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Backlog grooming vs sprint planning: What’s the difference?
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Backlog grooming vs sprint planning: What’s the difference?

Understand the differences between backlog grooming vs sprint planning—and how to prepare for each session to ensure success.

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Like many great product names, Jira originally started as an in-joke among software developers.* Inspired by the Bugzilla bug tracker, the Atlassian team developed their version, called “Gojira,” or “Godzilla” in Japanese. Losing the “Go,” it underwent successive interactions, morphing into an issue tracker and, eventually, a comprehensive Agile project management solution. 

Atlassian founders Mike Cannon-Brookes and Scott Farquhar might only have been college students, but they knew the value of developing their product in iterative sprints, a la Agile. And how to prioritize features development based on user needs and stakeholder input. 

If you’re new to working this way, however, it can take a while to get your head around Agile processes. For example, backlog grooming and sprint planning are related tasks, but which comes first? Who do you need to talk to? And how should you prepare for each session? Do you even need to have two separate sessions?  

To answer all these questions, we’ll walk you through backlog grooming vs sprint planning, including where they sit in the product development lifecycle, who’s involved, and–crucially–how to prepare. You see, both processes go better with careful preparation and the right tools. That’s why we’ll outline what to do beforehand so you can get more done–and more out of–each session.  

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What’s the difference between backlog grooming and sprint planning? 

Backlog grooming (aka backlog refinement) is an ongoing process that happens regularly throughout the Agile development cycle, including before sprint planning. The aim is to keep your product backlog prioritized, organized, and detailed so the development team can assess the effort involved in each feature, bug fix, etc., and vote on what to work on next. 

Sprint planning is a one-off, time-boxed event where the team selects items from the product backlog to tackle in an upcoming sprint and defines how they’ll do the work.  

As we’ll see below, the backlog grooming meeting only involves certain team members, but sprint planning involves the whole Scrum team. 

Why is product backlog refinement important? 

Backlog grooming is important because it ensures user stories are organized, detailed, and actionable, which makes for smoother sprint planning. When the dev team has all the relevant information, they can evaluate the effort involved in producing each item and, therefore, what they can realistically deliver in the sprint. 

Backlog items are also prioritized based on stakeholder input, which helps define and align the team's work with customer needs and strategic company objectives. For example, if converting free trials to paid users is a key objective, you can prioritize features that help new users realize value early on. 

If your backlog is organized and detailed, it’s also easier to go in and select different items to work on if markets or customer needs change, so you stay agile and adaptable. 

How to prepare for a backlog grooming session 

Next, we’ll dive into the stages of backlog grooming, from before the session to post-session follow up.

Talk to the right people

Before the backlog refinement session, the product owner should meet with key stakeholders to understand evolving business needs and gather feedback that may cause them to reassess development priorities. For example, if your competitor just launched a faster, more responsive website, prioritizing updates to your site becomes more important.   

The product owner may also work with the Scrum Master (if this person has a technical background) to leverage their practical knowledge and get input on what’s achievable in the upcoming sprint. The goal is to have all user stories ordered by priority as well as feasibility. A technical Scrum Master or representative from the dev team can also help break down high-level epics and complex user stories into clear increments that the team can work on.

Pro tip: Set up a dedicated Switchboard room to meet with stakeholders and gather input before backlog grooming. All apps, docs, and files work in Switchboard, so you can explore your product backlog and other materials side by side. After the meeting, everything stays right where you left it, so you can refer back anytime. 

Hard to schedule a meeting with busy execs? No problem: just ask them to hop into the room async and leave their feedback in a Google Doc or similar. 
Switchboard room with project materials and people.
With all your materials in your Switchboard room, you’re always communicating in context.

Prepare the backlog

The actual backlog grooming session should be short, around 30-60 minutes. Keeping it snappy relies on the product owner coming prepared with a detailed, thoughtfully segmented backlog that’s been refined through consultation with stakeholders. The more detailed and well-organized the backlog, the more efficient the discussion will be.   

