Creating successful products and projects goes beyond just great ideas and flexible processes. It's about truly understanding and listening to your customers.Attentively listening to their wants and needs unlocks invaluable insights that can revolutionize your story planning and project execution.

In this blog, we'll look at easy but powerful tips to use the customer's input during story planning. We'll also explore what backlog grooming and sprint planning mean, so you can understand these important concepts better.

Story grooming

Story grooming, also known as backlog grooming, gives user stories in the product backlog a higher priority so they are prepared for sprint planning.

It assesses the product backlog and organizes it by deleting, adding, prioritizing, or extending user stories. The purpose of backlog grooming is to streamline the list of potential activities for the product team, ensuring they are properly prioritized and aligned with the organization's strategic goals.

During story grooming sessions, each item in the product backlog is examined, a discussion starts, and suggestions for improvement are made.

This usually involves the following tasks:

  • Updating user stories
  • Prioritizing and improving already-written user stories
  • Dividing up long stories into shorter ones
  • Getting things off the backlog
  • Criteria for acceptance and testing are redefined
  • Examining staffing and time estimates
  • Adding additional features to products
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Sprint Planning

In contrast to backlog grooming, sprint planning focuses on preparing for the subsequent sprint. Sprint planning concentrates on the user stories the team wants to complete in the short term because sprints typically range from two weeks.

The backlog for each sprint is unique. Consider your team's to-do list as the product backlog and the sprint backlog as a list of things to work on immediately.

User stories from the product backlog and any other unfinished user stories from the previous sprint are all included in the sprint backlog. Before every sprint, planning sessions are held.

Typically, teams allocate a maximum of two hours per week during the sprint for planning. However, highly skilled or efficient teams might require less time for this activity.

Now that we understand the concept of story grooming and sprint planning let's dive into best practices for story grooming and sprint planning.

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Best Practices for Story Grooming/Sprint Planning

Here are some best practices for backlog grooming and sprint planning to ensure that your sessions are highly valuable:

Optimal Timing

During a sprint, teams plan backlog grooming sessions about three or four days after it starts, especially in a two-week sprint cycle. This timing is chosen carefully to align with a crucial moment - demonstrating the work completed in the previous sprint. This helps everyone remember the project's current status clearly.

The main goal of these well-timed sessions is to ensure everyone fully understands the remaining tasks in the backlog and comprehends the objectives for the upcoming sprint. This collective effort leaves each participant feeling informed and confident about their responsibilities.

As the team gets closer to the sprint planning phase, the outcomes of these meetings are reinforced in everyone's minds, creating a sense of assurance as they start the next sprint.

Lead with Confidence

Before every sprint, hold grooming sessions to boost confidence and be well-prepared. These sessions focus on fine-tuning our backlogs and getting mentally ready. To make these meetings more productive, begin each session with a clear statement of what we expect to achieve.

A well-defined agenda is important as it keeps discussions on track and productive. Additionally, providing context for every decision made during these sessions helps remind the team of the overall purpose behind building the product.

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Update Project Roadmap

Before holding your sprint planning meeting, reviewing and updating your project's roadmaps is essential. Conducting a thorough review in the first two weeks of the new year is wise.

The roadmap forms the basis for two crucial agile concepts: epics and versions. These concepts are essential for agile program planning, allowing you to monitor progress and ensure the successful delivery of long-term work.

To ensure a smooth planning process, follow these steps:

Verify Current Roadmap: Double-check that the roadmap is up-to-date and aligns with the current status of your project. Record any changes or modifications accurately.

Team Visibility: Make the roadmap accessible and visible to the entire team. Transparent communication is essential to foster a shared understanding of the project's direction.

Epics and Versions in Jira: If you use Jira or a similar tool, ensure that all epics and versions are correctly listed and updated in the system. This will provide a comprehensive view of your project's progress and help you plan effectively.

Optimize the Sprint Planning Process

Consider implementing a "meeting before the meeting" strategy to enhance the sprint planning process.

This approach consists of two crucial tasks: backlog grooming and work selection for the upcoming sprint.

