Ready, Set, Go...and Ready Again: Planning to Groom the Backlog

Andy Berner is a Senior Software Engineer for QSM Inc. Andy is an experienced software architect with over 30 years of experience in all aspects of software development.

In an agile project, the backlog--the prioritized set of requirements--is the main input to iteration planning. Many agile teams are as careful in specifying the “definition of ‘ready’” as they are in specifying the “definition of ‘done’.”The product owner must ensure that priorities are thought through, stories are at the Goldilocks level of granularity (“not too big, not too small”) and stakeholders are prepared to discuss details.

Getting the backlog ready and the related concept of “grooming the backlog”3,4,5 doesn’t come for free. You need to plan and budget for this work. Here are five aspects to consider.

Keep Two Views of the Backlog

  1. User Story Mapping--The Business View:This view lets the business stakeholders keep their eyes on the prize. In this view, they see user stories of all different sizes--some very large that are broken down into multiple levels of detail, some small and specific. Also, collections of stories are grouped into business scenarios. These dependencies among stories clarify how individual capabilities provide value to the users and stakeholders.
  2. Prioritized List of Stories--The Classic View: The top items on the backlog get developed in the next sprint. The heart of iteration planning involves determining how far down the backlog each sprint will…

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