18 Jan 2024

Common Mistakes in Product Backlog Grooming - How to Avoid them?

Author Picture

Written by Deepak Satarkar

Blog Thumbnail

Product backlog grooming, also known as backlog refinement, is an essential practice in Agile development methodologies, particularly in Scrum. It involves regularly reviewing, prioritizing, and refining items in the product backlog to ensure that it remains up-to-date, well-defined, and ready for implementation during future sprints. The goal is to maintain a backlog that reflects the team's understanding of the project's requirements and priorities.

That said, certain mistakes can hinder the effectiveness of the process and severely impact the whole intent of agile methodology. Here are some common mistakes in product backlog grooming :

1. Inadequate and un-planned sessions :

The Product Backlog is a comprehensive list of tasks essential for reaching the ultimate product goal. Ensuring adherence to Scrum ceremonies and meeting deadlines is crucial for accomplishing sprint goals. Keeping the product backlog well-maintained and appropriately sized for development is a critical and complex activity, demanding meticulous planning and groundwork. This proactive step requires full determination but is also prone to errors. Regularly planned and scheduled grooming sessions are crucial. Neglecting these sessions may result in teams working on unplanned and low-priority tasks, diverting focus from the overall product goal.

Recommended actions :

Blog Image
  • Regular sessions ensure that the backlog is continuously refined, preventing the accumulation of outdated or irrelevant items.
  • To ensure effective backlog refinement within a two-week sprint, it is recommended to schedule at least one grooming session lasting approximately two hours.
  • Depending on the scope and the number of stories requiring refinement, it is advisable to plan additional grooming sessions as needed.

2. Un-defined goal and scope of the story :

Story writing is an art that precisely outlines the requirement and defines its role in achieving the broader product goal. Failing to clearly identify the story's goal can confuse the development team, potentially extending grooming sessions. Likewise, poorly defined scope can introduce ambiguity, sometimes leaving crucial areas unaddressed in development. Lack of clear boundaries may result in the teams involved being unaware of necessary additions or modifications in their functions. This can lead to delays in delivering the product.

Recommended actions :

Blog Image
  • Clearly define the specific goal of the story. If necessary, articulate the goals for each sub-requirement mentioned in the story.
  • Clearly identify and communicate activities that are considered 'in scope' and 'out of scope.' It's important to acknowledge that external or other teams may have action items requiring cross-functional communication. Explicitly mention such activities and tag the relevant team leads to those stories.
  • For certain requirements that only require Minimum Viable Product (MVP) implementation, it is recommended to clearly define the MVP scope, distinguishing what is 'in scope' and 'out of scope.' Alternatively, group these requirements under distinct phases such as Phase 1, Phase 2, etc. for better organization.
  • A well-defined Definition of Ready ensures that each backlog item is in a state ready for development, reducing ambiguity and preventing delays during sprints.

3. Lack of Prioritization and Grouping :

So, you have a product goal, product backlog in place, but the team needs precise list of work items to be picked up into sprints. The most common mistake is lack of prioritization – determining which stories should be addressed first and which ones in subsequent sprints. Understanding dependencies between stories is crucial for proper sequencing and successful sprint planning.

Stories also need to be grouped based on functionality, impact areas, technical skills such as UI, API, etc., Focusing grooming sessions primarily on a few areas may result in underutilizing the skills and bandwidth of other team members.

Recommended actions :

Blog Image
  • Sequence/Prioritize the stories based on :

    User value, aiming to deliver the most impactful features sooner.

    Consider dependencies between stories, sequencing them logically to avoid bottlenecks.

    Balance the workload across team members, ensuring diverse skills are utilized effectively.

    UI and backend stories to be in sync as appropriate.

    Timely communication with cross functional teams in case of external dependency.

    Regularly revisit and adjust prioritization based on changing business needs and feedback.

  • Group the stories in a way that ensures :

    Each release introduces a feature or part of the feature to end users for early feedback.

    Group stories that contribute to a cohesive user experience, enhancing overall product usability

4. Lack of Collaboration :

Effective collaboration is crucial for the success of any agile project. Grooming a story without the involvement of key role players, including Dev (Front end and Back end), QA, Support specialists, and the Database team, should be regarded as incomplete. The absence of these team members may result in follow-up questions and unnecessary time wastage. To enhance efficiency, ensure that all relevant team members actively participate in the grooming process, contributing their perspectives and expertise. This comprehensive collaboration minimizes the need for subsequent clarifications and fosters a more streamlined and effective grooming experience.

