A Complete Guide on What Backlog Grooming Is and How It Will Improve Your Product

You’ve got a lot on your plate as a product manager. You are constantly juggling between making sure you have an up-to-date roadmap, managing your team, and prioritizing the features that will best serve your users. But keeping all those tasks organized and prioritized is a constant struggle, right?

Nowadays it seems like everyone wants to be in the room when decisions are being made about what goes into the next release of your app. That means there is one more thing to do: backlog grooming. 

With Chisel you can organize your backlog and prioritize your product roadmap with simple drag-and-drop functionality. This makes it easy for teams to understand what’s being worked on, when things get done, and how they impact the business.

In this post we will go through how you can take advantage of backlog grooming by breaking down all the benefits it has for both you and your stakeholders including better decision-making, improved alignment with business goals and smoother product rollouts. 

What Is Backlog Grooming and Why Is It Important for Your Product?

Backlog grooming is the process of reviewing and prioritizing your product backlog. It’s a way to make sure you have the right features in your product, that they are well-designed, and that you can deliver them on time. Backlog grooming also helps you manage expectations with stakeholders about what will be delivered when.

If you want to build an amazing product, then it’s important to get this step done early in the process. You’ll save yourself from having too many features or not being able to ship anything at all! 

The process also helps ensure that all features in your product backlog are aligned with the strategic goals for your company, team, or project. It also ensures that you have a prioritized list of work to tackle next. 

And if there are any problems with your backlog before development starts, now’s the time to fix them so they don’t come back later as surprises for developers or customers.

Who Should Be Involved in Backlog Grooming?

A product owner should always be present in backlog grooming, but ideally, you would also bring together the following team members to ensure all perspectives are represented:

– Product management

– Engineering

– Design (or design leadership)

– Support teams or customer success managers

– Sales and marketing.

You may find that some of these roles will need help from someone else on their own team when it comes to backlog grooming – for example, a product manager might want input from engineering as well if they’re trying to decide between two features. This is because not everyone knows everything about your product!

Encourage different people in different departments to get involved so you can make better decisions with more information. Backlog grooming helps keep things moving forward without any surprises down the road!

How to Identify What Needs Grooming in Product Backlog?

There are many backlog grooming activities as the breadth of your product expands.

Eliminating or adding user stories

The goal is to create a product backlog with the right balance of items that are being worked on and those you can schedule for later.

That way, your team will be able to deliver what has been promised while also planning ahead for future work.

This means prioritizing tasks in order of importance so your team is well aligned.

New needs will always come up, and in response, you’ll need to add these to the backlog as well.

Updating Priorities and Estimates

Now that you have added and/or eliminated the requisite backlog items, prioritization becomes all the more important.

As you continuously add and take away potential items, without a streamlined way to prioritize feature requests or action items, your team can quickly get disorganized.

This is where Backlog Grooming becomes invaluable. Backlog grooming not only helps you prioritize items, but it also allows you to estimate the complexity and effort for each task (and therefore give your team an idea of when they can expect a certain feature).

This process gives everyone on the product team confidence and clarity into what’s coming up and what they need to do next.

Splitting User Stories

Once you’ve prioritized all of the different items that need to be worked on, there may be user stories that have gotten larger than they should be.

Splitting is done to user stories that are of a high priority, but too large to comfortably fit in an upcoming iteration.

Splitting a user story is done by identifying the different pieces of it and then creating new stories to cover those.

For example, if we had a high-priority user story about adding support for exporting data in .csv format, but this was too large to comfortably fit into an upcoming iteration, I might split that up into two smaller stories.

What Is a D.E.E.P Product Backlog?  

Coined by Roman Pichler, a D.E.E.P backlog is used to describe the ideal, well-managed backlog.

D- Detailed Appropriately

The more high-priority a backlog item is, the more detail it ought to have whilst the low priority items ought to have less detail.

This prevents wasting time that happens when there is too much energy spent on breaking down backlog items that are irrelevant to the upcoming sprint.

E- Estimate Backlog Items

Estimating work for backlog items is a great way to break down the actual effort needed to complete an item.

