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What is a sprint backlog?

Last updated

29 June 2023

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How can you effectively manage the various aspects of your complex project? Complex projects often pose difficulties that can impact your team's productivity and efficiency. Fortunately, in today's software development landscape, many tools are available to support your teams. 

One such approach is the implementation of sprints, which are short periods of focused effort aimed at carrying out specific tasks. Integrating sprints into the way you work can be beneficial, but it can also present its challenges. For instance, deciding which tasks to take on first can be painstaking. 

A sprint backlog serves as a dynamic artifact outlining the tasks your team will undertake during the sprint. This invaluable asset ensures clarity and focus among team members as they work towards achieving their goals. This blog post offers an overview of the sprint backlog concept to help you with your research.

Definition of a sprint backlog

A sprint backlog is an important aspect of the Agile development framework, particularly within the Scrum project management methodology. It’s a dynamic document that defines the set of tasks, user stories, and features that the development team intends to accomplish during a single sprint (a time-boxed iteration often lasting from one to four weeks). The team draft the sprint backlog at the start of each sprint based on the prioritized items from the product backlog.

The sprint backlog acts as a plan and a commitment by the development team for the upcoming sprint. It offers transparency and clarity on the job required, how it will be done, and who will execute it. The sprint backlog is a living artifact that evolves throughout the sprint as fresh information emerges or criteria change.

The purpose of a sprint backlog

The sprint backlog has several purposes, but the main one is the sprint goal. It plays a crucial role in providing flexibility by offering a clear overview of what needs to be achieved within a specific sprint, thus aligning the mindset of the developers with the envisioned objective. 

It also serves as a solid guideline to prevent scope creep, which happens when project owners add new deliverables during a sprint, delaying the project and discouraging developers. 

During the sprint planning phase, all stakeholders work together to define the goal, which serves as a guiding light for the developers throughout the process. The sprint backlog also makes it easier for team members to communicate effectively, which helps them monitor their progress, adjust to changes, and make data-driven decisions throughout the sprint. 

What goes into a sprint backlog?

During Agile software development, there are several goals to meet. When you decide to use a sprint, it should document several specific items like your sprint's name, described user stories, and the priority of each task. 

Here are the key elements to consider when embarking on your backlog:

User stories

User stories are software features the end user suggests. Prioritize the features based on their value and how they align with the sprint goal to help you understand how each feature affects the end user.

Task name

While task naming may sometimes be overlooked, it’s critical for organizing your sprint backlog. Assigning action-oriented names to each task is ideal. For example, begin task names with a verb, such as "Develop a new purchase component for the mobile app." Descriptive task names ensure all stakeholders easily comprehend the backlog and the tasks being worked on by team members.

Task description

Briefly describe each task within the current sprint. This allows every stakeholder to understand the nature of each task and helps the development team gain clarity on deliverables and upcoming tasks.

Task priority

Your project will encompass tasks with varying levels of effort and time requirements. Prioritize tasks based on their alignment with your critical goals. Include the effort estimation for each task, as this will aid in meeting sprint deadlines.

Sprint burndown chart

The burndown chart displays workflow in the current sprint. It shows a graph comparing the work left with the time it takes. During the sprint, the scrum team utilizes this chart for estimating the duration of each iteration, and it provides insights into their ability to complete tasks within the allotted time.

Time allocation

Another crucial element is time allocation. To estimate task durations accurately, keep track of daily time allocations to understand the time required for each task. Once you have the data, sum up the weekly time allocations for different functions and input them into your burndown chart. This practice aids in better estimation.

Incorporating these elements into your backlog provides a comprehensive plan for the development team. While backlogs may vary, including these key components is vital for successful sprint execution.

When should you use a sprint backlog?

A sprint backlog during Agile software development would be best, especially when using an incremental approach like Scrum. The backlog can be essential for planning, executing, and tracking the project during a sprint. 

You create a sprint backlog during a sprint planning session where you and your team select the user stories for a sprint and the frequency of your sprints. Also, if you use the Scrum agile method, the Scrum master, helped by their team, picks the product backlog to handle. 

Who owns the sprint backlog?

