What is backlog grooming? (Definition plus strategies)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 14 November 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

The goal of backlog grooming is to make sure that the product owner and collaborators are happy with what's in the backlog. This involves reviewing each item on the backlog individually, identifying any unresolved issues or questions about the item and taking steps to address those before moving forward with reviewing another task. It's useful for helping businesses prioritise certain features of projects, fix bugs and communicate with their teams. In this article, we explain what backlog grooming is, discuss who's responsible for it and share the different strategies you might use.

What is backlog grooming?

Backlog grooming is a term that refers to the process of reviewing and updating your product backlog. The goal of this process is to keep the backlog up-to-date by ensuring that it contains information about any upcoming work or changes that have since occurred since the last time you were able to groom your backlog. When teams regularly groom their backlogs, it helps them understand what tasks are coming up and what can wait until later. This allows them to focus their efforts on the most important items first, which maximises both efficiency and resources.

Related: What is a product backlog and why is it important?

Who's responsible for conducting a backlog groom?

There are many people responsible for conducting backlog grooms, including the team members who create the backlog items, project managers and product owners. Often, these parties share the task. For example, a developer may take responsibility for creating new backlog items and a product owner may, in turn, take responsibility for prioritising them. A project manager may then help to ensure that all team members are aware of what they're in charge of doing and by when. This way, there's a shared understanding of what needs accomplishing in more general terms before any actual work begins on the item groomed.

Related: Project manager requirements (with duties and skills)

Strategies for conducting a backlog groom

Here are strategies you may use when conducting a backlog groom:

The Agile method

Here's a list of the steps involved in using the agile method to backlog groom:

1. Organise the backlog by priority and size

When you're using the agile method to backlog groom, organise your backlog by priority and size. This helps you make decisions about what to do next and how much time is necessary for each task. To do this, understand what each task is and whether it's small enough to work on in one step or if it's big enough that you want to divide it into smaller steps. This helps you sort the tasks into priority order based on how important they are, allowing you to focus on the most important items first.

Related: Agile project management principles (with values and steps)

2. Assign owners to each item in the backlog

Assigning owners to each item in the backlog helps ensure that each item is appropriately assigned to someone who has the knowledge, expertise and experience necessary to complete it. Each employee has their own strengths and weaknesses, and careful planning can ensure they work on tasks that align with their abilities. Not only can this help with time management, but it can also help a team to reduce errors. Their experience tells them which tools and methods are optimised for the task.

3. Estimate completion dates for each item

Estimate completion dates for each item when using the agile method to backlog groom to help teams plan the work they have ahead of them and know what's coming up next. This also lets teams see how much time they have left before it becomes necessary to start thinking about starting new projects. For example, if they're working on a project with a deadline of a month and the team has four items in their backlog that are all due in three months, they can see that it isn't necessary to start those tasks immediately.

The Kanban method

Here's a list of steps required for use of the Kanban method to backlog groom:

1. Determine if a dedicated Kanban board or a shared board is necessary

Determining whether to use a dedicated Kanban board or a shared Kanban board affects how many teams are using the system, how much time they can spend on it and how well they can see each other's progress. If you choose to use a dedicated Kanban board, only one team can use the system at any given time. This means that each team member can focus on their own tasks. If you choose to use a shared Kanban board, multiple teams can use the same Kanban board at once, which means there can be some interference.

Related: What is a Kanban board? (Plus how to create one in Jira)

2. Create the Kanban board columns and add them to the software system

Create the Kanban board columns and add them to the software system as this can help make it easier to manage the flow of work. The Kanban method is a workflow management tool that helps teams keep track of their work in progress and limit their work in progress. When using this method, use a board that shows all of your tasks, so you can see the next task. Creating Kanban board columns helps ensure that you have enough space for all of your tasks, allowing you to easily see which column each task belongs in.

3. Create a workflow

When you're using the Kanban method to backlog groom, create a workflow. This helps you keep track of what tasks are still waiting for completion. Without a workflow, there's a higher chance that your team may start to fall behind on their work and that they may lose focus on the tasks at hand. A workflow can also help you to make sure that everyone is doing their job by reminding them of the tasks that they're responsible for completing and the time deadlines for them.

4. Decide on how to prioritise work on the board

Decide on how to prioritise work on the backlog grooming board when using the Kanban method because this helps to keep things manageable, whilst also ensuring that individuals complete each task correctly. The Kanban method relies on having a clear set of goals and a plan for reaching them, so make sure that your process is as efficient as possible. This means making decisions about how to prioritise tasks. Often, teams do this by holding meetings and discussing which projects are due first and subsequently splitting these up into smaller, manageable steps.

The Scrum method

Here's a list of steps that describe how to use the Scrum method when conducting a backlog groom:

1. Prioritise high-priority items based on their value, complexity and risk

Take time to prioritise high-priority items based on their value, complexity and risk. This helps to ensure that the team can deal with the most important issues first. If something is complex or risky to complete, then it may be better to deal with it later on in the process. If an item is complex and has a large impact, the team then knows to give it priority over simpler items. This is because complex items tend to have more elements that need special consideration, which extends completion time.

Related: What is a scrum master's role and how to become one?

2. Create estimates for each item in the backlog

Create estimates for each item in the backlog. This allows you to better understand the work involved in each task. If you don't have an estimate for each item, you may end up over-committing to a project, which results in missed deadlines. Having estimates allows you to see where there are gaps in your team's knowledge or expertise. If you find that there are certain tasks that need more attention than others, this can help you identify areas where more training or mentorship may be necessary.

3. Add any additional information to each item in the backlog

Add any additional information to each item in a backlog. This helps ensure you understand what the team is working on whilst allowing you to track progress. When you have a backlog of items that have no additional information, it can be hard to know exactly what the team is working on next. This can cause issues if new information comes up that may affect the team's priorities or timeline. If more than one item needs working on at once, the relevant team members can see this.

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