Steps: Groom Stories


  1. Overview
  2. Pre-Groom the Backlog
  3. Review the Story Order
  4. Groom a Story
  5. Create Acceptance Criteria
  6. Address Dependencies
  7. Address Risks
  8. Create Tasks
  9. Groom to the Goal



In your first few Grooming Sessions, follow the boxes below in order. In a later Retrospective Ceremony, feel free to change up the order as a team to fit your needs.

The Facilitator (or substitute) will guide all of the grooming steps, except the next set, during each Grooming Session.

Pre-Groom the Backlog

Team Guide:

  1. Schedule a recurring meeting with the Customer prior to the last Grooming Session of each sprint (or near the end of the sprint if the team only does grooming during the Planning Ceremony).
  2. At each meeting:
    1. Add any new user stories from the Customer to the backlog.
      Note: This refers to the Product Backlog, Release Backlog, or Epic Backlog, whichever your team uses for planning.
    2. Confirm the rank order of the stories at the top equal to 200% of the team’s Sprint Goal.
      Example: If your team set a goal of seven stories for the current sprint, review the top 14.
    3. Reach agreement on the wording of the story statement and the Acceptance Criteria of the top 200%, recording answers to any questions you ask.
    4. If any of those stories have blockers liable to continue into the Planning Ceremony, review that number of additional stories.

Details: “Pre-Groom for Speed.”

Review the Story Order

Facilitator, during each Grooming Session:

  1. Show the team the backlog and mention the Grooming Goal:
    1. At least 150% of the number of stories likely to be in the next sprint.
    2. No more than two ungroomed stories near the top of the Backlog.
      Note: “Backlog” refers to the Product Backlog, Release Backlog, or Epic Backlog, whichever your team uses for planning.
  2. Ask if there are questions about the order for the Customer or Team Guide, and get the answers.
  3. Ask if there are suggestions for re-ordering based on technical reasons.
    Caution: Ask members not to question the business reasons for the order, though they can ask questions for understanding them. Those reasons are up to the Customer.
  4. Briefly discuss the reasons for each suggested change, and ask the TG for permission to revise the order.
  5. If the TG wants to retain the current order of any item under discussion, retain it and close off further debate.
  6. Check whether any blocked stories within the Grooming Goal range can be unblocked.
  7. If at any point during grooming, a blocker is identified:
    1. Mark the story as blocked, with the reason, and if possible add an action item to clear the blocker.
    2. Cease discussion on that story (until unblocked).
  8. Continue to the next set.

Details: “Review the Order.”

Groom a Story


  1. Open the top ungroomed, unblocked story in the backlog.
  2. If the end user is not named as the user, try to find a way to make them the user, or another role as close as possible to the end user.
    Tip: Ask: “Will this do anything for the end user?”
    Details: “Who is the Real User?
  3. Review and revise the “what” part of the story until everyone’s questions have been answered.
    Details: “What’s the Real Story?
  4. Review and revise the “so” statement until participants agree on the purpose.
    Details: “Why Do the Story?
    Note: Ignore “when” the story will be done.
  5. Ask if the story can be completed in one sprint.
  6. If not, break it into new, smaller stories resulting in releasable products that can be completely done in one sprint each, and perform the steps above for the first one or two in the series.
  7. Continue to the next set.


  • As questions get answered, record the agreements in short bullet points on the story card (only enough information to serve as reminders).
  • Prevent “solutioning” beyond the minimum the team requires to task-out and estimate the story or provide information about dependencies.

Create Acceptance Criteria


  1. If there are no Acceptance Criteria (AC), facilitate the creation of a single-sentence SMART goal.
  2. Review and revise the criteria until you have:
    1. A tangible deliverable (e.g., a working feature or documented agreement).
    2. Consensus that it is valuable.
    3. Consensus it can be completed in one sprint.
    4. Approval from the Customer, or the TG on his/her behalf.
  3. Continue to the next set.


  • For criteria common to all stories of a type, create a “Definition of Done.”
  • If people want more detailed criteria, list those items in a separate “Notes” section below the AC; make the AC a summary or bottom-line statement of the deliverable.

