Dec 18, 2019 | 3 min read

Backlog Grooming Best Practices That Drive Successful Agile Sprints

By: Sean Sullivan

Backlog Grooming Best Practices That Drive Successful Agile Sprints

One way to prevent disorganized agile sprints is to maintain a healthy product backlog. It helps you keep track of all items that need to be completed during a project, including stories, tasks, sub-tasks, and any other details that help identify and complete features, improvements, or bug fixes. Items are entered into the backlog in the form of issues or tickets, depending on which agile project management system you use. In this article, we’ll discuss what a healthy backlog looks like, why backlog grooming is essential, and how to do it effectively.

Defining a Healthy Product Backlog

Every project is different, but a healthy backlog has the following characteristics:

  1. Consists of tickets that represent all the work that needs to be completed during a project, no matter how detailed the information.
  2. Has tickets created by multiple users, showing the team is forward-thinking, and everyone is contributing.
  3. Shows progression week after week, as more research is done and tickets become more defined.

The backlog helps you maintain focus on the core work while also providing a space to track new ideas that surface. Clients and team members can add ideas to the backlog (and should be encouraged to do so) whenever they arise without having to go through a formal process. A healthy backlog has new ideas coming in regularly from all levels of the organization.

Grooming to Deliver Value

Backlog grooming progressively defines and prioritizes all tickets found in the backlog, so your team is well-prepared to begin development. Grooming happens at defined intervals with meetings that last a minimum of 1 hour, typically only once per sprint. Grooming meetings should involve the whole team, but at the very least, product owners, team leads, and senior position members need to participate.

As grooming progresses, a very rough list of work turns into precise and defined granular tasks. Imagine starting with the ticket “bake a cake” in the backlog. After a few grooming sessions, that ticket turns into “get the recipe, go to the grocery store, buy eggs, milk and butter, pre-heat oven to 400 degrees”, and so on.

During grooming meetings, your team looks at top items in the backlog to make sure each is sufficiently understood, and small enough to bring into a sprint. This way, developers can immediately start working on the highest priority tickets with minimal questions or unknowns.

Running Effective Grooming Meetings

You are looking to accomplish a few things through grooming sessions. First and foremost, you want to make sure tickets at the top of the backlog are fully fleshed out and ready to be put into the next sprint. Have the team think through unknowns and any technical questions and assign needed research to appropriate team members. Week by week, tickets will become more defined, which may lead to additional tickets or supporting work. You also want to prioritize the remaining tickets, so the highest priority items get the most attention.

Overall, grooming meetings allow your team to take a step back and have the necessary, structured conversations around the status of items in the backlog. Make sure you discuss:

  • The importance of a ticket and its priority compared to others
  • Validity of tickets
  • The best way to implement the technical ask of a ticket
  • Unknowns that need to be solved before a ticket can be started
  • Supporting tickets that need to be created or existing tickets blocking progress

When you’re done with grooming, you should have a set of well-documented tickets with a defined goal, acceptance criteria, and technical implementation notes, if the complexity merits it. You’ve thought through all different user types, how changes would affect them, and ensured there are acceptance criteria to cover those requirements.

Successful backlog grooming ensures your team is well-prepared for upcoming Agile ceremonies and set up for success with your next sprint. If you’re struggling with disorganized sprints, getting things done on time, or finding value in your agile ceremonies, contact DragonSpears. We have Agile consultants ready to help get your team on the right track.

About Sean Sullivan

Sean graduated from the University of Toledo in Toledo, Ohio, with a B.S. in Computer Science and Engineering Technology. He's a Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate, Certified Scrum Master, AND has his CompTIA Security Plus Certification. Sean is truly a DevOps expert and has been working in various technology roles for 14 years.