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Product Backlog Grooming – Estimates can change during the Sprint Planning

This is yet another situation that could cause a problem with the whole process of the Product Backlog Grooming, unless it has been communicated well with the team. During an ideal Product Backlog Grooming (if there is such a thing as an ideal Backlog Grooming process), the Product Owner would prepare the User Stories for features expected to be there in the next couple of Sprints, and then the team will discuss these User Stories so that there is a level of understanding enough for ensuring a quicker Sprint Planning meeting, and for more complex features, the team could go through and prepare the technical architecture and also have a high level of estimates for the User Stories. If teams do not get to the level of rough estimates during the Product Backlog Grooming, then there is no problem (atleast for the purpose of this post).
But when you get to the situation where the team does prepare estimates, that is where things can get more tricky. The expectation is that during the Backlog Grooming process, the team does a rough level of estimation and the accuracy of these estimates will not be as good as when the team is able to spend more focused time during the Sprint Planning session. If the team has not had discussions about this particular topic, then there is scope for some dis-satisfaction. Consider that during the Backlog Grooming session, the team came out with some estimates, but during the Sprint Planning session, when the team was able to spend some more focused time on the User Story, there was a new level of understanding or something new was discovered which led to a change in the estimates. When something like this happens, it has been know to happen that team members get frustrated about the process of Backlog Grooming, about why they spent time on the process when it was going to change during the Sprint Planning process. It may seem strange that team members get dis-satisfied about this, but it is known to happen.
What is the way around this ? Well, this kind of problem is not applicable for teams that do not get into estimation during the Backlog Grooming process, but that is not the suggestion being made here. Instead, the way to proceed here is to have a detailed discussion on this with the team so that everyone has clarity that the process of Backlog Grooming can help derive a rough estimate (which could for example get the Product Owner to take a call that the current scope of the User Story is too great for the Sprint and decide the scope accordingly); but that the final estimates will only be available when the team is able to spend the required amount of time during the Sprint planning process, and that any changes in estimates can happen. After all, even when the team does estimation during the Sprint Planning process, the actual effort spent during the Sprint on the User Story can be different, and yet that does not cause dis-satisfaction (unless the variation is very high).

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