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February 15, 2023
8 min read

How to Conduct Backlog Refinement (Grooming) Meetings Effectively

A backlog refinement (grooming) meeting is an effective way of keeping the product backlog up-to-date and making the sprints more productive. Find out more on the top tips to conduct effective backlog refinement meetings.
Anton Versal
Anton Versal
Learn how to Conduct Effectively Backlog Grooming

In Scrum, the product backlog is the important to-do list that drives focused teams, timely deliveries, and quality products. A product backlog is designed by the Product Owner at the beginning of the project, which helps the Scrum team estimate the required efforts and plan sprints accordingly. As the team proceeds with development, the backlog needs some refinement depending on the new discoveries, changing customers' demands, etc. This is where backlog refinement comes into action. So, what exactly is backlog refinement, and how to have effective backlog refinement meetings? Let's discuss these points in detail in this article.

What is Backlog Refinement (Grooming)?

Backlog refinement, also known as backlog grooming or backlog management, is an ongoing process of reviewing product backlog to decide what items to keep, update, or remove. Often during or after the sprint, the team looks into the backlog items and refines the list to keep it up-to-date, prioritized, and as per customers' expectations. Some of the common activities involved in a backlog refinement (grooming) meeting are as follows:

  • Adding/Removing User Stories: New user stories are added/removed in the backlog based on new discoveries, customer feedback, or due to other factors.
  • Splitting Large User Stories: Large user stories that the team didn't realize their complexity previously now get split into smaller user stories.
  • Adding/Removing Items: Items such as bugs, feature enhancement, technical work, and similar items are added based on the new insights. Similarly, previously listed items might be removed because of their irrelevance.
  • Prioritizing Backlog: Backlog items get re-prioritized to shift a few items on top for immediate execution in the next 1-2 sprints.
  • Updating Descriptions: The descriptions of existing user stories are updated with new details for more clarification.
  • Re-estimation: New or modified backlog items are re-estimated to know the efforts required to complete them.

In short, backlog grooming is all about enhancing the product backlog, making it an up-to-date and effective to-do list based on new discoveries and customer feedback.

Benefits of Backlog Refinement (Grooming)

Backlog refinement helps Scrum teams keep the product backlog a single source of truth they can focus on in the upcoming sprints. Some of the key benefits of backlog grooming are as follows:

  • Up-to-date Backlog: The backlog refinement helps the team remove irrelevant user stories, add more clarity to existing user stories, and do other measures that can make the backlog up-to-date. This eventually helps the team to remain focused on accomplishing the main goals.
  • Collaboration: A backlog refinement session gives a chance to Scrum team members to participate and give their opinion on user stories as per their new insights. This increases collaboration and lets members have more sense of value.
  • Prioritization: After a few sprints, the team might realize the importance of a few backlog items and want to accomplish them much sooner. Backlog grooming helps the team discuss and prioritize the list so that most-needed user stories are worked on in a timely manner.
  • Frequent Product Improvements: Backlog grooming is a repetitive/ongoing process that the team keeps doing whenever they think the backlog needs some refinement. This eventually helps improve product quality and faster releases of product features.
  • Productive Sprints: With a refined backlog, the upcoming sprints become more productive. The team knows what are the top items to work on next, so they can pick a few of them and proceed with the next sprint with clear goals.

Overall, backlog grooming results in a more refined to-do list that includes the most important tasks on top, along with a more committed and focused team.

7 Tips for Effective Backlog Refinement (Grooming) Meetings

To extract the true essence of backlog refinement (grooming) meetings, you should make sure you implement it in the right way. Below are some of the main tips for effective backlog refinement meetings:

1. Right Members

The first tip is to involve the right members in the session. Product Owner, Scrum Master, development team, QA team, and a few stakeholders (if needed) are the common participants of the refinement meeting. The session can be led by Product Owner, Scrum Master, or any other member depending on your hierarchical structure. It is not important who leads the session, but the important thing is that the person ensures that sessions are called regularly, the right members participate, and the session remains productive.