In the Scrum framework, the entire agile team, made up of the Scrum master, product owner, and development team members, take ownership of the sprint backlog. This is because each team member brings unique insight and expertise to the project at the beginning of each sprint.

The product owner's role is to handle the user stories, ensuring their successful completion and prioritization. They’re typically aware of new market truths or shifting organizational priorities that may require specific user stories or fixes to be prioritized. The product owner sets the sprint’s overall objective, which guides the sprint backlog decisions.

On the other hand, the developers manage the creation of tasks and subtasks based on the user stories. They also decide what work will be taken into the sprint based on the sprint goal set by the product owner. The developers may have insights from previous sprints, such as recognizing that certain task development is taking longer than intended, which can inform the decisions made for the sprint backlog.

Scrum masters are responsible for projections and progress monitoring of each story. They ensure the team implements the agreed-upon steps for each sprint and that the backlog is continually updated and maintained. The sprint backlog acts as the base for the scrum board and receives different inputs from the product backlog, which is developed based on the product's roadmap.

How to create a sprint backlog

The sprint backlog presents a visual representation of a sprint's requirements. Therefore, it contains various vital items from the product backlog. It should have any item the scrum team will work on during the period. So, how can you create a sprint backlog?

User stories

As a key element of sprint backlogs, user stories are the first step when creating a backlog. The user story should inform the development team of the approaches and priorities when developing new features. Ensure it describes common scenarios and has acceptance criteria—for example, as a user, I would like to upload and share files from my phone with other devices.

Tasks

After including the user stories, create relevant tasks based on the accounts. The tasks should be a list of features to be developed for the user to achieve their goals. With the above example in mind, the team can include tasks such as:

  1. Create an upload button for the files

  2. Ask permission to access the files

  3. Show a preview of the file before sending

  4. Show delivery report once successfully sent

Subtasks

Subtasks are a further division of tasks. If your project has several steps that require completion to achieve the sprint goal, subtasks can be helpful. For instance, in our first task, we can have the following subtasks:

  1. Write a unit test

  2. Develop test cases

  3. Design UI for the button

Bugs

Bugs occur when the system doesn't function as it should. The team will have to investigate and solve the issue. Bugs are usually prioritized as they affect end users, and during sprint planning, the team should allocate time to deal with future bugs.

Maintenance issues

For the smooth running of a product, the developers have to solve any maintenance issues. Sometimes there may be limited resources, and your team can choose a short-term solution acceptable per Agile principles. Such implementations are technical debt. Maintenance tasks can include upgrading your database or codebase to newer versions. 

Maintenance issues aren’t always included in your backlog but should be prioritized once they occur.

Spikes

In Agile frameworks, spikes are tasks introduced in your backlog to allocate time for research and exploration. For example, you can have tasks such as:

  1. Research on voice authentication for sharing personal files

  2. Investigate face-recognition software for authentication

Like maintenance issues, spikes can appear later in the development when the product owner introduces new advancements.

Product backlog vs. sprint backlog

Product backlog tracks the actual product your team is working on. The size of an organization determines the number of product backlogs where there is an option of having a central one or multiple backlogs for various teams.

In contrast, a sprint backlog is a subset of the product backlog which contains the various tasks to be completed in an individual sprint. It helps identify the items from the product backlog your team should focus on during the sprint, and they should stay the same.

Therefore, the sprint backlog enables teams to deliver iterative value. By understanding the purpose and best practices for creating and managing a sprint backlog, you can unlock your team's full potential, optimizing your organization's development process.

FAQs

What is sprint vs. sprint backlog?

A sprint is a short period allocated for a scrum team to complete several tasks. In contrast, a sprint backlog is a subset of a product backlog that outlines the set of product backlog items a development team is committed to accomplishing during the project sprint.

What is epic vs. sprint backlog?

Epic is a large, high-level user story representing a significant feature that captures a broad scope of work that cannot be accomplished in a single sprint. In contrast, a sprint backlog is a subset of a product backlog that outlines the set of product backlog items a development team is committed to accomplishing during the project sprint.

How many sprints are there in Agile?

The number of sprints in Agile software development can vary depending on the project, team, and organizational context. Agile promotes an iterative and incremental approach, dividing work into sprints. The sprint duration is typically between one to four weeks, with two weeks being a commonly used timeframe.

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