Barber Shop: Backlog Grooming Tools and Techniques for Agile Teams

Most of us have to pay a visit to the scissor man/lady every couple of months. Others who don’t have to or choose not to, I envy you. As a kid, my visits to the barber shop were scary ritual. The thought of someone using scissors, clippers and other sharp pointed tools a few millimeters from my scalp and ears was terrifying. After surviving many close calls with sharp objects, I was fairly certain that the worst that could happen would be a couple of cuts, minor scrapes, and a hideous hair style. Over the years what gave me courage to go to our neighborhood barber shop was our barber’s technique/skill and relaxed friendly conversation that always ensued at his place. (That and my mom and lately my wife :).

barber shop backlog grooming tools techniques agile teamsI have not completely overcome my fear of visiting barbershops yet. There is always the possibility of getting bruised or a bad haircut. However, I find it reassuring that it is in the nature of my fur to grow back and warrant another shot at presentable appearance. Scrum teams and product owners that appreciate this emergent characteristic of product backlog find themselves engaging in healthy dialogue during backlog grooming sessions. As a coach when I help product owners and teams groom their backlog, I seek to use tools and techniques that foster collaboration, allowing them to acknowledge the emergent nature of product backlog items. I have often found myself playing the role of that friendly neighborhood barber, armed and ready with agile tools to help POs and teams groom their product backlog.

Collection of techniques

  1. User Story format: (As a [type of user] I want [some goal] so that [some reason])
  2. Three C’s (Card, Conversation and Confirmation)
  3. INVEST model
  4. Special story types – Research, Spike & Tracer bullet

Collection of Tools

  1. Index cards or sticky pads (lots of them)
  2. Sticky dots
  3. Sharpies
  4. Poker Planning cards
  5. Whiteboard/Flipcharts
  6. Scissors

These are some tools and techniques that I find myself applying most frequently. The list above is a basic toolkit. (Good barbers always have a secret stash of innovative experimental contraptions, should the customer feel adventurous ;))

Application of tools and techniques during product backlog grooming is highly contextual and it largely depends on the nature of the backlog prior to the grooming session, comfort level of product owner and team with grooming techniques, and other external factors that indirectly influence the backlog grooming session.

A well functioning agile team grooms its product backlog at least once every sprint to build a professional product that sports stylish curls with hints of highlighting.

 

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