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What is Sprint Backlog and How Does It Differ From Product Backlog?

Agile philosophy continues to be involved in the list of current project management trends. Agile project management can be a real helper in a variety of projects, but if it is not understood in a proper way, there will be challenges.

Specialists that work according to the Scrum methodology, know that common Scrum events include sprint planning, daily Scrum meetings, sprint review, and the retrospective event. And the key Scrum artifact is the sprint backlog. This backlog is highly versatile but it is easy to misuse.

In this post, we define what the sprint backlog is, how it fits into Scrum, and how it differs from the product backlog.

Sprint backlog vs product backlog: let's dive into these two potentially confusing terms.

What is a Sprint Backlog?

A sprint backlog is a set of items identified by the Scrum team that must be completed during the upcoming sprint.

Sprint planning is the meeting where the team selects some number of product backlog items. Usually, these items are presented in the form of user stories. They define the tasks necessary to complete each user story. It is crucial to estimate how many hours every task will need to be completed.

The team should select the items and size of the sprint backlog. A typical sprint backlog is a spreadsheet or a special tracking system. It can be also managed with the help of any special project management software solution designed specifically for Scrum.

It is expected for the team to update the sprint backlog during the Scrum sprint, as new information is available. Many teams do this during the daily Scrum meeting.

Scrum teams should do their best to pull the right amount of work into the Scrum sprint. However, sometimes too much or too little work is pulled in during planning, so the team needs to add or remove specific items.

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Product Backlog vs Sprint Backlog: How We Define the Difference?

All product owners, product managers, and their teams know that the product backlog is the comprehensive list of product-related tasks. This list should anyway involve all the things the cross-functional team is working on, either to deliver the product to market or to improve it.

Thorough prioritization helps these teams to keep all items in the order. It makes the product backlog communicate which user stories, features, bug fixes, and other essential items developers should work on next. A product backlog is also about as a tactical breakdown of the strategic plan outlined in a product roadmap.

A sprint backlog is much shorter. This list is pulled from the items on the product backlog, from the items the team defines during a sprint planning meeting. Those items are typically the most important tasks that need to be completed next.

Comparing a sprint backlog vs product backlog, we can note the following takeaways about the distinction between them:

  • Product teams should take the items for the sprint backlog directly from the product backlog.
  • The sprint backlog should remain fixed throughout the duration of the sprint, even if the product backlog can be changed frequently at any time in accordance with changing realities in the market or in the company.
  • The top-position items on a healthy product backlog will often represent the upcoming sprint backlog.
  • Product backlog grooming sessions should be conducted regularly to ensure that sprint planning meetings are effective and that the team is able to quickly identify proper tasks to place on the next sprint backlog.
  • In case it is impossible to complete certain sprint backlog items by the end of the sprint, the product team can add those unfinished tasks to the next sprint backlog or to the product backlog to be addressed again next time.

The role of the sprint backlog owner

The Scrum framework assumes that the Agile team (Scrum master, product owner, and developers) all share ownership of the sprint backlog. It means that all Scrum team members bring unique knowledge and insights to the project at the beginning of each sprint.

The PO should be aware of new market realities or changing the company's priorities changes. The insights from the entire team will help to arrive at a more feasible and healthy sprint backlog.

Often teams choose the items based on how well they align with the sprint goal, which the product owner sets (even though choosing the tasks for a sprint backlog is a team objective).

Final words: What is the value of the sprint backlog?

When a Scrum team is developing a sprint backlog, it looks like a valuable ritual and that is why:

  • At the beginning of each new sprint, it provides everyone with an opportunity to discuss what’s most strategically important to work on next.
  • It provides the development team with a set of tasks and to-do items that they should be focused on for the upcoming sprint. And there is no fear about their workload that could be completely upended at any time.
  • Finally, it provides Agile teams with a chance to apply new learnings about what types of user stories, bug fixes, and other development work can be completed within a sprint timeframe. It will allow them to better estimate timeframes and resource levels.

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