The benefits of conducting a pre-meeting are:

Efficient Backlog Grooming: A dedicated backlog grooming session allows the product owner and scrum master to analyze and refine backlog items thoroughly. This preparation ensures they are ready for discussion during the sprint planning meeting.

Focused Sprint Planning: Since the backlog has already been groomed, the sprint planning meeting can focus solely on selecting the work to be done in the upcoming sprint. This streamlined approach allows for more in-depth discussions on prioritization.

Time Management: Separating grooming and planning tasks saves time during the main meeting, preventing unnecessary delays and enabling the team to make better-informed decisions.

Flexibility for Team Members: By making the pre-meeting optional for the development team, individuals can choose to attend based on their availability or the relevance of the grooming process to their role.

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Incorporate Relevant Data

To enhance the effectiveness and data-driven nature of sprint planning, consider integrating relevant data into the meeting.

During the sprint planning session, the main objective is to establish and mutually agree upon the sprint goal—the amount of work the team believes it can realistically accomplish during the sprint.

Here are some data-driven practices to consider:

Historical Velocity: Review the team's historical velocity, which refers to the work the team has completed in previous sprints. Understanding past performance helps in setting realistic and achievable sprint goals.

Capacity Analysis: Analyze the team's capacity, considering any planned time off, holidays, or other commitments that might affect the available work hours during the sprint.

Burn-Down Charts: Using burn-down charts, evaluate the team's progress in previous sprints. This visual representation of completed work over time provides insights into the team's efficiency and can guide planning decisions.

Customer Feedback and Insights: Gather feedback from customers or end-users on previous releases or iterations. Incorporating customer insights can help prioritize valuable features and improvements for the upcoming sprint.

User Story Metrics: Examine user story metrics like cycle time or lead time to identify bottlenecks and improve the team's efficiency in delivering user stories.

Duration of the meeting: Allocate at least one hour each week covered in the sprint. For example, a minimum of two hours should be scheduled for a two-week sprint.

Conduct the sprint planning early in the week to minimize disruptions to the team's context and flow caused by the weekend.

Get set, go sprint!

As you reach this stage in the meeting, the team should feel confident about the sprint forecast. Before concluding the sprint planning session, it's crucial to seek verbal approval from everyone present regarding the team's commitment to deliverables at the end of the sprint. This step ensures alignment and a shared understanding among all team members.

Additionally, ensure that each team member has been assigned at least one task to start working on and there are no instances of duplicating efforts. This fosters a streamlined and efficient workflow, preventing any confusion or unnecessary delays during the sprint.

Here are a few tips for handling team morale during Sprint Planning:

Acknowledge Fluctuations: Recognize that team engagement and morale can vary from one sprint to another. Understand that these fluctuations may become evident during sprint planning but avoid addressing them immediately at this stage.

Focus on Sprint Planning: During sprint planning, concentrate solely on setting goals and tasks for the upcoming sprint. Save in-depth discussions about team morale for the retrospective meeting.

Leverage the Retrospective Meeting: The retrospective offers an ideal platform to comprehensively understand and address any challenges or concerns affecting team morale, culture, or development processes. Use this opportunity to gather feedback and insights from the team.

Proactive Problem Solving: Teams that proactively address and respond to morale-related issues experience increased happiness, higher productivity, and improved code quality. Utilize the retrospective to identify and resolve these matters collaboratively.

Foster Continuous Improvement: By using the retrospective to tackle morale-related concerns, teams can take a focused and constructive approach, fostering continuous improvement in team dynamics and overall performance. Emphasize a growth mindset and encourage open dialogue during this meeting.

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How to Use the Customer’s Voice in Story Grooming

The customer's voice acts as a valuable guide, showing you the way to develop products that connect with your audience

Constantly talking to your users about their business problems and incorporating those solutions is key to the success off your product and company.

There are many ways to incorporate the voice of your users into your product planning.

Gather customer feedback

Collect customer feedback through various channels such as surveys, interviews, support tickets, or user testing sessions. This feedback will provide valuable insights into their pain points, requirements, and expectations.

