The Backlog Refinement Meeting (or Backlog Grooming)

The Backlog Refinement Meeting is also called Product Backlog Grooming, Backlog Estimation, and even Story Time. Ken Schwaber didn’t give it an official name in the original Scrum books but he did say the team should set aside a little time for this every single Sprint. For example, if you’re doing two-week Sprints, the team should take a two hour break somewhere in the middle for Product Backlog Refinement. If you haven’t groomed the Product Backlog during Sprint Execution, or if it’s your very first Sprint, it will occupy more of the time of your Sprint Planning Meeting.

The purpose of the Backlog Refinement Meeting is to help the Product Owner get the top of the Product Backlog ready for the next Sprint Planning Meeting. The Product Owner cannot do this alone — the whole team must help. Remember Agile means business people and technical people working together daily. The Product Owner makes the final call about the requirements, especially prioritization.

Backlog refinement includes estimation of effort, clarification of requirements, and decomposition of large Product Backlog Items (often called “epics”) into smaller ones (such as “user stories”). A well formed Product Backlog Item is no bigger than one quarter of a Sprint. As Bill Wake recommends, each one should be independent, negotiable, valuable, estimable, small, and testable. Converting large requirements to small ones, still representing business value, seems difficult at first, especially when the existing system is deep in technical debt. A skilled Scrum Master can help the team identify thin vertical slices.

Watch an example Backlog Grooming Meeting. For more information about Scrum Master responsibilities, please see An Example Scrum Master Checklist. For more information about Scrum, please see The Scrum Reference Card.


Michael James

Michael James is a software process mentor, team coach, and Scrum Trainer with a focus on the engineering practices (TDD, refactoring, continuous integration, pair programming) that allow Agile project management practices. He is also a software developer (a recovering "software architect" who still loves good design).

Posted in Agile
2 comments on “The Backlog Refinement Meeting (or Backlog Grooming)
  1. Alex Thomas says:

    My opinion (and mine only) is that the scrum team, once engaged in their commitment, should not be deprived of their time during the Sprint time-box. Taking them away from execution during the Sprint time-box is a distraction and may also create technical debt.

    However, the product owner (customer, and scrum master) should concurrently be working on upcoming stories (grooming the backlog) so that the team may collaborate during the planning meeting to discuss, decompose, re-size, (refining the backlog) and select stories for the next sprint.

    The planning meetings between Sprints should be as long as needed to clarify (refine) all the stories selected for the upcoming Sprint. There should be no need to distract the developers during the current Sprint, prior to subsequent planning meetings.

  2. Ajie says:

    Hi Michael,
    Thanks for this nice article. We figured out that standup meetings are great but needed improvement (they took a lot of time and de-focused our colleagues). Because of this we developed a SaaS tool to “automate” the daily standup meetings – with just a single email. If you like to take a look:

2 Pings/Trackbacks for "The Backlog Refinement Meeting (or Backlog Grooming)"
  1. […] was a name for a software development approach that included: time boxing; daily team check-ins; planning and estimation as a team; work defined on a physical card on a white board; a definition of done for the time box […]

  2. […] won’t go into depth as to what backlog grooming is as there are numerous guides out there. Instead I’ll use the classic iceberg metaphor, i.e. the backlog has epics and the […]

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