Backlog Grooming

What is Backlog Grooming?

Backlog Grooming, also known as backlog refinement, pre-planning, or story time – is a session in which items for the backlog are discussed, analyzed, and estimated. It is a recurring event for development teams working in Scrum. The meeting is an important prelude to sprint planning, as it ensures the next tasks are understood by the team and benefits vs costs can be weighed by the Product owner, to set the right prioritization, prior to Sprint Planning.

Typical activities of a backlog grooming session include:

  • Product presenting stories to the team for discussion
  • Splitting expansive user stories into smaller items
  • Detecting possible obstacles and deciding on ways to reduce risks
  • Teams identifying sub-tasks necessary to complete a user story
  • Team estimating the level of effort (LOE) for each story

Benefits of Backlog Grooming

Get Organized

If you work in an organization where you get suggestions from many stakeholders, there is a potential for your backlog to be a mess. You will have to deal with numerous items that are not exactly that relevant.

A grooming session offers you an opportunity to assess all items and keep everything tidy. It gives room for identifying and removing irrelevant or less-useful items. This makes your backlog easier to manage.

Identify Dependencies

A session for refining the backlog also makes it possible to identify key dependencies. It can make you realize how the work of the cross-functional team connects. By identifying these dependencies, it becomes easier to predict possible conflicts or challenges. You will thus be in a better position to avoid these issues.

Team Alignment

A backlog refinement session can enable everyone to see the same picture. It makes possible conversations that can support alignment in the cross-functional team. Product owners or managers get a chance to explain the strategic reasoning underpinning items on the backlog.

The product of a backlog grooming session provides a starting point for conversations. It prevents conflicts, uncertainty, and ambiguity when discussing initiatives.

Improves efficiency

Backlog grooming can help your team to move faster and be more efficient. It reduces the amount of time that the development team spends on discussing during sprint planning. The result is that you have more time to do the “real” work. It also reduces the potential for rework during development and testing.

Backlog Grooming vs. Sprint Planning

Sprint planning is one event that has several things in common with backlog grooming. As a result, it is often confused with the latter.

Both backlog grooming and sprint planning aim to promote a shared understanding of a project or work. They are a means of ensuring that everyone is on the same page so that things can run smoothly.

The two events should ideally have someone to represent the interest of the consumer – usually a Product Owner. They are also more beneficial when there’s an experienced, maybe neutral, facilitator to guide actions.

However, while backlog grooming is an attempt to ensure that the backlog has the right items for prioritization, sprint planning is about determining what backlog items will be worked on during a sprint. One is an input to the other.

Having discussed and prioritized items during pre-planning, the team picks select items for the current sprint and discusses how to complete them during sprint planning.

Who Attends a Backlog Grooming Session?

The Product Owner or Product Manager runs the backlog refinement process in many organizations. But other persons, such as a Project Manager, Scrum Master, or a team member can also be chosen to facilitate the sessions. A bit of trial and error may be required to determine the best facilitator.

Every department and team in your organization should be represented in backlog grooming sessions. The input of the entire cross-functional team will help in developing more effective user stories.

However, care should be taken to ensure that participants aren’t too many. It can become somewhat harder to come out with effective output when you have too many ideas or suggestions to sort through. Some ideas might become an outright impediment.

People to attend these sessions should ideally be those most involved in the development, including:

  • Product managers
  • Product owners
  • Lead engineers
  • Customer Success team members
  • QA representatives

It may be better to not invite executives. The product managers and product owners should already be privy to their ideas and suggestions.

Backlog Grooming Best Practices


DEEP is an acronym that captures the qualities of a good backlog:

Detailed appropriately – The backlog should contain sufficient contextual information to enable the cross-functional team to understand user stories and other items better.

Estimated – There should be a rough estimation of the amount of work involved with each item.

Emergent – It should be easy to add, remove, and re-prioritize items as new insights emerge.

Prioritized – There should be an ordering of the backlog according to importance (value and strategic intention), with the most important at the top.

Be prepared

Adequate preparation should be made before a backlog grooming session takes place. Everyone attending should be encouraged to do some prior preparation. They need to have a good reason for supporting an item. Product Managers and Product Owners must talk to stakeholders and review strategic objects and important metrics.

Categorize items properly

It helps to neatly arrange backlog items. You should not just list them without adding categories. Classify user stories, feature requests, and other items for better organization.

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