The new product development process can be messy and unwieldy if it's not managed carefully. In agile projects, product backlog grooming is the key to making sure that projects stay on track.

In this post, we share what it is, best practices for effective backlog grooming meetings and how it makes for better (and easier) sprint planning.



If you liked this article, listen to Dialexa’s Sarah Reid, Vice President of Design Research and Quality Assurance Engineer, David Ferguson discuss Integrated Quality Throughout Product Development. Listen to all episodes of Custom Made for insights and perspectives from industry disruptors and technology leaders.

What is PRODUCT Backlog Grooming?

Product Backlog is defined as the full set of user stories not in the current sprint that defines the remainder of the project's scope. Left unattended, the list of individual items on a product backlog can quickly become overwhelming to any development team. 

When that happens, the status of individual user stories can become unclear, the team can lose focus on important tasks and they may have trouble estimating the time and resources needed to complete items, and the project completion date can slip. 

Enter the product backlog grooming meeting, which is basically a meeting between the project manager and customer point of contact in which the participants break the backlog down into user stories and reprioritize them.

You may also hear it referred to as a product backlog refinement meeting or story time session, but whatever the terminology, the purpose is to discuss the current backlog list and offer suggestions for improving it, which may take the form of:

  • Writing new user stories, a process we outline in the post, Our Approach to Developing User Stories.

  • Refining and reprioritizing previously written user stories and breaking them down into smaller stories, if needed.

  • Redefining acceptance and testing criteria.

  • Reviewing time and personnel estimates for individual backlog items, utilizing what we've learned from completed sprints.

  • Adding new product features, then prioritizing and estimating them.

  • Looking more extensively into the total backlog to enable long-range technical and project planning.

Take special note of the last item: long-range technical and project planning. Many project managers limit grooming meetings to tasks related to the next sprint, but we believe that approach misses an opportunity to keep a project that's in good shape running well in subsequent sprints. For example, the meeting can be useful in alerting product owners of possible challenges and obstacles down the road, keeping the team on track and ahead of schedule.

What is Product Backlog Grooming and Why it is Critical from Dialexa


backlog grooming Best Practices

Timing is Critical

At Dialexa, we normally hold the backlog grooming meeting 3-4 days after the start of a sprint (around a week before the next sprint in our typical two week sprints), and the meeting typically follows a demo of the prior sprint's deliverables. As the project status is then fresh on participants' minds, the client is familiar with recent project progress and gaps prior to discussing the backlog.

The backlog refinement meeting should leave the team feeling familiar with the product backlog and with a clear understanding of the goals for the next sprint. At the end of each sprint, we do a sprint planning meeting to verify there are no major changes to the backlog and decide the expected content for the next sprint. This allows the development team to start the next sprint with confidence. 

Plan for Success

Implementing well-managed meetings will improve the overall speed and efficiency of the sprint planning meetings that follow, helping to boost commitment and product familiarity.

To learn more about how Dialexa solves problems, including our approach to the new product development process for software, click the image below.

It's important to clearly state expectations upfront for what needs to be accomplished during the meeting and have a set agenda. This puts everyone in the same mindset, saves valuable time and keeps the meeting flowing smoothly. Sometimes these recurring meetings can get tedious so a well-run meeting will make all the difference. 

The goal here is for all attendees to leave the meeting with a clear understanding of what is left for project completion and the upcoming sprint goals.

Right Folks, Right Time

Attendees should include the project manager, the customer point of contact and key individual development team members, if required. A well organized backlog grooming meeting can save the time of valuable development resources. 

Some companies limit customer participation, but at Dialexa, the customer is a part of the team and we teach them the dance that is an agile project. We have found that educating and partnering with our clients in a transparent way is key to reducing surprises and increasing understanding of all involved. 

Final Thought

There's no question that product backlog grooming meetings are a critical step in improving the speed and efficiency of your agile project, greatly reducing scope creep and increasing team grasp of project deliverables. Adhering to the best practices above can ensure that you get the most of backlog grooming meetings. 

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