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Ground Rules for Backlog Grooming

10 June 2016

Abhijeet Verma
Softcell Technologies Ltd.

Product backlog refinement is one of the most important ceremonies for Scrum teams. This activity can be simultaneously easy and difficult to perform. Often teams indulge themselves in endless discussions about certain product backlog items (PBIs), which might not even be the focus in the end due to unclear or missing information. By following some simple rules, a team can make this activity effective.

Here are the ground rules:
  • Cap the discussion of a PBI to 15 minutes. This includes conversations, adding details to a story, and estimating story points for the PBI.
    • Benefit 1: The team can focus equally on all PBIs under discussion.
    • Benefit 2: More items can be story pointed, thus, giving the team an adequately groomed backlog.
  • Plan for two Planning Poker® sessions for each PBI to get to the real estimation (if the team has clarity, it can have one session).
    • Benefit 1: The purpose of the first Poker session is to understand the participants' mindset. Members may have questions that need immediate answers.
    • Benefit 2: When they get answers, they are clear about the goal of the story and hence would be comfortable with a second round of story pointing, which results in better estimates.
  • If the team senses that a PBI (research/analysis item) is going to be a spike, it should raise the flag early. Discourage the team from spending endless meeting minutes to discuss that PBI. Cap the time to ten minutes for such items. Discuss the items in other meetings, as team members will be spending a lot of time trying to understand them anyway.
    • Benefit: The real motivation for having such a Planning Poker session in grooming is to generate as many story points for PBIs as possible and to ensure clarity for items undertaken to develop in future sprints.
  • Limit technical discussion on the PBIs. Development team members should try to make the session business-language-friendly so that others can make sense of the discussion,
  • Avoid delving into the nitty-gritty of things. A small dive covering all possible aspects of PBI will help with estimations.
  • Have team members groom the items by business priority so that the items can be picked up in the upcoming sprints.
  • Include only those stakeholders who can help the team with the technical knowledge (coding/architecture/design) or the business knowledge (domain/product road map/feature description) around the PBIs being groomed.
  • Have the ScrumMaster help the team understand that story point estimation is only a relative way of estimating. Use existing knowledge to estimate and move ahead in the game. Estimations improve only with experience.
  • Enjoy the grooming meeting!


Opinions represent those of the author and not of Scrum Alliance. The sharing of member-contributed content on this site does not imply endorsement of specific Scrum methods or practices beyond those taught by Scrum Alliance Certified Trainers and Coaches.

Article Rating

Current rating: 4.1 (7 ratings)


Erik Philippus, CSM, 6/12/2016 5:21:02 AM
Great points! What I would like to add:
Know when to stop with refinement.
Sometimes the goal of grooming a PBI is to discover whether an epic is viable (and perhaps provide an rough estimate), and at a later session, when that epic is selected for upcoming sprint(s), the team can explore the epic further to discover the necessary details.
Rohit Ratan Mani, CSP,CSM, 6/13/2016 1:52:38 AM
Good points.

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