Planning with a premature backlog? How about grooming?

In some teams starting to use Scrum, you often see the backlog grooming taking place during the planning, in other words, all the stories in the sprint are explained, understood, iterated, estimated and sliced during the ceremony.

This can cause some problems.

Long or shallow planning: Leaving the understanding of new stories to one single meeting can make it very long indeed, if:

  • Many doubts need to clarify.
  • Acceptance criteria have to be agreed.
  • Long stories need to be sliced.
  • The team doesn’t yet know the actual business value for each story.

In the worst case scenario, the planning time isn’t affected, but rather its quality and the above items are done in a shallow way, if not completely ignored.

Some stories get stuck because of lack of definition: As a consequence of shallow planning, the team then suffers during the sprint. Discovering gaping holes in the definition of stories, which if they depend on an external decision, jam up the development flow in such a way as to compromise the sprint’s objective.

A pre-selection is made without a vision of the ROI: To have a notion of the ROI (Return on Investment) for each story, one must know how much is being invested in it. Often the investment is the effort estimated by the team, but if they don’t yet know the next stories in the backlog, it means the PO has had to do a pre-selection from the backlog, without looking at the ROI, and bring these items to the planning. We, therefore, have few guarantees that there won’t be another item in the backlog with a higher ROI than those brought by the PO.

Disorganized backlog: Another risk could be not having a well-structured backlog, with the stories at the top having thin slices, according to the backlog’s horizon vision. In the PO’s pre-selection, it might happen that one of the stories requires enormous effort, incompatible with the size of the sprint, for example.

Backlog Grooming

One practice adopted by many teams as a solution is carrying out a refinement (or grooming) during the sprint, whenever necessary. This isn’t an official rule in the scrum guide, but a meeting which helps efficient planning and a well organized and prioritized backlog.

The frequency of this meeting needn’t match the scrum’s cycle. Ideally, it’ll be done on demand, so the team doesn’t fail due to the grooming of too few or too many items. The ideal number of groomed items will certainly depend on the context, and experimentation should prevail.

If there are any of these dysfunctions in your team, you might find it worth trying out grooming separately from planning.

This is a translation of the article written in 2017, by our great Agile Coach and friend Daniel Teixeira (1984-2017).
Original article you can find here: Planning com backlog prematuro? 


Foto de (In Memoriam) Daniel Teixeira
(In Memoriam) Daniel Teixeira


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