The main job of the Product Owner will be to add up new user stories, clarify queries of the development team, and prioritize the list collaboratively. The Scrum Master will play the role of facilitator that drives the meeting to achieve main goals. The development team will see what new user stories are to be added, clarify doubts about new or existing user stories with new discoveries, estimate the efforts, and prioritize the list with the Product Owner. The QA team will ensure that the deliverable is of high quality.

2. Run Refinement Meetings at the Right Times

There is no standard time when you should conduct the refinement meeting. However, it is recommended to conduct it after you have completed over 60% of the sprint. You should avoid doing the refinement meeting at the beginning of the sprint because that time team is more focused on the development, and momentum is building. Similarly, you should avoid doing during the midway of the sprint because you need extra time to set up the backlog. Also, you should avoid doing it at the end of the sprint because it is when the team is busy finalizing the deliveries. So, the best time to conduct a refinement meeting is when 60% of the sprint is completed.

Alternatively, there are teams that do refinement meetings before sprint planning so that they have the prioritized list. In addition, some teams even do it at the sprint review session because all the members are present. But doing it in a sprint review session is not recommended in cases when there are a lot of uncertainties in the product backlog. So, pick the time that best fits your business model. You might try the refinement meetings at different times and then see which time suits you the best.

3. Right Time Frame for Backlog Refinement Meeting

Other than the right time to conduct a refinement meeting, the next thing to do is pick the right time frame. Ideally, the meeting duration should be between 45 mins to 2 hours. However, it all depends on how much time the team is willing to spend. If the development team feels tired or the list of backlog items is large, then the meeting can even be split into two sessions. Overall, the goal should be to have a productive and focused refinement session.

4. Update Estimates before Prioritizing

During a backlog grooming meeting, often new user stories are added, or existing user stories are modified. Whatever the case, it is important to update the estimates to see what are the required efforts and if there are any new uncertainties to consider. For estimation, you can use Planning Poker, Async Poker, T-Shirt Sizing, Affinity Mapping, or any other estimation technique.

Therefore, make sure the new backlog list is estimated before prioritization so that the prioritized items are the ones that the team can handle without any unexpected dependencies. Otherwise, it can cause trouble during the sprint.

5. Keep Customers in Mind

Scrum values iterative development and keeping customers in mind throughout the project cycle. So, the same concept should be kept in mind during the backlog refinement meeting. All the new user stories, discussions, prioritization, and other attributes should be tailed keeping customers in mind. For example, if a bug is causing trouble for customers, it should be addressed as soon as possible. This way, you maximize the value customers can get from your product, eventually leading to more success.

6. Keep the Backlog List Short

When the backlog list is large, it demotivates the team and indirectly compromises product quality. Therefore, it is never recommended to have a large backlog list. Even during the backlog refinement meeting, new items should not be added blindly.

The team should look carefully into new items and add only the ones that seem to deliver some value now. Similarly, the team should also look at existing user stories and eliminate unnecessary ones. Even if there are items that are required to be added but will be executed after a few sprints, then they can be added later on in future backlog grooming sessions. This way, the backlog list remains short and to the point, eventually leading to better prioritization.

7. Encourage Communication

Backlog grooming is a collaborative session where everyone plays an important role. From the Product Owner and Scrum Master to the development team and QA team, the involvement of everyone in the meeting matters a lot. Therefore, everyone should be encouraged to communicate and share their opinions. For example, when new user stories are discussed, the development team members should openly clarify doubts, pinpoint uncertainties, etc. In short, everyone should be comfortable presenting their doubts, and all decisions in the meeting should be made in a collaborative environment.

Wrapping Up

Product backlog plays a key role in Scrum-based development. It helps the team have a prioritized to-do list that results in the timely delivery of the right features, thereby maximizing product quality and customer satisfaction. That's why it is very important to conduct backlog refinement (grooming) sessions continuously to keep the product backlog up-to-date and authentic. The above tips can help your team have more effective backlog refinement meetings. So, try them out and maximize the outcome from your product backlog.

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