Formulate an experience brief that’s less than 2 pages, or a 5-minute clip of user interviews. The best is to have devs in the interviews and discovery activities with you as well. Interview snippets are always well received by teams, and one shoulld include them within development issues.

Analyze customer data

Analyze customer data to identify patterns, trends, and common issues. This data can come from analytics tools, customer support logs, or user behaviour tracking. Look for recurring themes or specific user stories that reflect the needs and priorities of your customers.

A user story map is a solid artefact for keeping the team focused on the user’s context and persona while writing stories and features.

Create user personas

Develop user personas representing different types of customers or user segments. These personas should capture your target audience's key characteristics, behaviours, goals, and pain points. Refer to these personas during story grooming and sprint planning to ensure you consider different customer perspectives.

Prioritize based on customer value

  • When prioritizing user stories or features for development, consider the value they bring to the customer.
  • Focus on addressing high-priority customer needs first.
  • Use techniques like the MoSCoW method (Must-Have, Should-Have, Could-Have, Won't-Have) or impact-effort matrix to evaluate and prioritize stories based on their impact on customer satisfaction and business goals.

Use user stories

  • Frame user stories from the customer's perspective to ensure a customer-centric approach.
  • Instead of solely focusing on technical requirements, emphasize the benefits and outcomes for the customer.
  • Use a user story format like "As a [type of user], I want [goal], so that [benefit]."
  • This format helps keep the customer's voice at the forefront.

Involve customers in the process

Whenever possible, involve customers directly in the story grooming and sprint planning process. Conduct user feedback sessions, collaborate with customer representatives or stakeholders, or seek their input during backlog refinement meetings. This ensures their perspectives are heard and considered during the planning process.

Validate assumptions

While grooming stories, be mindful of assumptions made about customer needs and preferences. Validate these assumptions through user testing, prototypes, or by seeking customer feedback. By involving customers in the validation process, you can ensure that your understanding aligns with their expectations.

Continuously iterate and learn

Agile methodologies encourage iterative development. Regularly review and adjust your approach based on customer feedback and the outcomes of previous sprints. Incorporate customer insights gained during each iteration to improve future story grooming and sprint planning sessions.

General FAQs related to story grooming and sprint planning

What does "story grooming" provide?

User stories in the product backlog are prioritised during story grooming, also known as backlog grooming, to ensure they are prepared for sprint planning. It's a crucial procedure that prevents the backlog from overflowing with ideas that won't be implemented.

Who is in charge of backlog grooming?

A comprehensive grooming session involves various key participants: the leader of the backlog grooming session (such as the product owner, product manager, project manager, Scrum master, or another team member), a representative from the product team (usually the product owner), and a representative from the delivery team or the entire delivery team itself.

When should backlog grooming be conducted?

Backlog grooming sessions should be held two to three days before the end of the sprint cycle.

What are some strategies to pace up backlog grooming?

Keeping meetings within the range of 45-60 minutes is recommended to maintain focus and productivity. Avoid spending more than 15 minutes on each story to make the most of the allotted time. If additional discussion is necessary for a particular story, schedule a separate meeting dedicated to that specific topic.

What are the topics covered in sprint planning?

During Sprint Planning, the following topics are addressed:

  • The value of the Sprint: Why is this particular Sprint valuable?
  • Sprint goals and scope: What can be accomplished during this Sprint?
  • Work approach: How will the chosen tasks and work items be completed within the Sprint?

Who manages the sprint planning process?

In the sprint planning process, a ScrumMaster takes on the role of facilitating the meeting, while the Product Owner provides clarification on the product backlog items and their acceptance criteria.

How often does sprint planning occur?

Sprint planning should be limited to a maximum of two hours for every week of the sprint. For instance, in the case of a two-week sprint, the sprint planning meeting should not exceed four hours.

How many meetings take place during a sprint?

During each Sprint, teams engage in four primary meetings called Scrum ceremonies.


Along with Anjali Udasi

I love writing about the latest trends and best practices in the tech industry, and I always try to keep things interesting by throwing in a few football references here and there.