What is Backlog Grooming? - Definition, Overview & Tips

Product Management
July 6, 2022
10 mins read
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A product backlog is a list of tasks that the product development team creates from the product roadmap. In a product backlog, essential items are typically placed first to highlight the tasks that the team should prioritize. 

If you are a product manager, the concept of the product backlog is surely not new. . 

The purpose of backlog grooming is to ensure that the product manager is having an updated product backlog list in place. Now, this is the simplest way to put it. 

The concept of product backlog grooming involves more aspects. This blog will discuss the definition, techniques, benefits, and best practices associated with backlog grooming. 

So, let’s dive in! 

What is Backlog Grooming?

Backlog grooming or backlog refinement is a consistent event for product development teams. Product managers arrange product backlog grooming sessions to ensure that the right set of tasks and activities are on the priority list of the product development team.

As a product manager, a backlog grooming session can be an opportunity for you to explain the strategic objectives behind each task on your product backlog and why the product development teams must prioritise the right tasks. A backlog grooming session can improve the alignment among cross-functional teams within an organisation. 

Some of the critical objectives of backlog grooming are as follows: 

  • Breaking down long user feedback into shorter tasks 
  • Discussing user feedback with the product development team and answering their questions to remove confusions 
  • Assigning responsibilities to relevant team members to speed up the process 

Benefits of backlog grooming 

The process of product backlog grooming has some significant benefits. Here are a few: 

1. Builds an efficient and productive team 

One of the major purposes of product backlog grooming is to maintain an efficient workflow and boost the productivity of the product development team. A groomed backlog helps your team to understand the requirements better. Also, backlog refinement ensures no room for confusion and all tasks are clear for the team. As a result, things move faster within the team, as product managers spend less time planning the tasks and more on executing them. 

2. Maintains a chaos-free backlog 

If your product backlog is accessed by multiple people like product managers, QA testers, developers, and other team members, get ready to experience a chaotic product backlog. As a result, most of the tasks will be unattended, and the product manager will have no choice but to push the deadlines of the deliverables. 

Alternatively, if you practice backlog grooming regularly, you can maintain a clean product backlog. That’s because product backlog refinement helps you refine the backlog regularly and ensure that team members can contribute to it without any chaos. 

3. Keeps the team updated 

Backlog refinement is a great way to keep your entire team updated about the latest status of the product, its features, the identified bugs, possible fixes, etc. Backlog grooming helps your entire team to stay on the same page and ensure that all team members can work efficiently without any confusion or interruptions. 

Why is Backlog grooming important? 

  • Product backlog grooming bridges the gap between customers’ expectations from a product and what your product development team is planning to deliver. 
  • Backlog grooming helps your team stay productive and motivated, as everyone in the product development team understands what is to be done. This is crucial for the long-term sustainability of the business. 
  • The product manager or product owner facilitates the backlog grooming sessions and assists the stakeholders in understanding the status of the product. This ensures transparency across all stakeholders involved. 

What are backlog grooming meetings?

A backlog grooming meeting is where the product manager and development team discusses, reviews, and prioritise the backlog items. When it is the backlog grooming session, there is no one-size-fits-all framework. The backlog grooming meetings can vary from enterprise to enterprise based on discussion topics. There will be one facilitator who will start and lead the meeting. However, all stakeholders play a key role in the backlog grooming sessions. Here are some common patterns / best practices for backlog refinement sessions: 

  • The product manager can be the owner of the meeting as they have the utmost knowledge of the product roadmap 
  • Engineers, QA testers, and developers also play major roles in the product backlog sessions as they have their own stories

How to groom product backlogs?

Anyone responsible for grooming product backlogs should have a clear list of tasks in mind. This is particularly relevant for product managers who facilitate product grooming sessions. Here are some easy steps to groom product backlogs efficiently: 

1. Set strategic objectives 

The product manager should start backlog grooming by keeping the product roadmap objectives in mind. It might be difficult to go through the product roadmap every time there is a product backlog grooming session. However, noting down the strategic objectives from the product roadmap and working meticulously to meet those objectives can make your product grooming session a success. 

2. Clean up your backlog

Focus on cleaning up all the irrelevant items from the backlog. Product backlogs are often filled with tasks that are either complete or are not aligned with your existing product strategy. Once you have your strategic objectives in place, you can compare your backlog with those objectives and remove irrelevant tasks to make room for more critical tasks that should be prioritized at the earliest.

3. Interact with stakeholders 

A product manager is standing at the intersection of product and strategy. So, they must regularly interact with the internal stakeholders (employees) and external stakeholders (customers) to understand everything thoroughly. This can be a major step toward making product backlog sessions a success. 

4. Adding more details

Once you have interacted with the product development team and other stakeholders, it is time to add more information to the backlog. This step is particularly important for the product owner and the entire development team to understand the current state of the product and which tasks should be prioritized to meet the deadlines. 

5. Prioritize the right tasks 

The next step is to prioritize the tasks from your product backlog. Some of the factors to keep in mind while prioritizing the tasks are: 

  • Required time and effort
  • Product goals 
  • Impact of the product 

Once you have these details in place, you can prioritize the tasks that require immediate action and start accordingly.

