Having a healthy product backlog is an important task for any team to tackle to help ensure the success of the platform and product over time. However, we find when working with teams it is one of the most overlooked tasks and the first thing teams procrastinate on when time is short.
So how can you keep your product backlog healthy and helpful to the team, without spending hours a week just on "management" or maintenance? We have a few tricks to share!
1. Recurring Grooming
We're humans and all pulled in many different directions. If you wait until your team has time to groom (or review) the backlog, chances are you'll be putting it off until it's a nightmarish task to tackle.
Agree on a time that should work well for most people - but not necessarily all. Don't be afraid to have people skip grooming, just ensure there is a healthy attendance to make it worthwhile.
If you find grooming is taking too long, you should be doing it more frequently. We tweak over time, but typically find that for our clients grooming bi-weekly allows us to keep the meeting at 30 minutes or less. There are always days where a product owner brings a lot to the meeting for us to add, but we strive for short and sweet so everyone doesn't dread it.
2. Come Prepared
It sounds simple, but if you have to spend time as a group reviewing backlog stories before you can even groom them, you can easily find yourself spending a substantial amount of time just reading stories. No one enjoys listening to Susan ramble through stories aloud on a video call, sharing her screen, while most are aware of the backlog contents.
Ensure you have 5-10 minutes personally before the grooming meeting to scan through stories. Familiarize yourself with any new ones, make notes to ask questions later, etc. You'll be more prepared, and with everyone taking this time the meetings go much faster and are more productive.
Pro tip: If you struggle to find that "pre time" meeting prep, your team can try scheduling the meeting at say 10 after the hour. Mentally most of us think of meetings starting at "even" intervals, so you'll most likely think to prep even 5 minutes before the call just because you're in the mindset of a call at 9am for example.
3. Don't Over Do It
Having a backlog is only helpful if it's organized and detailed, but don't waste time just for the sake of that backlog. It's ok for the team to be pulled away for an emergency production hotfix, or for a holiday to throw things off; these things happen.
Set a time limit on the meeting and stick to it. Refine and discuss important items, and push lower priority stories farther down in the backlog for later. It's hard to sometimes resist the urge to discuss something low-priority, because those tend to be exciting "pie in the sky" features. Let them dwindle if there isn't enough time.
Be a Backlog Pro
Hopefully these 3 tips help you better manage your teams backlog and keep everyone engaged and helpful during grooming sessions and in between. Remember, the goal of having a groomed backlog is to make the team run smoothly and have features ready to go for implementation.
Already a pro and have a helpful tip we didn't think of sharing here? We'd love to hear about it, drop us a line!