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Guide To Backlog Grooming Vs. Sprint Planning

Agile helps development teams build better products by breaking down the development process into small, manageable chunks. But with so many different things to do, it’s easy to lose track of what teams should be doing and when.

Two Agile practices often confused with each other are backlog grooming and sprint planning. So today, we’re going to look at both activities to see how they are different and how each helps agile teams perform better during sprints.

Table of contents

What is backlog grooming?

What is a backlog?

A backlog is a list of tasks required to support a larger strategic plan. In Agile, there are three forms of backlogs:

  • Product backlog - Features you want to implement but have not yet prioritized for release.
  • Release backlog - Features that need to be implemented for a particular release.
  • Sprint backlog - User stories that need to be completed during a specific period of time.

A backlog needs to serve as a single source of truth for the team’s planning work. They should be able to easily identify what they need to work on next and how they should prioritize their work. This makes it easier to assign work and create discussions around what needs to be done.

What happens during backlog grooming?

Backlog grooming sessions are essential to ensure projects run smoothly. During the grooming session, the team will get together to ensure user stories in the product backlog are prepared for sprint planning.

Backlog grooming sessions should be held regularly so the right stories are correctly prioritized, and the product backlog doesn’t become a place ideas go to die.

During backlog grooming, there are three key objectives:

  • Break down large user stories into smaller, more manageable tasks
  • Hold group discussions for user stories, and answer any questions to ensure everyone is in alignment
  • Check upcoming user stories against the team’s “definition of ready” by adding key contextual information and acceptance criteria.

By the end of the backlog grooming session, the team should have a prioritized list of user stories ready for the next sprint.

Why is this an important step in the sprint process?

Backlog grooming ensures that the product backlog is refined and prioritized, which is why it’s so important to perform regularly.

The session helps teams stay aligned and updated on everything they need to know to do their jobs well. It ensures that the product backlog is always relevant and healthy by refining it to match customer expectations, even with changing requirements. A well-refined backlog will help teams increase efficiency because they can easily identify what needs to happen and when.

Three men sitting while using laptops and watching man beside whiteboard

What is sprint planning?

Sprint planning is an agile event that gets a sprint underway. It defines what can be achieved during the sprint and how the team will work together to produce any defined deliverables.

What happens during sprint planning?

The sprint planning meeting is just what the name suggests. Teams get together to plan the upcoming sprint by defining how long the timebox will be, the sprint goal, and where to start. By clearly laying out the sprint’s agenda and focus, teams can empower themselves and achieve success by keeping them motivated throughout the sprint.

There are five key things involved in a sprint planning meeting:

  • The What: The product owner will describe the sprint goal and define which backlog items contribute to that goal. The team will then discuss what can be achieved during the sprint and what actions they will perform to achieve them.
  • The How: The development team will plan the work required to achieve the sprint goal.
  • The Who: The entire development team and the product owner need to attend the sprint planning meeting.
  • The Inputs: The team needs to identify what items from the product backlog will be involved in the sprint.
  • The Outputs: The team should come out of the planning meeting with a clear picture of the goal of the sprint and how it will start working toward that goal.

Why is sprint planning important?

Sprint planning sets the scene for the upcoming sprint entirely transparently. It ensures that the entire team is aligned with the sprint goals, and everyone knows what they need to do to achieve those goals.

By breaking up the project into more manageable pieces, teams spend less time figuring out what they need to do and more time achieving targets. This helps boost morale because the satisfaction that comes with completing a job is more frequent and rewarding.

Backlog grooming vs. sprint planning, what is the difference?

Backlog grooming and sprint planning are often confused with each other, especially with teams that are new to agile.

Both activities ensure that teams have a shared understanding of the tasks they need to perform. Both require everyone to participate, and both can achieve better outcomes if someone in the meeting acts as the “Voice of the Customer.”

Yet, despite their similarities, backlog grooming and sprint planning have distinct purposes.

  • Sprint planning focuses on the near future, only discussing what will happen within the next sprint. Backlog grooming sessions look at the entire project to help prioritization.
  • Backlog grooming needs to happen before sprint planning so teams can be certain they’re planning sprints around the most critical items in the backlog.
  • Sprint planning meetings must be attended by the entire team, including product owners, whereas backlog grooming needs just a few team members.
  • Sprint planning always happens at the beginning of a sprint, but backlog grooming sessions can happen at any stage in the product development process.

For teams to receive all the benefits of agile, they should groom their backlogs at a regular pace and hold sprint planning meetings, rather than trying to combine the two activities into one meeting.

To learn more about Agile, Scrum, and anything else you need to know about product management, EasyRetro is here to help. Check out our blog to learn more about sprint methodology, sprint velocity, sprint burndown charts, and much more!

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