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The Role of Sprint Backlogs in Scrum


A huge part of Scrum is planning out targets and clearly envisioning them before carrying them out. That’s where the sprint backlog comes in. The sprint backlog is essentially a document that breaks down the user stories to be delivered and the different tasks to be completed.

The sprint backlog brings clarity into the scrum sprint, so it’s easy to outline what’s needed to get tasks done, track progress, and estimate your workload for future sprints.

Sprint Backlogs in Scrum Methodology

Scrum cannot work without the sprint backlog.

It helps by

  • clearly defining what the scrum team needs to successfully complete a project
  • tracking the amount of work that’s been done in a sprint and what still needs to be done to hit all targets by the sprint’s deadline
  • accurately estimating how much work they can take on for future sprints. With the daily updates to the sprint backlog, the scrum team can get a better knowledge of how long it takes them to get tasks done, and as a result, how many action items to take on for future projects, and
  • maintaining a high-level overview of where the tasks scheduled for a sprint are at—either in the to-do, doing, or done stages

In this article, we’ll explore what it is, how it works, and how you can use them to plan and execute more productive sprints.


How to handle sprint backlogs

The sprint backlog is directly responsible for clearing the product backlog, delivering users stories that have been marked for carrying out, and generally transforming the product backlog from a plan to action with measurable results.

Here’s a detailed breakdown of the who, what, and how of managing your sprint backlogs.

1. Who creates the sprint backlog?

Since they’ll be the ones working on the action items it includes, the scrum team has a huge stake in defining what’s included in every sprint backlog. Working alongside the product owner who selects user stories from the product backlog, the scrum team takes these, based on what they can handle all at once, and becomes responsible from then on.

The cross-functional scrum team, led by the scrum master is responsible for breaking the user stories they’ve accepted into smaller action items needed to get them done. Individual professionals on the team can help break down user stories into the tasks they envision going into completing them.

2. When is the sprint backlog created?

The sprint backlog is created right before the beginning of each sprint. In fact, the sprint cannot start without the sprint backlog being ready since that’s where tasks are planned, and the progress is tracked.

3. What should a sprint backlog consist of?

Ideally, the sprint backlog should contain not just an outline of the user stories chosen for the sprint. The sprint backlog is designed to serve as a master plan for the sprint so it should include the tasks the team is working on, as well as an easy way of tracking progress on them.

The sprint backlog should include:

  • User stories selected from the product backlog
  • The tasks the user stories have been broken into
  • A tabular structure for recording progress on the tasks into which the user stories have been broken

Example of a sprint backlog

A sprint backlog template could be created in a specialized scrum management software or a spreadsheet where workload burndown can be recorded and tweaked to present their data in a graphic format, i.e., in a chart.

Sprint backlog vs. product backlog

While they seem quite similar, the sprint backlog and the product backlog are very different. They help in organizing future targets that mirror where the product is going, so they can be carried out without confusion.

The product backlog is where all user stories are stored, while the sprint backlog is where the user stories that have been selected to be carried out in a sprint are recorded. Items drawn from the product backlog are broken into bits and inserted into the sprint backlog where they are broken into tasks and then worked on.

Secondly, while the product backlog offers a high-level overview of where the product is headed, the sprint backlog goes deeper into the details. The sprint backlog explains the steps needed to move the product vision from to-do to done.

Thirdly, while the product backlog is purely strategic, the sprint backlog is designed to be actionable. The product backlog is designed for storing any requested features product users are looking forward to, while the sprint backlog is an outline of tasks scheduled to be done.

On the other hand, the product backlog and the sprint backlog are similar in terms of their general function. Both scrum artifacts offer the scrum team a high-level overview of where the product is headed, although in different scopes.

Spring backlogs are essential to understanding Scrum

The place of the sprint backlog in the Scrum methodology cannot be overemphasized. The sprint backlog takes the team’s product vision and simplifies it into a detailed outline that can be carried out step by step. This way, the scrum team can execute with a clear vision, track their outcomes, and make notes on how to make future sprints better.