Whether you’re practicing scrum or kanban, it’s all about pulling a team together with a variety of tools to create a high-performance environment that maximizes productivity. Backlog grooming is part of that — and it’s a meaningful way to keep product development organized and running smoothly.

Where scrum meetings are concerned, it means doing more than hosting a simple sprint planning meeting to develop a product roadmap. When hosting backlog grooming sessions, it’s vital to remember that this is a golden opportunity to bring the whole team together and ensure that everyone stays up to date.

Wondering how to get more from backlog grooming? Read below to learn all about the process, and get some tips to help your team structure better, more productive meetings.

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What is backlog grooming?

Backlog grooming is something that all agiledevelopment teams need to do regularly. Scrum teams work in sprints, which are short, time-boxed periods in which they accomplish a small chunk of a larger project.

Backlog grooming needs to happen between these sprints — and this is because the primary purpose of this activity is to make sure that the user stories (or backlog items) within the product backlog are ready to go for the next series of sprints.

So what happens during a backlog grooming session? For example, the team might break larger backlog items into smaller tasks, like separating email management from responding to instant messages. Backlog grooming sessions are also good times to look closely at user stories and discuss with the team anything that isn't clear or needs to be updated with important contextual information.

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4 benefits of a backlog grooming session

Backlog grooming comes with a lot of benefits. When teams do it effectively, they keep the backlog in check and make projects proceed that much more efficiently. Let's dive further into some additional benefits of backlog grooming meetings.

1) Increases overall productivity

Managing the backlog well is a crucial part of developing a project roadmap. It sets the stage to help team members plan upcoming sprints to deliver product features quickly and efficiently.

2) Creates a manageable task list

Task lists have a habit of getting out of hand as more and more items get added to them. When the backlog receives input from many individuals or other teams within the company, it can turn into a mess.

Periodically grooming the backlog keeps it much more manageable, allowing team members to trim user stories and create a navigable list of bite-sized chunks to work on. This is the perfect time for the product manager and others involved in planning to prioritizeproduct backlog items to address the high-priority items first.

It’s also helpful to have task lists structured on boards — like Teamwork’s Board View. This way, it’s easier to get a top-down view of task lists so that teams can spot where to refine things to create a better workflow.

3) Keeps team members in the loop

While a big part of backlog grooming focuses on making sprints more efficient, another huge advantage is that grooming sessions are the perfect time to ensure that all team members are on the same page. Turn backlog refinement meetings into collaborative experiences so that everyone on the product team gets an in-depth look at the agile project. These sessions are also the perfect opportunity to update the team on new features, user insights, bugs, and other information that accumulates over time.

4) Provides an opportunity to give company updates

The backlog is also a good place to offer company updates. When deadlines or metrics change, new initiatives emerge, or clients' needs change, the sprint backlog offers a place to document all of these changes. Since it’s a repository for all work that needs to be completed, it makes sense to put these kinds of updates in the backlog so that the entire team stays up to date.

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Who should attend a product backlog refinement session?

At their heart, backlog grooming sessions should be a collaborative experience. This means entire cross-functional teams need to provide representation during these meetings — it takes a lot of combined experience and expertise to create new user stories and refine existing ones.

Product owner (backlog grooming session leader)

Not to be confused with the scrum master, the product owner is responsible for managing the product backlog to ensure that the company gets the maximum value possible from the product. Doing this means that the product owner develops and communicates the product goal, manages the development of backlog items, and ensures that the backlog stays visible and transparent.

In this role, the product owner works closely with the scrum leader and naturally assumes the leadership role.

Delivery team

The delivery team includes everyone working on the product — designers, engineers, etc. Including the team in these meetings ensures that everyone stays on the same page. Even more importantly, it gives people with a diverse range of expertise a chance to offer input on user stories, which is the best way to truly refine them.

With particularly large delivery teams, it may not be feasible to invite everyone. In this case, it’s best to bring in representatives from individual divisions of the delivery team.

Quality assurance team

The quality assurance team has a place at these meetings, too. Since it’s their job to ensure that the completed product is up to standards, they need to be a part of the grooming process from start to finish.

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Backlog grooming refinement session best practices

To make the most of these meetings, it’s best to follow a set of backlog grooming best practices. This will ensure productive meetings that result in a workflow that addresses priority items in a logical order.

Consider a DEEP format

The DEEP format was developed by Roman Pichler, the author of Agile Project Management with Scrum. It’s an acronym that helps structure backlog management to ensure a consistent, easy-to-understand format.

  • Detailed appropriately. This means that high-priority items should be detailed enough to make it easy for team members to understand the tasks they need to do.

  • Estimated. At each meeting, it’s essential to review estimates and make any improvements necessary.

  • Emergent. Bugs, changing company policies, or stakeholder feedback are all emergent items that need to be added to the backlog to ensure a quality product.

  • Prioritized. Prioritize tasks not just to meet deadlines, but to deliver maximum customer value.

This approach provides a solid structure that keeps meetings — and more importantly, the backlog — consistent and easy to follow.

Structure backlog meetings more efficiently

It’s vital to approach each meeting in an organized, structured fashion to create the most productive meetings possible. But how do you do that?

Use metrics and categories to identify the highest priority items. For instance, teams can adopt metrics from the Scrum Guide to ensure that backlog items are defined by a shared set of qualities — like the main objective of the backlog item, its business value, its priority level, or the estimated effort needed to complete the item.

Another way to help prioritize items is to categorize them into groups like user stories, bugs, feature requests, user insights, etc.

Defining these metrics and qualities and then grouping items accordingly helps structure backlog meetings for efficient sprint planning that tackles the biggest priorities first.

Have more than one sprint to work on

Meetings can be an invaluable tool for developing a product roadmap — or they can unnecessarily interrupt workflow. To avoid disruption, it’s better to hold backlog meetings only as often as is necessary. Minimize the amount of time spent on meetings to maximize the amount of time team members have to do their jobs.

One of the best ways to minimize meeting time is to structure meetings so that there is more than one sprint to work on per meeting. Obviously, it’s unwise to plan too far ahead of time since stakeholders, users, and other involved parties can request changes along the way. However, planning a few sprints in advance means that teams don’t have to pause for moresprint planning after each sprint.

Practice active listening during backlog sessions

One of the most important methodologies to make any interaction — including meetings and product backlog grooming sessions — more effective is to practice active listening.

Active listening means that team members are tuned in and paying attention, and they’re showing it through body language — nodding along, smiling, leaning in as they listen, and focusing their full attention on each speaker. It also means listening without interrupting. Save judgment and questions for after someone finishes saying their piece. When the time is right, follow up with questions, clarifications, or offer opinions in a constructive, empathetic way.

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Organize your next backlog grooming session with Teamwork

Looking for a better way to organize your meetings? Teamwork is a platform with loads of tools to help project managers and facilitators bring team members together. You’ll gain access to templates for structuring meetings, resource management tools, and even tools designed to automate workflow for teams relying on kanban and scrum. Sign up today to learn how Teamwork can help streamline your next backlog grooming session!