Sprint Backlog: What It Is, Who Owns It, & More

Members of product teams have heard of sprints in scrum and agile, and some may even know what it is.

But do you know what the sprint backlog is?

The sprint backlog lists the tasks that need to be completed within the duration of a sprint. It includes everything from user stories to bugs and can be used by any team member during their work on the project.

Read more on what is included in a sprint backlog, who owns it, when it’s created, and how it works.

What Is Sprint Backlog?

Sprint backlog can be defined as the list of tasks that need to be completed in sprints. These tasks can include anything from user stories, bugs, and different kinds of work for the project team members.

The sprint backlog is then updated through discussions between developers and managers during daily scrum meetings or at other times as needed by the business stakeholders. Tasks found on the sprint backlog are then prioritized and divided into sprints.

The team is accountable for completing the tasks in the list as per deadlines determined by their manager, which will lead to successful project delivery on time.

The purpose of a sprint backlog is to provide visibility on what needs to be done and by when and also help to estimate the time needed for tasks. We need a sprint backlog before any sprint so that we can estimate the time taken for tasks and allocate it accordingly.

The advantages of a sprint backlog are that it helps to prioritize, divide and organize tasks into sprints. One of the benefits of a sprint backlog is that it gives team members an idea of how much work they will get done in one week.

For example, if someone sees five tasks on their list and knows each task takes two hours to complete, then this person can expect to finish ten hours’ worth of work by Friday evening. This kind of estimation helps team members plan their personal and family lives.

The disadvantages of a backlog are that they don’t contain deadlines for task completion so there is no accountability in the system. A team member can take on any number of tasks at once and delay one or more without getting penalized.

Now that you know what a sprint backlog is, let’s understand it better with the help of a sprint backlog example.

What Is a Sprint Backlog Example?

Though there can be a wide range of sprint backlog examples. The sprint backlog example will be any task or activity that must be accomplished in a single sprint. It can include user stories, bugs to fix, technical debt issues, and more.

The items are created during product backlog grooming sessions before each sprint begins. For now, let’s consider the sprint backlog example from software development.

A good sprint backlog example is the bug list.

The sprint backlog example will also include any other items related to bugs such as when they were reported and who reported them.

The bug list is a demonstrative example of a sprint backlog because it is a list of tasks that the development team should be able to complete. A bug, in this context, refers to an error or problem with code that needs to be fixed.

It is usually owned by the product owner. This means that it requires their input and approval before being accepted into a sprint backlog. The development team can typically create this item in sprint planning without consulting them but they should have already discussed all of their bugs with him at some point during the project so he knows what has been fixed, what remains unfixed, and what has been deferred for future updates.

The development team should always have a clear idea of how many bugs are currently in the backlog and if there is any reason that more than the normal number will be added into it during sprint planning meetings so they can either address these concerns ahead of time or add them to the product backlog.

Apart from this, the additional sprint backlog example is a new feature to be built for the product that is lined up. This includes stories, epics, and sub-tasks (i.e., tasks that make up a story).

Having understood the sprint backlog in detail, let’s move to understand when it is created and who creates the sprint backlog.

When Is the Sprint Backlog Created?

The sprint backlog is created when the team meets to discuss what they will be working on in the next sprint. In other words, the sprint backlog emerges during the sprint planning stage.

It is important to create a sprint backlog during sprint planning because it helps everybody know what they need to do so that everyone is on the same page.

The sprint backlog can be created in minutes by writing everything down onto a piece of paper or whiteboard and then prioritizing it according to business value and other factors.

Without creating the sprint backlog,  it is difficult for the team to know what they should be working on. It is nearly impossible to start a sprint without creating a sprint backlog.

The next thing you need to do after creating a sprint backlog is to include tasks that are needed in order to complete user stories and other activities like grooming, coding, testing, and more.

A task may include adding new features or fixing bugs so it’s important not to leave anything out.

Each team should have a task owner in order to implement tasks that are related to completing user stories or other activities like grooming, coding, testing, and so on.

Keep in mind that the team members who are not involved with implementing a particular task should also stay updated on what’s happening. They should follow up regularly and ask questions when needed. This makes sure that they can be prepared to support the team whenever there is a need.

When creating a sprint backlog, remember to not put too many tasks that might be completed or may never get done because this will only cause confusion and stress among the team members.

To make sure that such precautions are taken while creating the sprint backlog, it is crucial to assign the task of creating the sprint backlog to someone.

Who Creates the Sprint Backlog?

The list of tasks in the sprint backlog is created by the product owner, who may delegate this responsibility to a scrum master if he or she wishes.

The product owner’s role includes determining which tasks are included and prioritizing them according to business value and other factors. The product owner is the person or team member working with stakeholders to prioritize requirements.

