Sprint Backlogs Product Backlogs

The Symbiotic Relationship between Sprint Backlogs and Product Backlogs

The Symbiotic Relationship between Sprint Backlogs and Product Backlogs

If you’re new to the Scrum methodology, the difference between Sprint Backlog and Product Backlog can be a head-scratcher. Let’s take a quick look at these tools. Ready, set, go!

What is the Product Backlog?

Essentially, a Product Backlog (PB) is a dynamic list of potential future investments a team is going to make in pursuit of a higher level product goal.   It’s almost a wishlist of future delivery — a prioritized list of outputs and outcomes that a scrum team may deliver down the road. Its elements are referred to as Product Backlog Items (PBIs), which can be features, services, process improvements, research, defects fixes, solutions and potentially even user stories. Items prioritized higher are more likely to be invested in — whereas lower prioritized items which are less necessary or valuable are less likely to be worked on.

A scrum team has only one Product Backlog, a changeable plan owned by the Product Owner. As the Sprint proceeds and the team gains more knowledge on the product to be delivered, Backlog Refinement takes place as PBIs are removed, re-prioritized, and added.

Product Backlogs can be quite lengthy. In fact, some complain about their product backlog being far too long. Limiting the number of items on your product backlog might make your product owner, and in fact your entire Scrum team, more focused. 

Related: Agile QuickTip: Add Expiration Dates to Your Backlog Items

What is the Sprint Backlog?

The Sprint Backlog is the planned work in the current sprint.  It contains the team’s sprint goal for that sprint; the items from the Product Backlog that have been selected for the sprint; and the implementation plan that the Developers on the scrum team continuously update as they progress through the sprint. It’s basically an implementation plan owned and operated by the Developers, covering a subset of PBIs. Only PBI that are ‘done’ and usable are included in the increment — the latest version of the complete product that is achieved by the sprint’s end. If Developers are unable to complete an item, it doesn’t form part of the increment, and the item goes back into the Product Backlog. 

During the next Sprint Planning, the team will decide whether they want to include it in the upcoming Sprint or put it on the shelf and deal with it later — or potentially remove it altogether. Since only the Sprint Goal is fixed during a sprint, the Sprint Backlog can be modified by the Developers along the way towards the finish line to better focus on maximizing the sprint goal.

The Bottom Line

The Product Backlog represents future work for the team. The Sprint Backlog is the work being focused on today.  One cannot exist without the other. Both Sprint Backlogs and Product Backlogs are vital assets to Agile project management, providing teams with the focus and visibility to deliver increments successfully. 

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