What Is a Backlog, How Does It Work, and What’s Its Purpose?

What Is a Backlog?

Scrum backlogs are a list of all the work that needs to be done. It’s where you store things you need to do in the future.

Specifically, a product backlog is a list of the new features, changes to existing features, bug fixes, and other items that help teams achieve specific outcomes. Nothing gets done unless it’s on the product backlog, but just because something has been noted doesn’t mean you’re obligated to deliver them since it only represents an option for delivering certain things rather than commitments.

It should be straightforward and easy to add an item to the product backlog and it should be equally easy to remove a product backlog item.

Typically, as previously stated, the items on a product backlog include user stories, changes to existing functionality, and bug fixes.

When organizing your product backlog, it’s imperative that the items are ranked by priority, with the items ranked highest representing the team’s most important to complete.

The size and detail of a product backlog item can vary based on the time frame in which it is needed. 

When an item will be worked on soon, these items should usually contain enough information for the team to start work immediately. However, if they are not slated for any specific timeframe then their outline needs to remain broad with little detail so that they may carry over into other projects as needed or desired.

Product backlog items are continuously changing and evolving as team members gain a better understanding of the outcome. These changes in order, addition or removal of product backlog items, and refinement to existing ones give the dynamic characteristic to the development process for any given project/product.

When it comes to the product backlog, a team may have various people with different roles. 

The person in charge of maintaining all things relating to this list is called the “product owner.” This position requires keeping track of what items are removed once they’re completed and/or need no longer be on there for whatever reason.

When changes happen within teams such as new members or objectives, these should also be reflected by changing priorities accordingly so everything stays up-to-date!

Who Makes the Final Decision on Prioritizing the Product Backlog?

In Scrum, the product owner is the sole person responsible for prioritizing stories within the product backlog. 

This doesn’t mean the product owner is alone in his task– he can ask for whatever help he needs.

It should be understood that, most importantly, the product owner is a proxy for the customer. The more he understands what the customer wants and needs, the better off their project will be in terms of cost-effectiveness and sustainability.

They should maintain close contact with their customers to collect all necessary information from them about how they would like this new product or feature brought into fruition.

Talking to other stakeholders can also give them some insight as well – it’s important that there are no surprises during development.

It only takes one major change request at an expensive time near the launch date to set things back by weeks if not months on end without proper planning beforehand.

With that being said, the product owner is the single person responsible for deciding the priorities at the end of the day. This is why you shouldn’t ever have multiple product owners.

There has to be a single point of truth for decisions– the product owner.

So then where does the scrum master fall into all of this?

Think of the scrum master as the team’s leader. He or she must remain impartial to all matters of product design and decision-making, but still, be able to push back against any obstacles that may inhibit a productive workflow on the project.

They’re like moderators in this way – they cannot play favorites with members of their team nor can they interfere if there are disagreements about how best to move forward for example.

If they do venture too deep into these sorts of discussions, it will only serve as an impediment when trying to solve problems alongside their teammates since their time would now be split between two responsibilities rather than just one.

With this being said, the scrum master will always be able to help the product owner in the process, but they will not get involved in the final say themselves.

Keeping the scrum master from prioritizing uses the same logic for why a project manager and a scrum master should never be the same person. 

Many companies will try this because they want to perform agile practices without changing their old values, processes, or organizations–but it doesn’t work like that.

Backlog Techniques


RICE scoring model is a prioritization framework designed to help product managers determine which products, features, and other initiatives make the cut by ranking these items according to four factors. 

These factors form the acronym RICE – Reach (the number of customers who would use this feature), Impact (how much it will improve your company’s bottom line or revenue if implemented successfully); Confidence in our ability to deliver on that estimate; Effort required for development time/costs. 

Using a scoring system like this can provide companies with three key benefits: 

1) enabling better-informed decisions from less biased decision-makers. 

2) helping defense choices when challenged by executives. 

3) reducing risk involved with new ideas being introduced into already risky environments.

MoSCow Method:

The MoSCoW Method is a framework for effectively communicating to key stakeholders what and why you are working on certain features. 

MoSCoW stands for Must Have (necessary), Should Have (preferable but not necessary) Could have (possibly useful or advantageous), Won’t Get right now.

