Sprint Backlog: Everything You Need to Know
A sprint refers to a short period of time, typically a few weeks to a month, in which a product team aims to complete a predefined amount of work and deliver an iteration of the product or a feature.
Sprint backlogs are a list of that predefined amount of work that helps product teams complete them efficiently. You can also see sprint backlogs as “action plans” for a sprint which helps your team remain focused on the goals.
One of the many purposes of the sprint backlog is to break down high-level product goals into measurable and time-bound tasks. This helps your product team to look away from the big picture and focus on the short-term objectives that will deliver value to your users.
In this article, we will help you create a sprint backlog that is tailored to your team’s requirements, explain to you how it works, and share some tips that will make your product planning smooth.
Before creating a sprint backlog, it is important to learn how it will help your product management process. Let’s start by looking at the advantages you can look forward to with a sprint backlog.
Benefits of using a sprint backlog
A sprint backlog enables you to:
- Keep everyone on the same page: All of your team members will be aware of the product vision and business goals. This will serve as the foundation for future meetings and discussions which will make collaboration effective.
- Give clear guidelines for each team member: A sprint backlog in agile product development eliminates confusion among team members about what they need to do in terms of tasks, their method of completion, and deliverables.
- Improve visibility and transparency: The sprint backlog provides details about the current progress which allows team members to be aware of the overall progress which will help them identify roadblocks early on and take evasive action.
- Simplify retrospective meetings: Sprint backlogs contain the data related to the performance of the product team such as hours spent on a task. This makes it easier for product managers to measure their team’s progress, identify areas of improvement, and discover new opportunities.
To make sure that the above values are delivered by your sprint backlog, it is important to build one which addresses all your team’s requirements. Let’s take a look at how you can do just that.
How to create a sprint backlog?
Sprint backlogs are more than just a list of tasks that are to be completed within a specific time period. You need to understand how your team works and where a sprint backlog in agile fits into your product management process.
The first step in creating a sprint backlog is to learn to create it at the right time.
When to create a sprint backlog?
Product teams create sprint backlogs collaboratively during the sprint planning meeting. Hence, two of the most important prerequisites for creating sprint backlogs in agile are:
- Everyone on the team should understand the product vision and the business goals
- The items in the product backlog should be quantitatively prioritized
It is the responsibility of the product manager to ensure that the above prerequisites are met by helping their team to understand the pain points and expectations of their user and by adopting a quantitative approach while ranking initiatives in the product backlog.
The ‘what’ and ‘why’ behind the product are usually defined by the market requirements document (MRD) and are supported tangibly by the product requirements document (PRD). You can create and manage these collaboratively in Zeda.io:
Zeda.io also helps product teams prioritize all their initiatives through the RICE prioritization method or any customized framework:
Now, that you are ready to create your sprint backlog, let’s look at its components.
Components of a sprint backlog
Sprint backlog templates contain the following components aimed at helping product teams complete tasks efficiently and on time:
- User story: A user story is a brief description of a feature or requirement from the perspective of the user. In other words, it articulates the needs of the user more comprehensively to the product team. For example, "As a user, I want to be able to reset my password so that I can access my account."
- Task name and description: Tasks are the specific work items that need to be completed to fulfill a user story. Each task should have a clear name and description. For example, a task name could be "Create password reset form on the login page" and its description should contain how it will be done, what are the dependencies, and deliverables.
- Task prioritization: Prioritize tasks based on their importance and by how much they contribute to the overall goal of the sprint. It is not uncommon for product teams to reprioritize certain tasks in a sprint backlog in agile but it is always better to get it right on the first try.
- Burn-down chart: A burn-down chart is a visual representation of the team's progress during the sprint. It shows how much work is remaining and how quickly the team is completing tasks. These charts are pivotal in finding out roadblocks and improving product development velocity. Here is what a typical burn-down chart looks like:
- Time allocated/deadlines: Allocate a specific amount of time for each task’s completion. This helps to ensure that the team stays on track and completes all the necessary work within the sprint timeframe. Usually, the deadline for a task is set by the person who is responsible for completing it.
The above sprint backlog components tell the product team why something needs to be done, what needs to be done, how it should be done, and by when it will be done. These components answer most of the questions of your team and facilitate meaningful communication.
Furthermore, it is important to keep in mind that a scrum sprint backlog is the entire responsibility of the product team, not just of the product manager. During daily scrum meetings, therefore, every team member should engage meaningfully for effective sprint backlog refinement.
Remember, the end goal is always to deliver a useful product (or feature) to your user incrementally.
