tragedy. No one has time to waste!
- Arrive On Time! Early is on time, on time is late and late is unacceptable.
- Move Forward! Don't get stuck in the weeds. If you cannot resolve an issue, put it in the parking lot and address it later.