To this end, the product owner should:

  • Add any missing detail to user stories and items so the entire team can understand exactly what’s involved in tackling each one. 
  • Break down large user stories into smaller, more manageable tasks.
  • Prioritize product backlog items based on stakeholder input and project needs, taking into account factors like urgency, business value vs complexity, timeframes, budgets, dependencies, and the cost of not including an item in the sprint, etc. 
  • Clarify acceptance criteria for each story to be considered “ready.” This gives the team a shared understanding of what they’ll need to deliver, enabling more effective planning and execution. 

Schedule the meeting 

Once the product owner has prepared the backlog, the Scrum Master or meeting facilitator schedules the meeting with the development team. If necessary, they may also invite subject matter experts to provide additional insights, if they didn’t gather these beforehand. For example, someone from Quality Assurance can provide input on testing requirements for a particularly complex development, so the team can better understand what’s involved. 

The meeting owner should also prepare and share an agenda so everyone knows what to expect. Agenda items might include reviewing user stories, group discussion of risks and blockers, and playing “Planning Poker” to assign points for effort to each story and vote on what to tackle.

Pro tip: Share the agenda and backlog in your Switchboard room so everyone can check them out before the meeting.
Switchboard room with project materials.
Switchboard lets you share materials asynchronously, which saves time on readouts during the call.

Use the right tools

To prepare for backlog grooming, it helps to have the right tools in place. For example: 

  • Spreadsheets or backlog grooming tools like Jira to list, update, and prioritize backlog items
  • Planning poker tools like Parabol so you can play online
  • Digital workflow solutions like Zapier to connect the tools in your tech stack and save time manually tracking down and compiling information to add to user stories 
  • Asynchronous collaboration tools like Switchboard that also offer video conferencing features, so you can gather and share information before meeting to discuss it
Pro tip: With Switchboard, you don’t have to choose between backlog grooming tools: they all work in the room with no integrations. Explore your backlog, play planning poker, and set up follow-up tasks in your project management platform without switching between tools and tabs.
Switchboard room with Asana and chat.
All your favorite apps work in Switchboard.

How does sprint planning work in Scrum? 

Sprint planning is a key process in Scrum that involves the entire Scrum team, the product owner, the Scrum Master, and the software development team. The aim is to move from strategy to execution by collaboratively defining a sprint goal and selecting work to include in the upcoming sprint that aligns with overall company and product strategies. This clarifies the focus and scope of the sprint and provides a shared understanding of priorities. 

During sprint planning, the Scrum team also determines what they can realistically take on based on their capacity, past performance, and definitions of done. It’s also a chance to reflect on past sprints and build on learnings by improving their processes and systems. 

How to prepare for sprint planning

Like backlog grooming, the more you prepare before the sprint planning meeting, the smoother it will be. One of the most important tasks is to refine the product backlog and run the backlog grooming session, as outlined above. 

Here’s what to do next.

Clarify priorities 

This should happen as part of the backlog grooming process, but the product owner must come to the sprint planning meeting with a clear understanding of customer needs and business goals based on stakeholder feedback and the product vision. These priorities then inform the vision for the sprint, which helps the team define the sprint goal.  

Once defined, the product owner should share the priorities with the team in advance so they’re prepared for the sprint meeting.

Calculate team velocity 

Next, the Scrum Master collects or reviews data like story points from previous sprints. This allows them to calculate team velocity or, to put it another way, make informed decisions about how much work the team can take on in the next sprint. This will be crucial when it comes to resource planning and allocation, adjusting workloads, and setting timelines and deadlines. In a nutshell, it ensures the team doesn’t overcommit to work that they won’t be able to deliver. 

For example, if a project backlog contains 200 story points and team velocity is 50 story points per sprint, you’ll need four sprints to complete the project. 

Gauge team capacity 

To further determine what the team can take on, the Scrum Master also calculates team capacity by determining sprint duration and the total number of hours involved. Then, they look at how many hours the team can work each day and how factors like public holidays or vacation time will impact individual team members’ capacities. 

