How to groom your backlog

Backlog grooming is one of the most important roles of a product manager. It's also one of the roles that PM's most often fail at.

Grooming your backlog is easy if: 

  • You have a clear set of priorities
  • You have those priorities logged - with requirements - in your project tool (like JIRA)
  • You consistently groom your backlog - daily

How to groom your backlog: 

1. Make sure all of your user stories, tasks (I use 'task' issue type in JIRA for tech debt), and bugs are entered in your project management tool. I just assume this is JIRA, since that's what I've used for the last 5 years.

2. Decide how many sprints you plan ahead. This varies from company to company. I'll talk about scrum vs. kanban in a future post, but I'll assume for this exercise that you're planning for the next sprint. If you're running any type of real Agile, you shouldn't be planning more than 2 sprints ahead. 

If you use JIRA, your backlog should look something like this. 

If you use JIRA, your backlog should look something like this. 

3. During sprint planning, beef up your next sprint, making sure your story points add up to your capacity. Everything else goes in the backlog, in priority order - more important stories remain at the top, everything else falls to the bottom.

4. Every morning, when you arrive to the office, look at your backlog, and make sure it's in priority order. Did anything change yesterday? Were priorities shifted? Your backlog should be in priority order. If you do this consistently, planning your next sprints should be easy. Because you should be able to move user stories, tasks, and bugs, up from the backlog into the next sprint, since they're already in priority order. 

5. Once a month, review everything in the backlog, and retire stories that are out-of-date, or no longer relevant. I've seen lots of "stale" backlogs in my time. If you're not working on a user story, don't just throw it in the backlog and ignore it like an unwanted stepchild. If it's not worth keeping around anymore, or is no longer relevant, close it. Otherwise, it needs a priority in the backlog, along with everything else.

The backlog should not be a place that user stories go to die. It should be cared for, daily. As a product manager or product owner, you are responsible for the backlog and need to make sure it's in tip-top shape. So groom it! Daily.