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Grooming the Product Backlog

Published on 15th February 2010

Product backlog grooming or refinement plays an important part of creating and updating a product in an agile context. Done correctly, it helps you develop a successful product, a product that benefits the customers and users and the organisation developing it. This post provides my tips on grooming the product backlog. It answers questions I often get 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 Product Backlog Grooming Matter?

Product backlog grooming, also called product backlog refinement, is the activity of keeping your product up to date. This is necessary, as your product backlog is likely to change based on the learning obtained from developing software and exposing it to customers, users, and other stakeholders, as the image below illustrates.

Product Backlog Grooming Overview

Grooming the backlog helps you integrate the latest insights into the backlog. This ensures that you develop the right product in the right way. It also makes sure that the product backlog is workable, that there are enough ready items to start the next sprint.

What does Grooming Entail?

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

  1. Analyse feedback / data from users, customers, and internal stakeholders.
  2. Integrate the learning.
  3. Decide what to do next.
  4. Get the product backlog ready: Select a sprint goal and write detailed user stories that are 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 cross-functional development team. This allows you to leverage the team’s knowledge and creativity, including taking into account technical feasibility and risks; it increases the team’s understanding of the product backlog items and generates buy-in for the backlog changes; it reduces your work load as the product owner, and helps ensure that the high-priority 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 the relevant data, analyse it, and integrate the new insights into the product backlog before you continue coding. You can find out more about the right time to groom you backlog in my post “When should the Product Backlog Grooming Take Place?“.

Where is the Initial Product 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 like to derive the initial backlog from a product roadmap, as the picture below illustrates. The product roadmap describes the journey you want your product to take including major releases, goals, key features, and dates.

Deriving the Inital Porduct Backlog from the Product Roadmap

I discuss the relationship between the product backlog and the product roadmap in more detail in the article “The Product Roadmap and the Product Backlog“.

How much Time does Grooming Require?

To answer this question, it is helpful to take into account the lifecycle stage of your product and the sprint duration. The more stable and mature your product is, the lower the grooming effort tends to be in the sprints. The reason for this is that there are less unknowns and risks and you rely less on feedback and experimentation to discover the right requirements. The following picture illustrates this correlation. (I discuss choosing the right level of detail in the product backlog in my article “How Detailed should the Product Backlog be?“.

How Detailed Should the Product Backlog Be?

The second factor is the duration of your sprints. 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.

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.

Porduct Canvas

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.

This post was last updated on 1 March 2018.

Post a Comment or Ask a Question


  • Hania Hanie says:

    I am just starting out in the field of business analysis and agile approach to software development. I was wondering in what sequence should the backlog, user story and road map be prepared and derived from.

    Best regard,

    • Roman Pichler Roman Pichler says:

      Hi Hania,

      Thanks for sharing your question. I recommend that you use the following sequence: product roadmap -> product backlog -> epic -> user story

      Hope this helps!

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