While the product owner is responsible for creating a sprint backlog, it is highly crucial to gather input from other team members about which user stories should be included in each sprint.

A scrum master’s job in this case includes creating a prioritized list of user stories that are needed by the end of a sprint so that there can be an achievable goal. They will also need input from others on what needs to be built in each sprint. In the next section, you’ll understand what is included in a sprint backlog.

What Is Included in a Sprint Backlog?

A sprint backlog includes all the tasks a team expects to complete over an iteration. They are usually tracked by story points and organized in priority order so that they can be estimated, planned for, and completed efficiently.

Sprint backlog mainly includes product backlog items that are needed to be completed in each sprint. This helps the team to know what to-dos are assigned to them.

However, each backlog is uniquely tailored because it is based on what needs to happen in each sprint. However, there are common items you’ll see across all scrum sprint backlogs. They are listed below:

  • Releases: Unfinished work from the sprint that is not ready to be released yet, this includes past releases and future releases.
  • Completed Tasks: Tasks completed in a previous iteration or any other related tasks needed for release.
  • Work In Progress (WIP): Any unfinished task at hand that needs to be completed before the next iteration.
  • Backlog: All items in a sprint backlog, regardless of their status.

All of these components that are included in a sprint backlog help to create a framework for the team to work within. In other words, the scrum sprint backlog helps guide and provide structure for what needs to happen in each iteration of their project by identifying incomplete tasks with various statuses that need completion.

For example, since the sprint backlog includes a list of all items that are needed to be completed to reach the end goal of an iteration, it also includes tasks that are broken down into smaller components, which in turn include various statuses such as “To Do”, “In Progress”, and “Done”.

Now you know what is included in a sprint backlog. But, how detailed should the sprint backlog be? Keep reading to know more!

How Detailed Should the Sprint Backlog Be?

The sprint backlog must be detailed enough that the team members can clearly understand what needs to be done. They should also know their individual tasks, and how much time it will take to complete them. This will allow for more accurate forecasts when it comes to planning out the rest of the sprint.

The sprint backlog must have enough details that team members are able to easily understand the tasks they need to accomplish within a specific timeframe. It is important that each task has a clear timeline associated with it.

In general, the sprint backlog should be detailed enough that team members are able to easily understand what they need to accomplish within a specific timeframe.

It is important as well for each task to have an associated timeline with it in order for everyone involved to know how much time will be needed from them and when those tasks must be completed by.

The purpose of keeping the sprint backlog detailed enough is to be able to easily track the progress of each task throughout the course of development, as well as knowing exactly when something has been successfully finished by its assigned member.

The purpose of the sprint backlog, however, is often confused with the release backlog. Read the next section to understand the difference between the two.

Release Backlog vs Sprint Backlog

The release backlog is the list of features that needs to be developed in a given time period, for example, three months. The sprint backlog, on the other hand, contains tasks and subtasks that need to be completed within one iteration or sprint cycle which may last between two weeks up to four weeks depending upon your company’s process.

The release backlog is focused on the larger goals, while the sprint backlog contains tasks that need to be completed within a given time period.

When it comes to prioritization, the release backlog prioritizes the features based on market needs, while the sprint backlog follows your company’s process of prioritization.

The release backlog is owned by product managers or other stakeholders who are responsible for outlining the goals and objectives to be achieved in a given time period whereas the sprint backlog is owned by the development team where they list down tasks that need to be completed within one.

The sprint backlog is dependent on the release backlog and is created after the planning meeting.

The metrics used while creating the release backlog are based on market needs or business goals while the sprint backlog is based on productivity and efficiency.

The release backlog outlines features that need to be developed in a given timeline, which is derived from user stories.

In case of any changes during development, product managers have the authority to review them with cross-functional teams (product owners, scrum master, development team, and the stakeholders).

Whereas, the metrics used while creating the sprint backlog are the number of tasks that can be completed in one iteration, the team’s velocity, and their dependencies.

The sprint backlog is a dynamic process as compared to the release backlog which remains static throughout an organization’s development life cycle.

The sprint backlog includes all the work items for the upcoming sprint while the release backlog contains future releases or major milestones to achieve. When it comes to the time span, the release backlog spans for a longer period of time compared to the sprint backlog.

Who Owns the Sprint Backlog?

The sprint backlog is collectively owned by the entire scrum team, which includes the product owner, the scrum master, and the development team. This is because each team member brings a unique perspective to the table, which can help to plan the sprint effectively and eliminate scope creep as far as possible.

The product owner creates the initial sprint backlog and then delegates its ownership to others on their team, who each reserve for themselves one or more items from it as “their responsibility.” The development team members further divide up all other tasks among themselves so that they can work together to complete them.