This helps you prioritize more accurately and also enables stakeholders to better understand how much will be delivered when.

E- Emergent

The product backlog is dynamic and ought to reflect the real-time needs and priorities of the business.

This means that the backlog ought to be groomed on an ongoing basis so it is always up-to-date with the current business objectives.

It should be fast-flowing and as new ideas are added, they are swiftly included into the backlog.

If you don’t include new discoveries and ideas into your backlog, you run the risk of your product becoming obsolete.

P- Prioritized

Prioritization is a constant theme that keeps emerging in the article, for good reason.

Determining what to work on next is one of the more challenging activities for a product manager.

As already mentioned, the backlog ought to have highest priority items at the top and lowest priority items on the bottom. 

The tricky thing is that items change their priority constantly.

For example, if a feature has been delayed for some time due to prioritization or resource constraints, it may need more resources before it can be completed and may now have higher priority than other tasks in the backlog.

That’s why it’s important to combine all the different aspects of D.E.E.P together so that you have a free-flowing, constantly improving, detailed product backlog that is prioritized aptly.

The Benefits of Backlog Grooming 

So we know what backlog grooming is, who is involved, and the most popular strategy of how to manage accordingly. The biggest question now is, why is it important?

It increases efficiency with the team.

Arguably the most important reason to do backlog grooming is to help your team move forward. Productivity increases when your backlog is properly groomed.  Backlog grooming helps identify the most critical features of your product.

Back-of-the envelope estimates are more accurate and lead times for delivery can be shortened which in turn increases throughput. You will also see what needs to be prioritized next, avoiding scope creep or slipping deliverables.

Shortening lead time is a tangible benefit with backlog grooming as well.

This translates into increased efficiency because you have fewer issues that need resolving at any given moment due to this reduction in work on the back burner (aka backlog).

Backlog grooming lets stakeholders know exactly when they should expect new releases from your team by better managing expectations about how much work gets done each sprint versus having an estimated schedule based on gut feel.

It keeps the backlog manageable.

Depending on how your team is structured, there can be many different stakeholders adding items to the backlog.

If you have an efficient, cross-functional organization, you most likely have input coming from all different sorts of people.

That can lead to some duplication in work, as well as a lot of unnecessary items being added.

Backlog grooming helps with this issue by ensuring that each item is unique and has been thoughtfully prioritized so you don’t have two people doing the same thing when it could be done more efficiently by one person.

Backlog grooming also ensures your team is not wasting their time on low-priority items which should really just go into product development ideas rather than backlog work. Backlog grooming means there will be less overlap between tasks because they were all intentionally planned for ahead of time instead of coming up during the sprint process.

Ensures your team is up to date.

A groomed backlog helps keep other team members in the loop of where the product team stands in regards to different features, improvements, and so on.  Backlog grooming is also a great way to make sure that the team is on top of any potential blockers.

– Backlog Grooming helps teams stay in sync with one another, and it ensures that everyone stays updated about what’s coming next.

– Backlog grooming also allows you to figure out if there are any blocks ahead for your product before they become an issue – or know where help may be needed from other departments like design or engineering.

– It’s crucial not only to groom all items within your backlog but also keep them current by adding new ones as they come up so nothing falls through the cracks and slips past due dates.

Everyone can learn new information.

A variety of people contribute to the product backlog so it gives everyone the opportunity to contribute.

This has an intangible net benefit of gaining insight from other team members based on feedback from customers gathered from a variety of places. 

Step-by-Step Guide on Grooming the Backlog

This is where the real work begins. You’ve prepared a product backlog with clear goals, features, and defined user stories.

Before the meeting about the backlog, create a short agenda that contains at least a list of stories or tickets needing discussion. Loop your team in to add additional points or stories to the agenda.  

Step 1: Analyze the Data

Analyzing the feedback and data collected from target users and active customers is the first step in the grooming process.

This data can either be quantitative, qualitative, or preferably, a combination of both. 

Data points to consider include user feedback, customer interviews and surveys, product usage data from analytics tools like Google Analytics.

Analyzing quantitative information in order for you to be able create a list of stories that need prioritized review is crucial. 