6. Monitor the key metrics 

Product managers are responsible for running several rounds of research to understand product requirements and market trends. It is always good to identify and track the right set of product metrics that can help you understand the significant changes and explain those to the stakeholders during backlog refinement sessions. 

7. Focus on the DEEP factor 

The “DEEP'' acronym is used to explain some of the major characteristics of any product backlog. When you are grooming a product backlog, make sure that it complies with the DEEP framework. Here is what DEEP stands for: 

  • Detailed Appropriately - any story or action item discussed in the backlog should be detailed enough to understand the cross-functional teams clearly.
  • Emergent - whenever there is a new user story or information in the pipeline, it can be quickly added to the backlog, without further delay. 
  • Estimated - for each user story, the associated effort must be related to a standardized measure so that the product team can estimate the requirements.
  • Prioritized - the tasks mentioned within the product backlog should be prioritized based on their value and strategic objectives. 

Backlog grooming best practices

The first and foremost best practice related to backlog grooming is to satisfy the DEEP framework. There are a few other best practices too. Let us discuss some of those in the comments: 

1. Focus on timing 

Timing is one of the most critical aspects of backlog grooming and it can make or break the entire process. The backlog grooming session should fall at least after 3-4 days of a sprint. This is the perfect time when the team members hold a fresh mindset and can start working on the backlogs suggested by the product manager. 

Another best practice is to conclude the product backlog meeting by ensuring that the entire team is clearly aware of the goals and expectations of the next sprint. This will allow the product development team to work on backlog items confidently. 

2. Categorize backlog items to achieve efficiency  

Categorizing the backlog items is very important. Each product backlog is a summation of different types of activities and without a streamlined approach, it can become confusing for the product teams to act on those. Here are some of the most common categories to include in backlogs: 

  • User stories 
  • Bugs 
  • User feedback 
  • Feature requests 

If you can label each backlog item correctly, it will help you run a clutter-free backlog grooming session with faster deliveries. 

3. Foster strong communication 

An effective backlog grooming should come with strong communication. The product manager or the facilitator of the backlog grooming sessions should actively listen to each stakeholder in the meetings to ensure that everyone’s opinion is being heard. The goal of these backlog grooming sessions should be to discuss the backlogs, listen to different possibilities, and finally freeze the best possible solution. 

Tips for running a successful backlog grooming session

Running a successful product backlog grooming session is certainly not easy. It involves a lot of dos and dont’s. Here are a few tried and tested tips that helped us improve our backlog grooming sessions: 

1. You don’t have to invite everyone to the backlog grooming session 

Don’t make the product grooming sessions overly crowded by inviting too many people. The whole point of backlog grooming sessions is listening to everyone and ensure that all team members get an opportunity to speak their minds. 

The product owner is the only person whose presence is a must for the backlog grooming sessions. Additionally, you can invite one or two development team members to share their inputs and ideas. There is no need to invite the entire product development team. Plus, you can also add any stakeholder who is directly involved with the product and might have relevant inputs. 

2. The backlog grooming sessions don’t have to be long

Backlog grooming sessions tend to become too long. The product managers should understand that they cannot cover all aspects related to backlogs in a single session. So, it is ideal to keep the timing of backlog refinement sessions limited to 1-2 hours. 

Long meetings can exhaust the team members and reduce their level of productivity. So, it is better to divide long meetings into several short sessions where the team members can cooperate with fresh perspectives. 

3. Focus on customers’ needs throughout 

Customers’ preferences and feedback should be the prime focus of any backlog grooming session. Measure the progress of your backlog refinement process based on customers’ feedback. That can be a great way to set strategic objectives for the backlog grooming sessions. 

4. Identify all the potential dependencies 

Backlog grooming sessions often have many dependencies. As a result, the product development teams cannot start one task unless the previous task is completed. A major goal of backlog grooming sessions should be to identify these dependencies. Else, these can become a roadblock for team members and delay the whole process. 

5. Maintain a professional approach 

Backlog grooming sessions might have confrontations as different stakeholders are involved and their opinions also differ. However, it is the product owner’s responsibility to handle those situations effectively and ensure that everyone is focusing on a common objective.

Simplify Backlog Grooming with Zeda.io 

Are you looking for a product management tool that can ease backlog grooming for you? Your search should stop at Zeda.io. Here’s how it can expedite product management for you: 

  • It helps you create a backlog by collecting customer stories and feedback 
  • It helps you prioritize the backlog items that require the fastest action 
  • With pre-built templates, it can help you build product roadmaps quickly  

Backlog Grooming FAQs 

When do backlog grooming meetings happen? 

Generally, backlog grooming sessions occur after 2-3 days of a sprint. The idea is to discuss the backlogs of the sprint based on user stories and plan the deliverables of the next sprint. 

Who owns the backlog grooming process?

The product owner is responsible for leading the backlog grooming sessions. However, members from the product development team and other stakeholders should also be present in the grooming sessions. 

Who runs backlog refinement sessions? 

The product manager or the product owner generally runs the backlog refinement sessions and he leads as the scrum master to ensure that the session is completed smoothly. 

Who attends backlog grooming meetings? 

Apart from the product owner, the product development team members attend the backlog grooming sessions. Sometimes, other internal or external stakeholders can also attend these sessions if they have important information about the product. 

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