When should a Product Manager look at the sprint backlog?
There are three instances when a product manager (and their team) looks at the sprint backlog:
1. During sprint planning meeting
This is when the sprint backlog is created. The product manager with the help of their team and stakeholders adds tasks from the product backlog which the team will be focussing on in the upcoming sprint.
The objective here is to add the tasks which will deliver the most value to the users regardless of whether they are feature releases or bug fixes.
It is important for the product manager to not get overwhelmed while receiving inputs and suggestions from their team members and stakeholders. Keep in mind that the product manager knows best as they have the right skills, experience, and most importantly, user data.
2. During daily scrum meetings
Also known as daily standups, scrum meetings discuss three things:
- What was done yesterday?
- What will be done today?
- What are the roadblocks/issues the team has encountered?
Daily scrums are an effective solution to one of the biggest challenges faced by product managers — remaining on top of everything while handling multiple responsibilities.
These meetings help the product manager be aware of the overall progress so far and the challenges the product team is facing. This helps them proactively look for solutions before the problems become too big while keeping the stakeholders updated.
3. During sprint retrospective meetings
When a sprint is over, it is necessary for the product team to summarize their collective effort to find out what went right, what could be improved, and what were their biggest challenges.
Apart from boosting team morale and finding areas of improvement, sprint retrospective meetings provide a great learning opportunity for the product team allowing them to understand the product, the business model, and their users better.
Product teams should share their thoughts and suggestions on how they can work better together through improved sprint planning to continue to delight their customers. You can (and should) record the lessons learned from each of these meetings to improve your approach to product management as well.
Although your scrum sprint backlog is created collaboratively through careful planning, things still might go wrong. For example, if one of your team members takes some time off, their tasks need to be reassigned to others, which could add delays.
It is crucial for product managers to be prepared for such situations and think of a quick solution to stick to the timelines and ultimately deliver features that their users want. Let’s look at some best practices that will help you do just that.
Best practices while managing a sprint backlog
The best practices below will help you plan better sprints, avoid mistakes, and complete sprints efficiently to delight your users:
1. Include the team while creating the backlog
This is one of the fundamental characteristics of an agile sprint backlog in a scrum which differentiates it from a traditional waterfall approach where the list of tasks is determined by the upper management and is handed down to the development team.
Even if you, the product manager, are running the whole process and your decision is final, you must keep in mind that the individual tasks are handled by various cross-functional teams. Involving your team members will allow you to:
- Assign tasks to the right team members
- Set accurate deadlines
- Choose the right volume of tasks per sprint
- See different viewpoints
- Make your team more accountable
While requesting your team to share their insights during sprint backlog grooming, take additional care to ensure that everyone is considering the same metrics and understands the requirements of the moment.
2. Have a common “definition of done”
Throughout this article, we have emphasized the importance of “getting everyone on the same page”. One of the aspects of that is to create and adhere strictly to the definition of a “completed task” during the sprint.
When one of your team members marks a task or an initiative as “done” or “completed”, everyone, including you, should understand what it means. In other words, there needs to be a shared understanding of what a “completed task” means.
A simple and widely used method to establish a common definition of done is by focusing on measurable parameters and metrics. For instance, if a feature request is marked “done”, everyone should understand implicitly that the users can access it through the product.
Product managers should ensure that everyone, including the stakeholders, clearly understands the definition of done to prevent miscommunication and confusion at any stage.
3. Empower your team members to reassign tasks
Despite all the best practices and precautions, you might find it difficult still to keep up with the deadlines. In these times, you need to isolate the roadblock quickly to start thinking of an appropriate solution.
However, product managers always have their plates full. Stakeholder meetings, strategic planning, and user research are some of the things that take up a chunk of a product manager’s day which could make it difficult to prioritize fixing something in a sprint immediately.
Product managers, to avoid this, encourage and empower their team members to reassign tasks and “think on their feet” while keeping the outcome of the tasks in mind during such periods. Zeda.io facilitates this by helping product managers share user data with their teams from various sources like Mixpanel and Data Studio in one place.
4. Revise commitments after creating the backlog
Revising all the commitments in a sprint backlog in the scrum before starting to work on it will help you verify whether they will achieve the desired outcome efficiently and see the bigger picture. In doing so, you might discover multiple roadblocks and opportunities.
For example, you might discover that reprioritizing certain tasks within that sprint may result in the faster and more efficient delivery of your product (or its features). Furthermore, you should encourage your team to share their opinions, if any, on the present sprint plan.
