Why you don't need backlog grooming

and what can you do instead


Table of Contents


Let’s talk about one of the most unnecessary meetings in the world - Backlog Grooming.
At first, this seems like a good idea. We periodically scan new/existing issues in the backlog so that:

✅ Every ticket will always have a clear definition of what needs to be done.
✅ People are exposed to new tasks.
✅ Nothing falls through the cracks.

A weekly meeting (usually long) with many participants is set, during which new tickets that come up or those that are still unclear from previous times are reviewed.

How it’s usually looks like

Product Manager: “Okay, let’s go over FE-166 that was opened this week whose title is “button not working” and the content includes emojis of a sad face next to a hammer.”
(John goes back in time, the rest are scrolling in WhatsApp to stay awake)
John: “The button works, I meant that it doesn’t update the state.”
PM: “Are you sure?”
John: “Yes, there’s just a problem with the state management.”
PM: “What is state management?”
Jessica: “Isn’t it a problem with the logs? Some are thrown because there’s no space left and it’s all in round robin.”
PM: “Robin from sales? why is he in charge of logfiles?”
(People go on YouTube to watch someone cooking rice over a campfire to get a warm feeling inside)
John: “Write that it’s a problem with the state..”
(John begins to dictate, the product manager gets a flashback to elementary school, the rest discuss lemon chicken on an internal Slack channel)
PM: “Okay, next ticket.”

Why it’s not working?

❌ The meeting is just a placeholder, used regardless of need.
❌ Attendees focus mainly on their tasks and not listenning to others (because they can’t understand what others didn’t understant yet)
❌ The transcription of fixing each of the tickets is done live and takes up most of the meeting.
❌ Much time is wasted weekly, offering little value to the project, employees, and the company.

What can be done instead?

Groom, but focused

  1. Groom with a target - Tasks are carried out according to features (epics) and not according to a complete backlog, and therefore - always focus on grooming specific things - one can choose to focus on the next product release or smaller parts like an epic or a large feature (multi-participant) but never “go through the entire backlog”.
  2. Differentiate between product planning issues (including technical ones) and execution planning issues (technical only) - and ensure that technical planning sessions (system design) are separated from product grooming.
  3. Kickoff meetings are great alternative - when starting to plan a new (large) feature, send information beforehand, allow for responses, and only then - schedule a kickoff meeting that also includes - grooming.

”The backlog arrangement is always done with a top-down strategy and never bottom-up, and always - oriented towards a roadmap or a specific goal.”

Work asynchronously as much as possible

  1. Good issue documentation - Encountered a problem/idea? Open a ticket with as much information and tags as possible (bug, feature, where it reproduces, who it’s related to).
  2. Opt-in Grooming - Is the ticket missing information? - Tag it with a specfici need_info tag. This way, and only this way, we know it needs to be reviewed during grooming.
  3. Work asynchronously by default - Most of the work of filling in the missing details should be done asynchronously:
    1. change the assignee to whoever is supposed to fill it in
    2. Write about the issue in Slack in dedicated channels
    3. discuss it in dedicated meetings (when available).

Personal responsibility and collaboration are key to always having a clear picture of what the overall situation looks like (a challenge in itself).

But who is in charge of the backlog?

Everyone together and each individually, with responsibility divided according to:

  1. Technical issues (building) - the head of the technical team/unit/epic owner according to his/her area.
  2. Product issues (product planning) - product managers/designers (in their area).

As a general rule - Are you assigned to a ticket? You are responsible for it. Is it not well organized? Communicate with the team/management or anyone who can help.

Summary

Regular backlog grooming meetings, especially for large backlogs, can waste a lot of time for little benefit. Switching to need-specific grooming meetings and using healthy communication methods improves efficiency and satisfaction.

Give people more responsibility and ownership and fewer meetings. 💪