Everything you need to know about product backlogs and sprint backlogs

Whether you’re making a cup of coffee or rebranding a business, you’ll need to take some specific steps to finish what you started. In the world of software development, a product backlog is a list of those steps.

Far from being a random collection of to-do items, you’ll continually prioritize this list to keep the most urgent things at the top so the developers know which tasks to focus on first.

Product backlogs and sprint backlogs are a part of the scrum framework, and while they take their bearings from software development, teams across all industries have come to love them. Why? Because they’re practical, useful, and a great way to efficiently complete project work. Let’s start!

What is a product backlog?

A product backlog is a prioritized list of steps that you need to complete to finish a project. The product backlog is something that continually evolves. You’ll remove completed tasks and sometimes you’ll add items as the project grows.

What is a sprint backlog?

Think of the sprint backlog as being like an offshoot of the product backlog. You’ll group the items into sprints, and each sprint forms its very own backlog.

A sprint is a time box containing tasks that you must complete in that amount of time — usually two weeks. The scrum team works together to complete this work by the deadline. They focus on one sprint at a time and ignore all other items until it’s time for that sprint. Any items left over at the end of the sprint will be put back into the product backlog and addressed in the next sprint planning meeting.

At the start of each day, teams gather together for a sprint planning meeting, during which they’ll report back on how they’re doing. The project manager then updates the sprint backlog, which makes it easy to see which tasks have been completed and whether the team is staying on track. If it’s not updated daily, tasks can slip past uncompleted and unnoticed, which could spell trouble further on.

With smaller sprints, teams can check in regularly and adapt accordingly. If teams regularly struggle to finish sprints in the allotted time frame, the manager needs to take action. They can either create smaller, more manageable sprints and move the project completion date back — or hire extra help.

Sprints help developers focus on one task at a time. Breaking the project down into smaller, bite-sized pieces also makes it easier to manage and less daunting. It also makes it easier to see whether you’re falling behind or not because you’re checking in regularly.

Unlike the product backlog, sprint backlogs are unchangeable while they’re in progress. Any changes to sprints need to be agreed upon by everyone in sprint planning meetings before the starting whistle sounds.

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Three key scrum roles you need to know

1. Product Owner
The product owner creates the product backlog and oversees the entire thing. They work with the customer to understand their needs, then relay this information back to the wider team.

2. Scrum Master
The scrum master helps the team build the product, using the scrum framework as a guideline.

3. Development Team
The developers who do the work.

How do the product backlog and sprint backlog work together?

The product backlog

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