Grooming the Product Backlog

Posted on Monday 15th February 2010

Summary

This blog post covers the essential grooming aspects to ensure that your product backlog contains the right items and is ready for the next development cycle.

This post provides my tips on grooming the product backlog. It answers questions I am often asked by product owners: Why is grooming important? What does grooming entail? Who should carry it out? When should grooming take place? Which tools and techniques are helpful? Where should the initial backlog be derived from? And how much grooming effort is required?

Why does Grooming Matter?

A well-groomed product backlog facilitates the development of a successful product. Your product backlog should change based on the learning obtained from developing software and exposing it to customers, users, and other stakeholders, as the image below illustrates. Integrating the latest insights ensures that you develop the right product for the right people.

Grooming the backlog also makes sure that there are enough ready items to continue developing the software in a meaningful way. To put it differently, the backlog provides the team with work.

What does Grooming Entail?

Grooming the product backlog consists of the following five steps, which are described in more detail in my post “The Product Backlog Grooming Steps“:

  1. Analyse the customer and user feedback
  2. Integrate the learning
  3. Decide what to do next
  4. Create small stories
  5. Get the stories ready

Carrying out the grooming steps should result in a product backlog that is DEEP: detailed appropriately, emergent, estimated, and prioritised. You should also ensure that your backlog is concise and visible for everyone involved in the development effort. A concise product backlog allows to effectively integrate the insights gained. A visible backlog encourages creative conversations.

Who should Carry out the Grooming Work?

Grooming the product backlog should be a collaborative effort that involves the product owner and the development team. This helps to analyse the data correctly and to draw the right conclusions. It encourages collective ownership, and leverages the creativity of the entire team. It reduces the work load of the product owner, and helps ensure that the high-prirority items are ready.

When should Grooming Take Place?

Grooming can take place before new development work starts or while it is being carried out, for instance, during the next sprint. If you require user and customer feedback to ensure that you are taking your product in the right direction, then you should first obtain and analyse the relevant data, and integrate the learning into the backlog before you continue coding, as the image below illustrates.

You can find out more about the right point in time to groom you backlog in my post “When should the Product Backlog Grooming Take Place?“.

Which Tools and Techniques are Helpful?

I prefer to work with the Product Canvas, a structured, multi-dimensional product backlog. The canvas allows me to capture all relevant aspects of a product, which is particularly helpful for new products and for product updates aimed at new markets.

A great way to do the grooming work is to organise a product backlog grooming workshop. The workshop involves the product owner and the development team, and carries out the five grooming steps listed above.

Where is the Initial Backlog Derived from?

You may have notices that my grooming process starts with “Analyse the customer and user feedback”. This implies that we have already built a first product increment. But how is this possible? I do the following: I derive the initial backlog from the Product Vision Board, as the picture below illustrates. The vision board captured the product vision and the product strategy.

Product owner and team then decide which assumption is most critical, build a product increment to test the assumption, expose it to the customers and users, and collect the feedback. You can find out more about the Product Vision Board by reading my blog post “The Product Vision Board“.

How much Time does Grooming Require?

While this answer depends on your cycle length, I find that a two-week sprint usually requires 2-4 hours of focussed grooming work that involves the product owner and the development team.

Summary

Product backlog grooming is an important part of managing a product in an agile context. Done correctly, it helps create a successful product, a product that benefits the customers and users and the organisation developing it. To learn more, explore the links above, book a place on my Mastering the Product Backlog training course, or get in touch.