A quicker way of doing this exercise is by using a qualitative prioritization framework to mentally evaluate the current plan. If you find that something can be better prioritized, then ask your team to make a decision collectively. You might also find it helpful if you would make this the last agenda of the sprint planning meeting.
If you have noticed so far, we have mentioned the “product backlog” a few times so far in this article. A product backlog is often confused for a sprint backlog and vice versa because they share a trait — both are a list of action items that are prioritized to serve the user’s best interests.
So, let’s look at how these two differ in terms of their role in product management, ownership, objective, and contribution towards the product’s overall development.
Difference between Product Backlog and Sprint Backlog
Both the product backlog and sprint backlog in scrum contribute to the development of the product. Learning the differences between them allows product teams to understand both tools and their purposes accurately.
One crucial challenge that product managers have to face while maintaining product backlog and creating and executing sprint backlogs is ensuring that everyone, including the stakeholders, has the right data. This again signifies the importance of sprint planning, daily scrum, and sprint retrospective meetings.
Tools to help you with Sprint backlog planning
Sprint backlog planning depends on every team member getting on the same page with respect to the product’s goals and understanding the constraints they have. The following four tools will help you do just that, enabling you to plan and execute efficient sprints.
1. Prioritization framework
Prioritization frameworks help teams determine which tasks they need to complete first based on their complexity and the value offered. It simplifies sprint planning by offering a uniform, clear and structured approach to rank initiatives.
The product manager or the scrum master should help the development team understand how their framework works to avoid confusion and encourage their participation. Just keep in mind that as long as you know which parameters are important for your product and business, a simple framework can be as effective as a complex one.
2. Product Roadmap
A product roadmap contains the product's goals, timeline, and features. It helps with sprint planning by helping the product team align tasks with strategic objectives and identify dependencies within sprints to ensure they are completed in the correct order.
It is crucial for product teams to use an agile product roadmap which will help them be flexible and adaptive to changing conditions. Zeda.io facilitates this by allowing product teams to create agile roadmaps:
3. Task management tools
Task management tools help the developer team to manage, track and report task updates. These tools simplify sprint planning by helping the product team break down large initiatives into smaller units and facilitate asynchronous communication during product development.
As this tool is maintained by the development team, every member should learn to use it efficiently and make sure they are integrated with other tools in this list properly. Zeda.io helps product teams manage tasks as well:
A sprint backlog contains a list of tasks that are to be completed within a sprint to achieve a particular goal. It is created during the sprint planning meeting and contains the user story, task name and description, priority, burn-down chart, and deadlines.
Product managers should check on a sprint backlog during sprint planning, daily scrum, and sprint retrospective meetings to maximize learning and make their processes more efficient.
While creating and managing a sprint backlog, it is important to include the team, establish a common definition of done, empower the team to reassign tasks if necessary, and revise the commitments after creating the backlog to check for mistakes.
You need three tools to create an efficient sprint backlog — prioritization framework, product roadmap, and task management tools.
However, it might get difficult for product managers and teams to juggle multiple tools and documents while aiming to keep their sprints clean and efficient.
Zeda.io is a full-coverage product lifecycle management platform. It helps product teams with product discovery, strategy, building, and shipping in one centralized platform.
It is designed to streamline end-to-end product management.
Navigate through constant context switching, lack of visibility, tracking, and elongated feedback loops. With Zeda.io, have real-time visibility on customer feedback, prioritize problems, nail product strategy, and keep all stakeholders in the loop at every step of the product-building journey.
Our integrations with Intercom, Jira, Zendesk, Hubspot, etc., add a layer of automation on mundane tasks that intelligently improve outcomes.
- What is a sprint backlog?
A sprint backlog is a list of tasks that the development team commits to completing during a sprint. It includes items from the product backlog that have been selected for the sprint.
- What is the main purpose of a sprint backlog?
The main purpose of the sprint backlog is to provide a plan for the development team to accomplish the sprint goals and deliver a working product increment at the end of the sprint.
- What is the difference between a sprint and a sprint backlog?
A sprint is a time-boxed period of development, usually two to four weeks, during which the development team works to deliver a working product increment. The sprint backlog is the set of tasks that the development team plans to complete during the sprint.
- Who owns and maintains the sprint backlog?
The development team owns and maintains the sprint backlog. However, the product owner may provide input and guidance to ensure that the sprint backlog aligns with the product vision and goals.
- When is the sprint backlog created?
The sprint backlog is created during the sprint planning meeting, which is held at the beginning of each sprint. The development team selects items from the product backlog and breaks them down into specific tasks that they plan to complete during the sprint.
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