Grooming your backlog is an easy task to put off until you find yourself some extra free time, but it’s not the most efficient. It’s like if you’re making a cake, and halfway through, you realize you don’t have sugar. The takeaway is that you should make sure you have all of the ingredients before you start in order to finish your delectable creation. There is a lot going on during an Agile sprint, but keeping the tasks in order is vital to the success of the project.
This is the part where Agile methodology shines. Because of the short sprints, you can readjust and fill in gaps when you need to. In other words, you can course correct before it’s too late. Backlog refinement is where that happens. Discard tasks that no longer serve the project and replace them with ones that do. Add anything that satisfies a need that has come up along the way. Sometimes it’s as simple as adding necessary information to a task that was previously vague or undefined.
Regular preparation–at least once per sprint–will save you time and money. It will ensure tasks are ready for development on time and valuable user items aren’t ignored. Keep enough in the backlog for at least two sprints so you’ll have something to pull from if work is finished earlier than expected.
Identify priorities based on sprint goals
Your team should be clear on what needs to be accomplished first and how it fits into the overall picture. Start them with the most important things and work down to the lower levels in relation to the spring goals. Priorities could be vital features or tasks that need to be finished before other work can be done. Which tickets add the most value, and which are superfluous.
Here are a few questions to help you prioritize:
- What is your customer base expecting you to implement, and is it at the top of the list?
- Are any of the time estimates outdated?
- Have you discovered any new user needs that should be accounted for in the backlog?
- Has the priority level of any existing tickets changed?
This is, of course, a general verb for cleaning up. Merge duplicate tickets. Groups related tasks. Add information to unclear tasks, even if it means meeting with stakeholders first. Whoever is assigned to it should be able to get all the context they need to complete it. Too much work on one large ticket? Split it up into smaller tasks.
Add time estimates
Where possible, add an estimate for how much time it will take to complete a task. If someone has an hour available, starting in on a ticket that will take six isn’t an efficient use of their time. It helps developers plan their time. It also makes them more effective. If they do their best work first thing in the morning, they might want to start in on that work intensive ticket right after their coffee.
Disagreements on how long it will take usually stem from people not understanding the scope of the task. Get everyone on the same page, and ask for an updated estimate. On that note, make sure you ask more than one person to get the most accurate number and prove shared understanding of what’s at stake.
Label task dependencies
Some tasks need to be done in a certain order. If there is something that depends on another task being completed, label it as such. Also, be sure to prioritize accordingly. It will slow everything down if a team member starts to work on something before realizing an essential part of the puzzle is missing.
Minimize the number of meeting attendees
Only bring in relevant people for the backlog refinement meetings. To use your time efficiently, you’ll want to minimize irrelevant conversation, and to do that, limit meetings to stakeholders involved in the upcoming sprint like the project manager or scrum master and team members who will be doing the work.
You’ll likely need at least three hours per sprint. If you’re a new team or have a new product, count on it being more when you start. Split it into multiple meetings to get everyone’s best work. End unproductive conversations after five minutes. If someone is still unclear about the new idea being discussed, the product owner should probably come back to the next meeting with more information.
By the time your team starts a sprint, they should be able to hit the ground running, especially if they were involved in the planning. Tasks should be accurately prioritized, clear, and with enough detail to begin. Refining your backlog sets everyone up for success and will keep your project on target.