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Scrum: What is a product backlog grooming ?

Grooming sounds like a strange term, like something you would do with horses ? But if you think in terms of beautifying the Product Backlog, then grooming means doing a regular maintenance of the Product Backlog. So, just like for a champion horse, regular sessions of grooming end up beautifying the horse and also ensure that any problems that the horse may have are found out; and even though the comparison may not come nicely to some people, it can be pretty apt.
As you move ahead in your Sprint cycles, the Product Backlog starts showing the effect of multiple items being added and removed from the Backlog, of changing business environments and changes made by competitors, and so on. The Product Backlog could end up becoming more and more a big messy list of items that everyone added, and if there is a feeling that it is solely and only the responsibility of the Product Owner to modify the keep the Product Backlog clear, that is not recommended. Most Scrum experts who I have spoken to talk about a regular meeting to discuss and do Product Backlog grooming, with this meeting involving not only the Product Owner, the Scrum master and the Scrum team.
Why do you need a regular Product Backlog grooming meeting ? Here are some of the plausible reasons, and when you look at these reasons, they would be apparent to every Scrum team. So if you are not doing some sort of Product Backlog grooming, these reasons should make you at least think about this.
– When there is some information that you have received regarding technical issues or difficulties, it makes sense to update the estimates.
– Review the user stories that are there in the Product Backlog in terms of which story has a higher priority (an update from a customer on a killer feature which becomes successful could make you need to do changes in the priority of your features). Similarly, you may have some User stories that seemed relevant a few Sprint cycles earlier but are no longer relevant because of multiple reasons, and those need to be either removed or marked as dead.
– Adding new user stories (sometimes based on what you see of competitor analysis, sometimes based on other technical changes or even based on the work of earlier Sprints); the Product Backlog grooming session is a good time to add more stories that seem relevant.
– And of course, since Scrum does not really try to dictate too much, there may be other reasons why you would need to make modifications during the Product Backlog grooming session.

What are the benefits of Product Backlog grooming:
Well, even when you look at the points made above, the benefits of a Product Backlog grooming session is to ensure that the Product Backlog remains optimized (with some of the excess items being cut out of the Backlog), and the items that remain in the Backlog are relevant and with the prioritization of the User Stories, continues to provide an understanding of the priorities of the product going forward (even though this would change from Sprint to Sprint, it still provides the Scrum team with a great understanding of the features that are important for the product).

Read more details about Product Backlog Grooming in the next post (Objectives of Product Backlog grooming)

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