At this point, the Scrum Master may also identify and deal with any obstacles that could affect the team’s capacity. For example, if some team members are on multiple projects that will affect the time they have available for this sprint. 

By calculating team capacity, the Scrum Master is better placed to ensure the team commits to a realistic amount of work without getting burned out. 

Schedule the meeting 

The Scrum Master usually leads the sprint planning session. When they’re prepared for the session, they’ll schedule the meeting. People to invite usually include the product owner and the development team. 

At this point, they should also share a time-boxed agenda and any necessary materials, like sprint priorities and the product backlog. Sharing these in your Switchboard room ahead of the meeting saves time on readouts when it starts. It also ensures team members come prepared, informed, and ready to make decisions.

Switchboard room menu including quarterly planning room
Set up a dedicated planning room in Switchboard, so nobody ever has to dig through Slack threads to find materials again.

Use the right tools 

Here are some sprint planning tools that make preparation and discussion more efficient and productive: 

  • Switchboard to set up dedicated sprint planning rooms, share and explore materials async, and discuss on the call. People can also contribute via chat, polls and surveys, or by starting a comment thread on any item in the room. After the meeting, you can ask Switchboard AI to summarize room activity and post the summary in the room, which saves a ton of time manually creating and sharing minutes.   
  • Asana, Jira, Trello, etc. for Agile project management, velocity tracking, and task assignment and tracking with views like Kanban, calendar, etc.  
  • GitHub Issues to break issues down into actionable tasks and provide project insights, workflow management, and AI-assisted code creation.
  • and Linear to break product development into stages, manage tasks, plan sprints, automatically track sprint cycles, and get smart indicators for capacity planning. 

Backlog grooming vs sprint planning: Great preparation makes both go smoother  

Backlog grooming are separate, but interlinked, processes, but they have one thing in common: The more you prepare, the more productive and efficient your sessions will be. 

To do that, make sure you’re talking to the right people before the session to get stakeholder input and understand business goals. This ensures you have all the information the team needs to make decisions about what to work on in the sprint. You also want the right people in the room in each session: backlog grooming is best handled with the product owner and development team, while you want cross-functional teams in the room for sprint planning. 

For both sessions, be sure to share your agenda and any relevant materials beforehand so people can look them over and come to the call prepared to get down to work. Fortunately, Switchboard’s dedicated rooms make it easy to do that: just set one up, add the apps, files, and docs you need with a simple copy-paste, and invite people to hop in on their own time. Then, when it’s time for the meeting, you can explore any item in the room side by side and connect via video, chat, voting, or comments. 

Get more out of your product development sessions.   
Switchboard’s dedicated rooms let you gather and share insights asynchronously or in real-time, so you’re all on the same page when it comes to making decisions.  
Sign up free

Thanks to Cristiano Bellucci, Founder, DigitIdeas, Technology Vision Strategist, Fujitsu for insights that contributed to this post. 

*What does Jira mean? Atlassian FAQs

Frequently asked questions about backlog grooming vs sprint planning

What comes first, sprint planning or backlog grooming? 

Backlog grooming comes before sprint planning. You need to refine your product backlog so it’s organized, detailed, and prioritized so the development team can vote on which items to tackle in the next sprint. After backlog grooming, you can move forward to sprint planning with a clear idea of what’s involved in developing each feature, bug fix, etc. This lets the team define a sprint goal and select what to work on.  

What’s the difference between backlog refinement and sprint planning? 

Backlog refinement is an ongoing process that happens at least once before sprint planning. The aim is to organize and prioritize user stories in your backlog so the development team can assess the effort involved. After that, the Scrum team meets for a one-off sprint planning meeting to select features from the backlog to work on in the upcoming sprint.  

What’s the difference between a product backlog and a sprint backlog? 

The product backlog includes all user stories and work items for an entire product development project. The sprint backlog is a subset of the product backlog that includes only the items or tasks the team will work on in that sprint. 

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Get more out of your product development sessions.

Switchboard’s dedicated rooms let you gather and share insights asynchronously or in real-time, so you’re all on the same page when it comes to making decisions.