The ownership of the sprint backlog is divided among team members because it is important for each person to have an understanding of all items in their own backlog. They are accountable for its completion and it also helps them communicate with other members since each one knows what their teammates need from them.

The drawback of having this shared ownership of the sprint backlog is that the team might not have enough time to work on every task.

Because every team member will have a different worldview, there is a possibility of disagreements on what needs to be included in the sprint backlog. Apart from this, there could be an overflow of suggested improvements in the sprint backlog. This could hold true to the common proverb, “Too many cooks spoil the broth.”

As with any other agile methodology, it is important for every person on the team to work closely together and have a common understanding of all tasks.

Remember that the sprint backlog is a work in progress. It improves over and becomes better over time as the team members learn about what works for them.

This blog post intends to provide you with the facts (both good and bad) that are necessary so you can understand how Scrum does its job well when used correctly. You will be able to make informed decisions whether or not this agile methodology is best for your team.

In the next section, let’s understand who can execute the work of the sprint backlog.

Who Can Execute the Work of the Sprint Backlog?

The work of the sprint backlog is executed by the team members.

But, before we go any further, let’s start by understanding why we need to execute the work of the sprint backlog in the first place?

Sprint backlog needs to be executed because we need to be able to show the product owner what we have done at the end of a sprint.

For example, in an agile development project where you are working on software and your team has been assigned three stories for this iteration (sprint), they will list all these tasks in their backlog. Once work is completed, it needs to be listed in the sprint backlog to prove that it was accomplished and deliverable.

Once this is done, there are two scenarios: one where the work has been completed satisfactorily or another where not all of it could be finished.  In the latter situation, there will be a need to show what was not completed and why.

The sprint backlog is the most important part of scrum because it provides visibility on how much work has been accomplished during each sprint. It lists down all tasks that need to be done in order for your team to deliver their product at the end of the sprint.

If we have a ready-to-ship product at the end of each iteration, then our team’s sprint backlog should be empty.

Such an organized system helps to keep everyone on the same page while also being able to calculate productivity and points of improvement.

The most crucial part about executing the sprint backlog is the sprint planning meeting. The team meets to discuss the project goals and how they are going to divide up work for the next two weeks; this is done in a short, collaborative session where everyone has an equal voice.

Roles and responsibilities to execute the work of the sprint backlog:

To execute the work of the sprint backlog, there are roles and responsibilities involved. They are as follows:

  • Product Owner: The person who is responsible for setting the priorities and defining what work will be done in a sprint. This role also communicates with stakeholders outside the team to get their input on product features, etc.
  • Scrum Master: Oversees that all activities follow the scrum framework, such as doing daily scrums at the start of the day.
  • Development Team: Consists of developers who are responsible for doing coding, testing, and writing stories.

The team also has a daily scrum meeting that enables them to communicate with each other about anything related to their sprints and creates a safe space to discuss their problems.

When Is New Work Added to the Sprint Backlog?

The new work is added in the sprint backlog when the team has a new requirement that needs to be addressed in the upcoming sprint. The work may have been identified when reviewing issues, or it can come from an external stakeholder as well.

The stakeholders will then create and prioritize requirements based on how important these are for the product roadmap.

The work is then added to the sprint backlog and assigned a priority. It’s important that all stakeholders are involved in assigning priorities so that work doesn’t get over-prioritized or under-prioritized.

When the sprint starts, the team’s work is already divided into tasks. Usually, these are a few hours each and can be completed in one or two days if there are no interruptions to progress on any of them. But during this time, new opportunities may come up for work that needs to be done as soon as possible, which is usually a priority “A” task.

The team will discuss these new tasks and determine how much time they need to complete them, then add the work to the sprint backlog with their estimation of how long it will take before it’s completed.

This activity of adding new work to the sprint backlog is important because it helps the team to know how much work they can take on in future sprints. It helps them identify when they’re getting behind or when the work is too little to do in one sprint.

The team will also remove a task from the sprint backlog if it’s completed early or if there’s something more important that needs attention first. It helps them identify how many tasks are being accomplished and keeps everyone on track with their commitments.

The main purpose to add new work to the sprint backlog is to make sure that the team knows how much work they can prioritize. For example, a task might be too big for one sprint so it’s added to the next sprint backlog.

However, the disadvantage of adding new work to the sprint backlog is that it can make the team less productive because they’re dividing their attention.

This is why it is recommended that a task should be added to the sprint backlog only when there really isn’t enough time left in that sprint and never without conferring with the rest of the scrum process stakeholders.

Conclusion

It’s important to remember that there are many factors in creating a successful team. The sprint backlog is not the only thing that will help you do well, but it’s an important factor. For more information on how to plan a successful sprint, please take some time and read our blog post about The Art of Sprint Planning: An In-Depth Guide to the Productive Process.

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