Friday, January 23, 2009

The importance of grooming the story backlog

I'm currently on an agile project in primarily a developer role.  Our iteration planning has been a sore spot with me since I joined the group.  We've made some tweaks and improvements, but our stories and their acceptance tests are poor quality.  We aren't doing much of any pre-planning, harvesting of stories, or grooming of the backlog.  It really hurts when we get to the iteration planning day.  I dread iteration planning. 

I'm a big believer in grooming the backlog while developers are working on the current iteration's stories; streamline your process by getting more things completed concurrently.  The coach and one or more of the testers get together with the customer and determine which features the customer would like to focus on in the next iteration.  If you need technical expertise, add the tech lead to this group.  Use the release backlog to jumpstart this conversation with candidate stories.  Fill out the details of this group of candidate stories for the next iteration.  This meeting between coach, testers, and customer focus on the feature details and the acceptance tests.  When you try to do this during iteration planning, there tends to be too many people and the conversation becomes chaotic.

Try to solidify your stories and acceptance tests well ahead of the iteration planning meeting.  Send out the stories and the accompanying acceptance tests to the rest of group before the iteration planning meeting.  Now the participants of the upcoming iteration planning can prepare off-line before the meeting. 


  1. I'm hearin’ ya dawg.

    Yesterday I volunteered to help the business side of our team write story cards for a couple of Sprints ahead; they were not keeping up with the dev team’s capacity

    I have the kind of relationship with the Product Owner that I can say “Dude, we’re starting to flail here”. I met with him and his lieutenants for 3 hours yesterday afternoon. We generated about 20 meaty stories.

    I hope I was able to demonstrate in a non-abrasive way to the Product Owner and lieutenants the kinds of things that help developers, like me, be immediately productive after, for example, reading the tests on the back of the story card.

    Here are 3 simple things I hope to impart about Story cards:
    - Meaningful story title (card front);
    - Blurb encapsulating the gist; AND
    - Tests (card back) that "constitute done" using Personas (e.g., Law Prof Larry can mark a document "private").

    Re: Grooming
    I stressed the importance of always being several Sprints ahead in the Backlog. I also suggest they have weekly meetings to GROOM and FEED the backlog.