It tends to be used by waterfall-based enterprises, but may work better in agile environments when time constraints make it difficult or impossible to complete the entire project at once.

It helps key stakeholders understand which backlog items are most important to focus on and also saves time and energy by categorizing them more efficiently. 

Value Vs. Effort

The Value Vs. Effort prioritization method helps simplify everything by taking a list of various features and initiatives, quantifying them with value and effort scores to determine their place on the matrix accordingly. 

The Value Vs. Effort prioritization method is a great way for organizations to utilize their resources in the most effective and efficient manner possible while also staying true to company values and goals, as well as delivering on customer promises– all of which will lead to increased revenue or growth if executed correctly.  

The features are ranked according to how much value they provide relative to the effort needed for implementation; this can either be measured by ROI (return-on-investment) or total cost involved per feature over the time period it would take them until full development, etc., whichever seems more appropriate given specific circumstances

1-2-3 Later

The Product Owner looks through all the Product Backlog Items three times.

The first time, they try to find the most important item on which work should be done next and set it aside while inspecting other items in a similar manner.

They repeat this process twice more with inspection of each new batch of options happening two at a time (one from earlier batches) until finally arriving back where we started–the original list again but now ordered according to priority by urgency for completion.

This technique is best used when there are less than 25 total backlog items.

Simple two-factor ordering

First, the Product Owner gives each of these items a business value from 0 to 5 with higher numbers meaning that they are more valuable to the company.

Then, this person takes them over and asks for help categorizing them into two groups: 1) small enough so it can be completed in less than one day if everyone swarms on it; 2) everything else too big or uncertain about fitting into the time frame.

The product owner looks at all those who fit the first category based mostly on their score and places them in order accordingly then moves onto adding anything left out.

The Product Owner should only focus on items in the “small enough” category for this disambiguation work. The other items can be left in a near-random order, which helps make prioritization decisions easier when there are many options to choose from that have the same business value score. This technique works well when there are between 20 and 50 Product Backlog Items

The Product Owner should only focus on items in the “small enough” category for this disambiguation of work.

The other items can be left in a near-random order, which helps make prioritization decisions easier when there are many options to choose from that have the same business value score. This technique works well when there are between 20 and 50 Product Backlog Items.

Similarly, all of these techniques still require some thought if multiple items within one category share an equal business value score; however, it is wise not to worry about them too much as long as they’re classified under “small” size (which typically means fewer than twenty).

FIFO with Expedited Items

In this technique, the Product Backlog Items are done in order of requests with an exception that can be made by the product owner to move a set number at the start of each sprint.

As well, items on top may also be deleted if they have been completed or deemed irrelevant. This process works for any size and quantity but only when all entries are small enough to complete within one Sprint period

Product Backlog vs. Sprint Backlog

Basically, the sprint backlog is a short-term plan for the team’s workload. The product backlog features long-term plans, which are determined by lists of deliverables that make your products more valuable and useful to users.

Many people might think that these two tasks subsist on one another; this isn’t always true because, in reality, they can both be different in approaches even if their goals stay the same: items from only one may end up as part of another every once in a while.

The product backlog is a container for work you think will be necessary to keep your company competitive. It can also change frequently with items being added or taken out on a regular basis, and it’s generally larger than the sprint backlog due to its higher level of granularity (fewer things broken down below user story levels).

The product owner oversees this list containing mainly tasks that have not been assigned yet but are planned in order to make sure there’s always something new coming up so customers never get bored.

The sprint backlog, on the other hand, is a container for work the team has committed to doing as part of their next sprint.

It’s an output from the meeting where they decide on what work will be done this upcoming week and month, which usually lasts one to four weeks in length.

The contents are generated by user stories that have been agreed upon during discussions about features with users or clients, but it can also include bugs, refactoring tasks (making code more efficient), etc. if needed.

Lastly, Chisel helps teams organize and prioritize their product backlog. It is a simple, yet powerful tool that makes it easy to collaborate with your team members on the back end of any project or initiative.

With intuitive features like Kanban boards, you can easily see what tasks are due next and whether they have been completed.

Best of all, Chisel is free forever! Give it a try here.

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