Backlog grooming is one of the easiest and most efficient ways to improve your workflow and keep you and your team on track. But learning how to properly groom your backlog isn’t always simple, and if you don’t do it right, you can actually impede your work instead of helping it.
Keep reading to learn what backlog grooming is, how to properly groom your backlog and how UserVitals can help you do it.
What Is Backlog Grooming?
Your product backlog is a list of all the features, bugs, user stories and other initiatives you want to focus on while working on your product. Often, this backlog will be informed by market research and analysis and customer feedback as well as things like requests from superiors and stakeholders and gaps in your industries.
Backlog grooming or refinement is when members of the Scrum team meet to discuss items in the product backlog and prepare for the next sprint. It’s a crucial step in product management as it helps keep tasks up-to-date and prioritizes the items you need to tackle in your sprint.
While the primary benefits of backlog grooming are within the sprints themselves, it can also help streamline the sprint planning meetings themselves and cut out unnecessary time deciding on what to focus on.
Product owners have the most responsibility in grooming the product backlog, as they are the ones overseeing the product and its many iterations. They are also the ones who manage the meetings, make sure the right people are invited, and identify user stories based on chosen priorities for each sprint.
Other team members can be involved in grooming the backlog, but their involvement is optional. Still, we would recommend getting the input of other team members because they may have a different point-of-view or insight than you do. This includes Scrum Masters, Project Managers and any other members on your team.
The format of your backlog grooming process itself will depend on your company’s structure and methodology. If you have a smaller-sized team and are used to Scrum or Agile methodologies, the grooming can take place in the form of a regular, recurring meeting before your next sprint begins.
Another important factor in considering how to run your backlog grooming process is the size of your product team or teams. If you have a smaller team, it might be useful to open these meetings to the whole team. But if you have many team members working on your product, meetings can become overwhelmed and unhelpful. Try to find the right balance for your company.
In general, here are the roles you’ll need to fill:
- Leader/Facilitator (e.g. product manager, project manager, etc)
- Product Owners and other team representatives
- Delivery team or representatives
- Representatives from different teams (e.g. engineering, design, QA)
The Benefits of Backlog Grooming
Backlog refinement can have many great benefits for your product and team. Most simply, they help keep your backlog clean and cohesive. This can make it easier for your team to keep up workflow and not get distracted by unnecessary or outdated tasks. It also keeps your backlog relevant by ensuring that all items on your backlog are prioritized according to your customer’s needs and fit into your product’s end vision and goals
Furthermore, backlog refinement also helps keep your team itself up to date. Without this, your team can become out of sync with current priorities, leading to breakdowns in communication and collaboration. Instead, everyone now knows exactly what to focus on. This in turn can help you increase your work velocity and deliver on your tasks more quickly, boosting workflow and efficiency.
There are also several advantages for your team when refining your backlog. For one, it can help you remove any uncertainties and clarify the user stories you use to prioritize new features and attract customers. It can also help you identify any dependencies or insecurities within your team and foresee any potential risks that may stem from those dependencies.
How to Groom Your Product Backlog
Grooming your backlog is not one single task. There are many different subtasks and moving parts, all of which are important in streamlining your backlog and preparing for your sprint. This includes breaking up larger items, rewriting items and deleting outdated ones, and much more.
Once all of this is done, you should have a prioritized list of user stories; the items at the top of your backlog will have the highest detail, and any large stories should be broken down into smaller tasks. Stories farther down the list can be larger and less “ready” than their earlier counterparts.
Remove Outdated Items And Add New Ones
This might be the simplest part of backlog grooming. You’ll have to look through your backlog and decide which stories and tasks are no longer relevant to your product and will simply impede your progress.
This removal can be based on anything from the item’s RICE score, to customer feedback, to simply intuition. Once you’ve gotten rid of these tasks, you’ll have room to add new tasks and better define others.
Reorder User Stories Based On Priority
Once you’ve gotten rid of some items on your backlog, you’ll have to look over your list and see if any items need reordering. Reassess your priorities and features and decide what to focus on for the next sprint.
Break Down Tasks Into Smaller, Better-Defined Items
With this new order in mind, it’s time to take a look at your backlog items and decide if any of them can be broken down and better defined. Some user stories can easily get larger than anticipated and may need to be split up and refocused to make them more digestible. See where you can do this and then add any info necessary.
Identify Roadblocks and Minimize Risks
Now that your backlog has been groomed and reordered, it’s time to look it over. These changes can create new roadblocks within your sprint. While some of these roadblocks and risks can’t be anticipated, you may be able to spot some before they happen. Try and find them and see what you can do to lessen their impact.
