What is a Sprint Backlog in Scrum?

If you’ve ever heard the word “backlog” used in the past, you can hardly be blamed if you assume that it has a negative connotation. After all, the term typically describes work that hasn’t been done and is piling up, as in “I’d love to get you that quarterly report, but I was out sick last week, and I came back to this backlog of work that needs to get done!”

But, as is the case with so many words, context is everything. For instance, the definition of a sprint backlog when you’re talking about scrum methodology isn’t nearly as frightening as the standard, generic definition. In this article, we explore the what, why, and how of the sprint backlog.

Let’s dive right in; there’s a lot to cover.

Sprint Backlog Overview and Definition

According to Scrum.org, a sprint backlog ”…is the set of product backlog items selected for the Sprint, plus a plan for delivering the product increment and realizing the sprint goal. The sprint backlog is a forecast by the development team about what functionality will be in the next increment and the work needed to deliver that functionality into a ‘done’ increment.”

Or put another way: it’s the development team’s plan for what functions will be included in the next product increment, and what work will be required to deliver the tasks in question, including how long each task will take.

The sprint backlog helps facilitate the overall Scrum approach.

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What is a Sprint Backlog?

We covered the definition, but what exactly is a sprint backlog composed of? What are its characteristics? If you want to know how to create a sprint backlog, then read on, you’ll find the procedure is rather easy.

Many backlogs come in the form of spreadsheets, but this by no means a requirement. The backlog is divided into user stories, which in turn are divided into tasks. Each story and associated task are broken down into who it’s assigned to, the item’s current status (e.g., To-Do, In Progress, Done), and the estimated time of completion. This description is the most basic breakdown and covers the needed fundamentals. Scrum teams can also add other custom entries based on their unique needs.

The process begins at the sprint planning meeting, where the product owner and the scrum team discuss the objectives that the sprint should achieve, plus any product backlog items whose successful completion will help meet the sprint goals. The meeting also includes prioritizing the tasks.

The entire team then talks about the proposed product backlog items, though the ultimate decision about which items get pulled into the sprint falls on the development team. The team also decides when the sprint goal gets defined by the entire scrum team.

Some teams favor using optional agile sprint planning tools and previously successful techniques to help them build their backlog, such as estimation techniques like Planning Poker. 

What’s the Difference Between a Sprint Backlog and a Product Backlog?

So, a sprint backlog is a subset of a product backlog, with the sprint items pulled from the latter. A product backlog is defined as a compilation of everything that needs to be completed to finish a project. So, while the product backlog includes everything found in the sprint backlog, the reverse isn’t true.

Let’s use a party as an example. You are throwing a big party, and so you come up with a list of tasks that need to be done before the big day. Let’s call that list of party errands your “product backlog.” Now, let’s say that one of the items is “create a vegetarian pasta salad.” You delegate that task to a pasta-making team. The plan they come up with to create this vegetarian pasta would be the “sprint backlog.” The pasta making project is only one part of the overall party plan, much in the same way that the sprint backlog is just one part of the total product backlog.

Expected Benefits of a Sprint Backlog

Sprint backlogs benefit scrum teams because:

  • They help get everyone on the same page at the start of the sprint. The backlog helps organize everything and everyone, especially what needs to be done and how much time the team has to do it.
  • It gives every team member a fixed group of tasks and to-do assignments to focus on. Team members can rest assured that no one else will step on their toes since all the roles are clearly defined. This tactic eliminates redundancy, wasted time and resources, and conflicts over who is doing what.
  • It brings a higher degree of transparency and accountability to the process. Team members can monitor the sprint’s progress and keep an eye on any possible delays or time lags.
  • It gives the team opportunities to try out new strategies when working with items such as stories, fixes, and other related tasks, with minimal risk. By having a coherent and constantly updating timeline, developers can gauge how much time they have left to try out some different approaches.

Most people function better when then they are provided with direction and made to focus on a given task. The backlog helps give teams that focus.

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How to Manage a Sprint Backlog?

As a rule, the whole agile team (development team, product owner, Scrum Master) shares ownership of the sprint backlog. However, conventional wisdom dictates that the development team are the only ones who can make changes to the sprint backlog.

Members update the backlog as new information becomes available, generally during the daily scrum meeting. The Scrum Master creates an updated burndown chart every day, which shows the estimated amount of work left to do. Burndown charts feature a Y-axis representing the remaining workload, and an X-axis showing the sprint workday.

Sprint is a dynamic tool and is continually evolving as circumstances change and new elements get introduced. For instance, new jobs and tasks may be brought in or out of necessity, something perhaps not foreseen during the initial backlog creation.

There are various project management software tools available to help Scum Masters manage sprints and backlogs, making the task easier and helping to accommodate sudden unexpected glitches such as bugs found in the project’s features. A well-equipped Scrum Master has the right tools and flexibility to handle whatever bumps pop up on the road.

Backlog’s Reliance on Stand-Up Meetings

We touched upon daily scrum meetings earlier, but we need to go a little more in-depth with it. The Stand-Up meeting is an integral part of the sprint process, a 15-minute meeting held with all the team members, where the attendees address three questions:

  • What have you accomplished since the last meeting?
  • What will you be working on until the next meeting?
  • What factors are getting in your way or preventing you from doing your job?

When team members report an accomplishment, it gets factored into that specific backlog item, and then is used to determine how much work has been done and how much remains.

More Sprint Backlog Reading

There are more things to discover about the world of Scrum, and Simplilearn has a valuable collection of related information. For instance, Scrum Project Management: Pros and Cons gives a balanced look at management. If you’d like more information about scrum artifacts, then check out this Agile and Scrum tutorial.

If you’ve ever heard of agile and seen the term used in conjunction with Scrum, then you’ll find this article useful because it compares and contrasts the two methodologies. On a related note, this article focuses on both methods and breaks them down into easily-to-understand parts.

Speaking of agile, this article highlights the four key elements of ultra-successful Agile implementation. It’s a roadmap for doing Agile work for you and avoiding the pitfalls that have caused other organizations’ implementations to fail. Also, project managers will find these free agile tools a valuable resource in Scrum implementation.

Looking forward to becoming a Certified ScrumMaster? Try answering these CSM Exam Questions and assess your level of understanding.

Do You Want a Career in Scrum?

Many of today’s businesses and organizations have adopted the Scrum methodology to handle their critical projects, creating a demand for Scrum Masters. If that sounds intriguing to you, then check out Simplilearn’s Certified ScrumMaster (CSM) Certification Training.

The program provides you with a thorough overview of the scrum framework for agile project management. It prepares you to become a certified ScrumMaster. You’ll learn the basics of Scrum, including its lifecycle, how to organize a team, set up a project, and implement a scrum, ranging from releases and sprints to enterprise transformation. This two-day classroom training is what you need to open new career opportunities in multiple industry sectors.

You can earn an average of $90,000 annually if you gain CSM certification, according to Payscale. Check out Simplilearn today and take those first steps on the road to a challenging scrum-related career!

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