Recommended actions :

Blog Image
  • Recurring invites for grooming should be sent to ALL the key role players, not limited to – Developers, QA, Support, Database team, Deployment team, Cross Function teams when needed, etc.
  • Additionally, there are instances when we require expert insights from individuals such as Software Architects, Subject Matter Experts, and Product Owners. To ensure their valuable input, invitations should be sent well in advance, securing their attendance during the grooming sessions. This proactive approach guarantees the presence of key experts, facilitating a more comprehensive discussion and a better-informed refinement of the story. It minimizes delays and contributes to a more efficient grooming process.

5. Lack of complete info while grooming :

Often, the team encounters situations where the complete information regarding the requirements outlined in a story is lacking. This deficiency can have ripple effects across multiple areas, making it impractical for the Product team to document every intricate detail. Incomplete stories emerge as significant obstacles during grooming sessions, causing subsequent challenges in sprint planning. Moreover, these stories suffer from a lack of well-defined scope, making accurate sizing a challenging task.

Recommended actions :

Blog Image
  • Early Collaboration : Foster early collaboration between the Product team, stakeholders, and development teams to address and gather essential details well before grooming sessions. These can be planned as Pre-Grooming sessions ironing out all the possible questions.
  • Cross-Functional Input : Involve cross-functional team members, including developers, QA, and relevant experts, to contribute their insights and fill gaps in story details.
  • Documenting Assumptions : Clearly document any assumptions made during grooming sessions and actively seek clarification on uncertain aspects.
  • Risk Identification : Proactively identify and communicate potential risks associated with incomplete information to stakeholders, enabling a collaborative effort to address uncertainties.
  • In the presence of uncertainties or unknown areas, proactively creating an investigation task and assigning it to the appropriate individuals for research proves to be immensely beneficial. However, it is crucial to generate these investigation tasks well in advance and steer clear of last-minute additions to the sprints. This foresighted approach ensures that research activities are adequately planned, allowing the team to gather essential information and insights before committing to sprint deliverables. This practice minimizes the risk of unforeseen challenges during development and contributes to a smoother sprint execution.

6. Mistakes in Sizing:

Sizing is another critical aspect where the development team should meticulously consider all possible scenarios to achieve accurate estimations. Breaking down the user story into smaller tasks enhances the precision of sizing, allowing for a more granular assessment of the effort required. This approach promotes a comprehensive understanding of the work involved and facilitates a more accurate determination of the story's complexity. By breaking down the story into manageable tasks, the team can better grasp the intricacies involved and provide more precise size estimates during the grooming process.

Recommended actions :

Blog Image
  • Whenever feasible, decompose user stories into smaller, more manageable chunks, aiming for each story to be less than 8 story points in size.
  • Each user story should be accompanied by granular-level tasks that are easily trackable and manageable.

7. Lack of Storytelling Skills:

Telling a story is a skill and it is true with a User Story too! It is important to note that user stories are meant to be concise and focused on user needs. They serve as a starting point for discussions between development teams, product owners, and stakeholders. Additionally, acceptance criteria, which define the conditions that must be met for the user story to be considered complete, are often included to provide more detailed guidance to the development team.

Communicating complex requirements efficiently is indeed an art, and it often goes beyond plain text.

Recommended actions :

Blog Image

Here are some strategies and techniques to enhance the communication of requirements and skills of storytelling,

  • Use Visuals :

    Incorporate diagrams, flowcharts, and wireframes to visually represent workflows, conditional decisions, and system architecture.

    Tools like draw.io, Lucidchart, or even simple sketches on paper can be powerful aids.

  • User Interface (UI) Mock-ups :

    Create UI mock-ups or prototypes to provide a tangible representation of how users will interact with the system.

    Tools like Figma, Sketch, or Adobe XD can assist in creating interactive prototypes.

  • Mind Maps :

    Develop mind maps to capture and organize ideas, dependencies, and relationships between different components.

  • Use Case Scenarios :

    Provide realistic use case scenarios to illustrate how the system will behave in different situations.

  • Prototypes for Interactivity :

    Create interactive prototypes to demonstrate the behaviour of the system in response to user actions.

  • Scenario-based Descriptions :

    Describe requirements in the form of user scenarios, providing context and narrative to explain how users will interact with the system.

  • Concise Language :

    Use concise and precise language to convey requirements. Avoid unnecessary details that might distract the developers from the main points.


Effective product backlog grooming is a dynamic and collaborative process that plays a pivotal role in the success of agile projects. By maintaining a well-prioritized, refined, and adaptable backlog, teams can streamline development efforts, enhance communication, and deliver value consistently throughout the project lifecycle.