Now that I’ve discussed the four principle meetings in the Scrum method of agile software development, I’d like to recommend teams consider adding one more to the mix: scrum product backlog grooming. Although the scrum product backlog grooming (or maintenance) meeting is not a formal part of the Scrum process, Scrum’s founder Ken Schwaber nonetheless advises that teams dedicate five percent of its time, per sprint, to this activity. (As with Scrum’s other meetings, it’s recommended that the scrum product backlog grooming take place at the same time and place and for the same duration each sprint.)
The backlog grooming meeting is attended by the team, the Product Owner, and the ScrumMaster. During the meeting, everyone works together to prepare the backlog for the next sprint planning meeting. This might include adding new stories and epics, extracting stories from existing epics, and estimating effort for existing stories. Why do this? Because a well maintained backlog will prevent sprint planning meetings from lasting an unnecessarily long time. If scrum product backlog items are written with clearly defined acceptance criteria and estimated by the appropriate team members, the planning process won’t be stalled with work that could have been accomplished prior to meeting.
Dedicating a time each sprint to scrum product backlog maintenance ensures that this preliminary planning always occurs. It also renders lengthy, even tense conversations about estimation, prioritization, etc. irrelevant. In all, scrum product backlog grooming offers a project team a chance to discuss stories and modify them in advance of the planning meeting. It might be hard for a team to pull away from its work mid-sprint, but this preventative maintenance will help keep your sprint planning meetings productive and to-the-point.
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