CRM Storytime Workshops

After a few sprints, the product backlog can look a lot like my family's refrigerator. It's stacked full. Some items are out of date. I don't even know what's in some of the containers. And I don't know who put most of the stuff in there. The storytime workshop is the CRM team's opportunity to get together in the kitchen and clear out the fridge.

Backlog grooming sessions and backlog refinement meetings are other terms for a storytime workshop. I prefer storytime because it reminds me of my happy days at pre-school.


Format for the storytime workshop

I find it helpful to run a 45-minute workshop split into three sessions:

  1. Front of the fridge: take a look at stories near the front and top of the refrigerator - the stories that might get used in a recipe in the next three sprints. Refine those stories by making sure they all have good titles and descriptions, accurate user roles, and complete acceptance criteria. Take an action away from the workshop if you need to get more details about a requirement.
  2. Back of the fridge: take a look at the stories way down at the bottom and at the back of the refrigerator. Clear out any duplicate or redundant stories. Spend a moment improving any stories with missing descriptions or user roles.
  3. Don't forget the freezer!: A useful practice, which I borrowed from Pivotal Tracker, is to have an icebox -- a container separate from the backlog for new and un-prioritised items. At the storytime workshop, clear out your icebox by transferring useful items to the backlog or throwing them directly into the trash.

If your backlog is a complete mess (a form of technical debt) then don't try and run a long storytime workshop to clear it in one go. Instead, hold several short workshops during the next sprint or two until all the clutter is gone.

Who participates in a storytime workshop?

You don't need all the CRM team members to hold a storytime workshop. Storytime workshops are often held mid-sprint when most of the team are busy developing features. The Product Owner needs to attend, along with any subject matter experts with detailed knowledge of the requirements, and as many of the CRM team as possible.

If you do manage to get the entire team together, even for a few minutes towards the end of the workshop, it's a good chance for a quick game of planning poker to estimate any stories that might be prioritised in the next few sprints.

How does your product backlog look? Do you have any other tips for clearing it out and making sure it doesn't get filled with clutter? I'd love to hear your ideas in the comments below.