In other words, what are your most important features? What concepts should have more design attention? Which ideas do customers seem excited about? In this step it’s critical that team members share their expertise with one another so as not to overwhelm any one person with too many tasks at once.

This has double the impact as it allows you to create an effective leadership model within your organization.

Step 2: Check in with your team

Aligning your team is crucial to every aspect of the product development process, but specifically critical in the backlog grooming process.

Starting with a quick check-in literally comes down to asking how everyone is doing and feeling today.

Opening up the floor to your team to discuss any particular topics or to potentially suggest new feedback topics that weren’t on the agenda otherwise can be invaluable.

This is done before the meeting begins, but remembering that your team is comprised of people and making sure the people’s emotional needs are met will lead to a more productive team overall.

Step 3: Present the backlog

Start by sharing the screen of where your backlog is located, whether it’s stored on a product management tool, or a spreadsheet, have it visible to your team.

Ideally, the presenter (the Product manager or product owner) has prepared the tasks that they want to discuss in regards to the epics and user stories visible.

This is where the product owner will be sharing details of what needs to happen in regards to each epic and user story. They may have already shared these with team members ahead of time, so they can prepare questions for discussion among everyone present at this meeting.

The idea here isn’t just to talk about features – it’s also a way to keep stakeholder expectations realistic. It’s important that anyone who has input into the backlog knows how much work is involved in shipping those items on schedule and when you anticipate completing them by (month/quarter).

This creates buy-in from stakeholders because now they know what they are investing in – not guessing!

Step 4: Dive deep into every high-priority user story

Start with the high priority stories and work your way down the list.

You can read them out loud or highlight the important points.

It’s not recommended to do this for every story, as it can be pretty time consuming, but the purpose, at the end of the day, is to generate feedback from the team.

This is where you can dive deep into the technical details.

If there is an engineer and there happens to be a lot of tech dependent stories, their role will be taking notes and adjusting the tickets accordingly.

They will also be providing feedback on the different aspects of the story and helping prioritize it.

If there is no engineer in the meeting, someone else from your team can take notes on their behalf.

Remember that this is a product owner’s role to gather feedback for development teams and help them ask questions about prioritization so they don’t have to do all of the research themselves.

The next step is deciding which user stories are ready to move into sprint planning or demoing at an upcoming stakeholder review meeting? It’s important not to spend too much time dwelling over any one story as you need other people’s input as well! You should be reviewing each ticket within 15 minutes max, though if the necessary break up larger stories accordingly.

Step 5: Clearly define follow-up tasks

Although there is a 15 minute block assigned to the stories, sometimes they will run over.

The average time should be sitting at about five minutes, and anything longer is indicative that more clarification and preparation is needed, especially if it runs over the allotted time significantly.

In some cases, it’s healthy to have longer discussions because it can relate to other topics, and more often than not, spawn more user stories.

Even if the user stories need extra preparation, the follow up tasks need to be created with definitive action items for your team. 

For example: “Discuss x with Developer”, or “Send email to success about y.”

This will ensure that you don’t lose important details in the discussion, and gives your team a clear understanding of what they are expected to do next.

Step 6: Review Backlog Grooming notes & follow up meetings (optional)

Take some time after each backlog grooming session for reflection on how it went.

You might want to go over any meeting minutes from people who were not able to put their feedback into the initial discussions, as well as take note of anything else that was discussed.

Sometimes, the most valuable iterations of the product are born out of these grooming sessions.

We recommend potentially even going even a step further and recording the sessions and watching them back (as time permits) to make sure nothing was missed.

The Necessity of a Product Backlog Management Tool

Backlog grooming is an important task for any team that wants to improve their product. 

The first thing you should know about backlog grooming is, it’s not just a one-time project; this process needs to be completed on a regular basis in order for your backlog of tasks and bugs to stay manageable. 

It will take time and effort but the end result will be worth it. This article has given you some specific steps as well as tools you can use when going through the backlog grooming process so don’t hesitate! 

Start today by getting organized with Chisel’s free forever plan or upgrade if needed – we’ll help get things started from there!

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