Details: “The Power of Acceptance.”

Address Dependencies


  1. Ask:
    1. “Is this story dependent on another of our stories?”
    2. “Are we dependent on anyone outside of the team to complete the story?”
      Note: If not, skip to the next step set.
  2. If so, add the dependency to the story card.
    Tip: Use your tracker’s link function, if it has one, to show the relationship between the story and another.
  3. Ask if the story needs to be blocked, and do so if “yes,” naming the dependency as the reason.
    Tip: Block the story until the other work is done, if possible, or until people have verified their availability at the times they are needed.
  4. Ask what steps should be taken to address the dependency and create as appropriate:
    • Action items.
    • Sprint tasks, including coordination “reminder tasks.”
    • Shared stories (see tips below).
  5. Continue to the next set.


  • If equipment such as a shared machine or computer system is mentioned, convert that name into the team or person responsible for it.
  • If a story gets blocked, stop grooming it and move on to the next one, unless grooming will provide information needed to clear the blocker.
  • For new shared stories:
    • Block the current story and create an action item for someone (usually the TG) to contact the other team.
    • If using a digital tracker with a story splitting function, create the tasks first and split them between the teams’ copies.

Details: “Caring for Dependents.”

Address Risks


  1. Ask:
    1. “What could go wrong that would affect our ability to complete the story within one sprint?”
    2. “What might go wrong if we complete this story—in other words, what could we break?”
      Note: If the answer is “nothing,” skip to the next step set.
  2. For any “yes” specific to the story, add a list of possible answers (“risks”) to the story card.
  3. For each risk that seems significant:
    1. Ask and rate: “How much of an impact would the risk have?”
      Note: Use a 0–3 scale, with 3 highest.
    2. Using the same scale, ask and rate: “How likely is the risk?”
      Note: Delete any risk with a zero for either rating.
    3. Add together the numbers.
    4. For each scoring a total of at least 4, determine whether to “Avoid,” “Transfer,” “Mitigate,” or “Accept” the risk.
  4. Determine whether any or all of these are true:
    • The story should be blocked due to the risk.
    • Action items are needed to address the risk before it is committed into a sprint.
    • Tasks are needed to address the risk during the sprint.
  5. Continue to the next set of steps.

Details: “Projects are a Risky Business.”

Create Tasks


  1. If you:
    1. Have a relevant set of standard tasks in a digital tracker:
      1. Copy them and ask for needed changes.
      2. Skip to Step 5.
    2. Use ATDD:
      1. Enter as the first task something like, “Create test case,” unless a research task is required first.
      2. Add a task at the end for passing the test case.
  2. Ask: “What is the first (or next) step we will have to take to complete this story?”
  3. Record the task in your tracker in a few words, starting with an action word like “Write” or “Perform.”
    Note: Starting with a verb helps the team stay focused on actions and tends to be more motivating.
  4. Ask: “What comes next?”
  5. Repeat the previous two steps until the team can think of no more tasks.
    Tip: Remind members they will be able to revise the list during the Planning Ceremony, and during the sprint if necessary.
  6. For placeholder (e.g., support), meeting, or other tasks multiple people will do, create one task that will be copied for each person during the Planning Ceremony.
  7. Confirm that each task can be done in one working day or less, preferably, or at most two.
    Note: Longer is acceptable for placeholder and research tasks.
    Tip: For people struggling with right-sizing, ask, “What is the first step you will have to take to complete this task?”
  8. Continue to the next set.

Details: “Take Them to Task.”

Groom to the Goal


  1. Repeat the grooming step sets above for as many unblocked and ungroomed stories as you can in the scheduled meeting time, working from the top down, until you meet the Grooming Goal.
  2. If any stories within the goal range have blockers liable to continue through the Planning Ceremony, groom that number of additional stories.
  3. If the goal is not met, try to schedule another Grooming Session prior to the next Planning Ceremony.

Details: “Groom to the Goal.”

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