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Product Backlog Grooming

February 12, 2012

Product Backlog is a living document that is updated continuously. It contains all the requirements, functional and non-functional. After a while, it tends to become messy. It needs regular upkeep, or grooming.

Why Groom The Product Backlog

Product Backlog grooming is crucial. It helps,

  1. The Team and the Product Owner to break-down larger items into smaller items, so that they share a better understanding of the scope of these items
  2. The Team and the Product Owner avoid long winded discussions during the Sprint Planning. It saves time.
  3. The Product Owner as she orders the Product Backlog as new items are added and existing items are broken down into smaller items.
  4. The Team estimate the Product Backlog easily. Smaller items are easier to estimate.
  5. The Product Owner to share the vision and direction of the Product with the Team. This helps the Team in understanding the big picture and make valuable decision about architecture and design.
  6. The Team and the Scrum Master understand the resource requirements and composition of the Team.

How to groom the Product Backlog

The Product Owner is responsible for making sure that the Product Backlog is in a good shape. However, Product Backlog grooming is teamwork in Scrum. New items are described by the Product Owner, while the Team also helps her to discover and clarify new (e.g. dependencies and constrains) and existing items. The Product Owner orders the Product Backlog The Team, with the help of the Product Owner breaks them down into smaller items, estimates them, and delivers the results to customers, internal or external.

Following are typical activities that happen during a Product Backlog grooming session.

  1. New items are discussed and discovered. Product Owner presents any new items that are requested by the customers and stakeholders. The Team helps the Product Owner to identify technology dependencies and constrains. All these items are added to the Product Backlog. User story is a great technique to capture functional requirements on the Product Backlog. User stories describe requirements from an end user perspective.
  2. Existing and newly added items are broken down into smaller items. Usually the items at the top of the Product Backlog are refined this way. A good rule of thumb is to refine the items that the Team is likely to develop in the next 2-3 Sprints.
  3. The Team and the Product Owner discuss the value of the items and risks and dependencies related to these items.
  4. The Product Backlog is ordered. The Product Owner order the Product Backlog with the help of the Team, considering value, risks, dependencies, business conditions, competitor landscape and overall product strategy .
  5. Top order items (the ones likely to be developed during next 2-3 Sprints) are decomposed and refined. It is crucial that the entire Scrum team has a common understanding of the items. Items should be small enough to fit into the next Sprint so they can be transformed into a product increment according to the Definition of Done. These items should be testable. So they can be easily tested and validated during the Sprints.
  6. The Product Backlog is sized. Any newly added or refined items are sized or resized, if necessary. The whole Team works together to size the items

When and how often is it done?

Product Backlog grooming is an ongoing process. The Team should work with the Product Owner to groom the Product Backlog at least once a Sprint.

It is a good idea to schedule a (one or two) grooming session per Sprint in advance. Otherwise, it is easier to forget as the Team starts to work on the items during the Sprint.

Learn more about Scrum, Product Backlog, the Product Owner role and Agile in one of Scrum Certification Courses.

© Faisal Mahmood

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