Sprint Backlog vs Product Backlog: most important differences

Sprint Backlog vs Product Backlog: How do they work together?

By now, most savvy software development teams use Agile to work faster and better. Agile teams organize themselves under the Scrum framework to deliver results, fast. We call Scrum iterations Sprints. The software development team plans in advance what they would like to achieve in each Sprint. Each Sprint has a time-box. Many teams believe in organizing one-week or two-week Sprints. One-month Sprints represent the longest recommended by experts.

What is a Product Backlog?

Before a project begins, the Product Owner creates a list of features to add to the project. Software development teams call this list the Product Backlog. The Product Backlog should break down the tasks necessary for each item on the list. The Product Backlog should also give teams a place to document how much time the tasks on the Backlog might take.

The Product Backlog gives teams a place to understand the dimensions of the entire project. It helps them visualize how they will tackle the tasks ahead of them. It helps the Product Owner to organize and prioritize their thoughts and wishes. The team uses the dynamic Product Backlog to keep track of problems to fix in future Sprints.

The Product Backlog, as an element of Agile, is not set. Flexibility and change must play a key role in any Product Backlog. Bugs or errors might add items to the Backlog. Software development teams will drop completed items from the Product Backlog. The Product Backlog is a living document. The Product Backlog likely grows during certain parts of the software development project. It should begin to shrink as the project nears completion.

The Product Backlog usually contains at least some of the following items:

  • Bugs – Problems testers or team members have flagged.
  • User stories – features needed in the software development project. User stories should be explained in plain language from the end user’s perspective.
  • Tasks – general work the Scrum team needs to complete.

Read more on Product Backlog Items in Epic, Story, and Tasks in Agile article.

The Product Backlog contains all the items in the software development project. The Sprint Backlog contains only the items of the Backlog specific to the current Sprint. Sprint Backlogs are the songs. The complete Product Backlog is the album.

What is a Sprint Backlog?

Sprint Backlogs give software development teams a way to chip away a long list of items. Teams use the Sprint Backlog in a very distinct way. They do not make changes to the Sprint Backlog. They set each Sprint Backlog at the Sprint Planning Meeting. Once they set the Sprint Backlog it is set. If new issues come up during the Sprint the team adds them to the Product Backlog. They work on these issues in a later Sprint.

A Sprint Backlog proves simpler, smaller and easier to understand than the Product Backlog. Teams still need to strategize and coordinate with the Project Owner and Scrum Master to make the Sprint run smoothly. They need to understand the limits of their resources.

A well-groomed Sprint Backlog will allow the teams the right amount of time to complete their work. They should not have to rush or work crazy hours to deliver. Before a Scrum Master moves a task from the Product Backlog to the Sprint Backlog, they should plan with the development team (and possibly the Product Owner) to ensure they have capacity. Scrum Masters, however, do not own decision-making. Scrum Masters facilitate and help the team. 

So how does the Sprint Backlog work together with the Product Backlog?

First, the software development team and the Scrum master should understand which items are on the current Sprint Backlog and which are on the Product Backlog. Both Backlogs are known as Scrum Artifacts. Scrum Artifacts describe work the team must complete that adds value to the project. Scrum artifacts guide the Scrum process and the team’s Sprints.

During each Sprint, the software development team meets briefly in daily standup meetings to review their work. They discuss what they did the day before, what they hope to complete in the current day. They also bring up any roadblock or obstacles they face. The Scrum Master helps to remove these impediments and keep the team marching toward their Scrum goal.

While planning the project, the team should discuss which items in the Backlog have the highest priority. They should add the high-priority items from the Product Backlog to the next Sprint using some backlog prioritization techniques. All team members should participate and agree on the contents of the Sprint Backlog. Effective teams use Sprint planning meetings to discuss and decide their work. They decide by mutual agreement who will accomplish each task in the Backlog.

Read more on project planning in Software development project planning in Agile article.

So let’s break down the differences and similarities between Product Backlog and Sprint Backlog: 

Product BacklogSprint Backlog
Contains all tasks for the development projectContains only the items to complete in the current Sprint
Created by the Product OwnerThe development team and Scrum Master create the list
Flexible, a living document that will change over timeOnce set in the Sprint planning meeting it does not change
Independent parent listDependent on the Product Backlog
Specific to the project goalSpecific to the Sprint 
Remains until the project is completeEnds when the Sprint ends
Product Owner manages Scrum team manages

Our team here at Blocshop harnesses the power of Agile to work smarter and faster. Our team understands how to use Product Backlog and Sprint Backlog to organize their work. With this, we deliver results on time and under budget, making our clients and customers very happy.

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