Best Practices for Backlog Grooming
Now that we’ve discussed how to groom your backlog, let’s discuss some of our best tips and practices to boost your efficiency and productivity.
Organize and Prioritize Items
One of the easiest ways to figure out what items to work on when grooming your backlog is by using the acronym DEEP:
- Detailed: all user stories and items coming up next in your backlog will need to be explained in enough depth that they can be understood by all teams on your product--engineering, design, marketing and support. Items farther down in your backlog won’t need as much detail yet.
- Estimated: items at the top of your backlog should include an estimate of how much time and work will be needed to deliver them. Items farther down that aren’t fully fleshed out will only need rough estimates.
- Emergent: your product backlog will change over time according to new priorities and customer needs, and as such, it’ll need to be able to adapt to those changes as they emerge.
- Prioritized: your backlog should be ordered by item value and alignment to your overall product vision; the most important items should be at the top, and the least important at the bottom. There are many different ways to prioritize items on your backlog, but we would recommend the RICE scoring model for objectively scoring features and tasks.
As we mentioned briefly in the beginning, your backlog will contain many different types of initiatives, including user stories, feature specifications and requests, bugs and user feedback. While all of these are equally important, both in your backlog and in shaping your priorities and overall goals, they are also very distinct and can become confusing when all jumbled together.
It’s crucial that you separate and label these different types of initiatives in order to declutter and clarify your backlogs. Many companies even have multiple backlogs--for instance, a development backlog, a product backlog, and an insights backlog. This should also help speed up your backlog refinement meetings and keep you more focused on your work.
Prepare for Grooming
Product backlog grooming serves as preparation for sprints, but it’s also critical to prepare for your grooming sessions themselves. Without this preparation, you can easily lose sight of your priorities--therefore making your grooming less effective and efficient.
Before each grooming session, revisit your strategic objectives and overall product goals in order to make sure they stay fresh in your mind. Looking over your product roadmap can also help you stay on track with upcoming priorities and see if anything needs to be reordered. Pay particular attention to high-level features.
Talking to stakeholders to get their opinions on upcoming sprints can also give you external insight on what can be taken out and what might need to be reprioritized. While this group may not have the same insights and concerns as your user base, they will likely have a better overall idea about your industry and what is trending in it at the time so you can stay on par with the competition.
Lastly, it’s equally important to review key metrics and growth within your product. Are certain features pulling in new customers? Do certain aspects of your product rank well with your user base, or do they receive more complaints? Likewise, do you notice you’re getting more traffic or impressions after you added certain features?
Knowing these details can help you figure out what’s working or what needs more work as well as any shortcomings in your product. If your users are particularly interested in integrations, it may be worth it to reprioritize any related items in your backlog. Likewise, if something like SSO didn’t seem to have a big impact on them, you may want to table or get rid of any further improvements along that vein.
Listen to Customers
You’ve probably heard the phrase “the customer is king”. While this might not always prove to be true, your own customers are one of the most invaluable resources you have at your disposal. Having a loyal user base is crucial to the success and longevity of any company, and you’ll need to do your best to keep them satisfied.
Your customers’ wants and needs should be one of the guiding points for new features and releases. Simply listening to and collecting their feedback and opinions can help you map out your roadmap and decide your priorities, keeping them involved in the process without doing much extra work.
How UserVitals Can Help
Here at UserVitals, we make it easy for you to gather feedback from your customers to inform your product decisions.
UserVitals is an all-in-one customer feedback, roadmap and changelog platform. We help you bring in feedback from all over the web via a customer portal, feedback widget and Google Chrome extension as well as from integrations with platforms like Slack, Gmail, Intercom and more.
Each individual piece of feedback, known as an Insight, can be categorized into Stories based on their feedback type, source or common theme. While every Insight is valuable, these Stories can help give you a bigger-picture view of what your customers want from your product and thus what you should prioritize in your next sprint.
From here, you can pick and choose which Stories you want to add to your roadmap and where (e.g. completed, in progress, up next, later). This will help keep customers involved in the product and better informed about future changes.
Even better, customers can comment on individual roadmap items to give you their opinions on them, letting you better refine and update your backlog based on this feedback.
As we mentioned before, both your product roadmap and your backlog will need to be flexible and open to change as it comes up. That’s why we’ve made sure that it’s easy to view your feedback both separately and all together in Stories, so you can make the most informed decisions possible. Our roadmaps are also very easy to update and reprioritize as needed, so you can make any necessary changes to your roadmap to reflect the changes in your backlog.
Learn more about how UserVitals can help you groom your product backlog today and sign up for a free trial.