If you’re often facing daunting projects with a list of to-dos longer than a hefty grocery store receipt, then you know there’s some relief in breaking up that list into smaller chunks. After all, managing and completing a concise task before moving on to the next is much more feasible — and efficient — than tackling a never-ending one that seems to stretch forever.
Project managers break down initiatives into these smaller, manageable segments (called sprints) each aimed at delivering a specific, tangible outcome to keep progress moving forward. Together, the tasks within each sprint form what’s called a sprint backlog, your key to a successful and well-organized project.
Embracing sprints is about more than just managing complexity — it’s making it work for you. Creating a sprint backlog means turning the seemingly complex into the attainable, motivating team members by showing them their work is both realistic and doable. And with each completed sprint, you're not just making progress: You're driving your project forward with agility and momentum.
Let's dive in and explore how sprint backlogs can revolutionize your approach to project management.
What’s a sprint backlog?
In Scrum, a sprint backlog is a specific set of tasks and assignments the team has committed to completing during a designated sprint.
This dynamic document evolves as the sprint progresses. It's first created during the sprint planning meeting when the team collaborates to select and prioritize tasks from the overall product backlog (a larger pool of tasks yet to be addressed). The chosen tasks are then moved to the sprint backlog, indicating that they are the focus of the upcoming sprint.
When do you create a sprint backlog?
The Scrum master creates this document during the planning phase of the current or upcoming sprint. The backlog doesn’t shrink during the sprint, but the team can add new tasks if necessary. The Scrum master then reviews the backlog during a retrospective meeting for effectiveness and efficiency.
Who can execute the work of the sprint backlog?
While the product owner and Scrum master are responsible for loading the backlog with tasks, the development team carries out the sprint.
Who owns the sprint backlog in Scrum?
The entire agile team, including the Scrum master, product owner, and developers, has partial ownership of the sprint backlog. Because each team member has a unique role and level of expertise, they all contribute to the success of a sprint.
What does the sprint backlog include? 7 key components
While agile project management is all about flexibility, most sprint backlogs follow a standard organization. This is so developers and Scrum fellows can quickly adjust to a new project, no matter the department or industry. Each sprint backlog, once complete, becomes a Scrum artifact available for review, so it's essential to keep them structurally consistent.
Each backlog should contain at least these key components:
- User story: Each user story is a possible feature from the perspective of end users. Without them, developers wouldn't know how each component plays into the purpose of the final product.
- Task summary: Each task must have a short but descriptive title. For instance, instead of "New web page," a more actionable title is "Create a new landing page for the latest ad campaign." This sets up team members with a clear understanding of each to-do item.
- Task description: For further clarity, each task should have a descriptive and succinct explanation to help team members and stakeholders plan for upcoming steps.
- Task priority: Since backlogs comprise a lot of tasks and you want projects to finish on time, setting priorities for each task lets the team know what to work on first.
- Burndown chart: While sprinting, your team should refer to the project burndown chart to determine how much work there is to complete versus how much time they have left in the sprint.
- Time allocation: Each week, the Scrum master should compile the time taken by each task in minutes (or rounded hours). This total feeds into the burndown chart.
- Meeting schedules: From daily standups to the next sprint planning meeting, any scheduled gatherings should appear in the backlog as individual tasks.
Benefits of using a sprint backlog
Whether your company is new to the agile methodology or simply refining your workflow, sprints can’t work well if they’re not properly organized. A sprint backlog has three huge advantages as part of your development process:
- Creating realistic goals: Breaking the product backlog into smaller sections enables the development team to achieve minor successes along the path to project completion. This keeps them from feeling overwhelmed by their tasks, preventing burnout and disorganization.
- Better time estimates: The development team will provide time estimates for each task within the sprint, a much less daunting process than creating time estimates for each item in the entire project at once. And the more sprints your team members participate in, the better they'll be at close-to-accurate time estimations.
- Ensuring team focus: Each sprint planning meeting outlines what every team member will work on, when it's due, and its priority. This helps keep your team from scrambling to figure out what to work on next.
Sprint backlog versus product backlog
Since a sprint backlog is a collection of the tasks within the current sprint, it implies that there are more tasks out there somewhere. Well, the rest of the tasks for the entire project are in the product backlog. Your product manager will constantly tinker with the product backlog to ensure it contains all information and prioritization for dissemination into each sprint.
And you don't have to limit yourself to one product backlog per project; you can have multiple, especially for large projects impacting numerous teams or divisions. Each one may have its own backlog. Regardless, each will deliver a subset of tasks for each sprint, which become static items in a sprint backlog.
How to create a sprint backlog
Creating a sprint backlog is as straightforward as loading up a blank template and assigning tasks. However, when making your backlog, there are several things you want to keep in mind to keep operations running smoothly:
1. Capacity planning
When your Scrum team selects tasks during the sprint planning meeting, they confer with the development team to check whether all dependent tasks are complete (and see if the developers have the capacity for new tasks). Base new assignments on reasonable time estimates and the team members’ schedules rather than focusing strictly on current workloads. Proper distribution of work ensures the team meets deliverable dates, so be very meticulous in this process and encourage Scrum members to speak up if they don’t think their work is doable.
Because a sprint backlog is effectively a collaborative tool, you want to ensure it's accessible to every stakeholder. While the Scrum master is generally the only one who makes changes, enabling the rest of the team to create their own custom views or work in an active document keeps your team communicating closely and working in tandem toward common goals.
3. Backlog management
Once a sprint backlog exists, only the product manager or Scrum master can add or remove items. However, it's up to the development team to manage the backlog, so set expectations for your team, continuously discuss how you'll resolve escalations or roadblocks, and adjust further sprints if necessary.
A sprint burndown chart is one of the best ways to track performance, but it's not your only option. You could also create a template using the tools available in many project management software packages. The point is to monitor progress while noting when things aren't working — or when they are. Whatever method you choose, tracking helps inform further sprints and trains your team on correctly estimating time and effort.
5. Goal alignment
Most importantly, ensure each sprint compilation is purposeful and working toward a common project goal. Your sprint backlogs will contain many project tasks, some more critical than others. Balancing how you assign and create these tasks keeps your team engaged and moving forward. While there will always be some sprints that feel like a slog no matter how you approach them, the closer you are to a balance between maintenance and creative tasks, the closer you are to achieving your project goals.
Plan your sprints with Roadmunk by Tempo
One of the handiest tools for tracking your sprint backlog is a Scrum roadmap. This is a template that provides visualization for your workflow, which is especially helpful when you have multiple projects or sprints in progress at the same time. The Scrum roadmap template from Roadmunk by Tempo is also a fantastic tool for communication, as it empowers you to create a shareable document that clearly sets roles and task responsibilities for every team member.
And if that's not enough, Timesheets by Tempo can help you with better time-tracking. With our tool, you can ensure that your time estimations are as accurate as possible and that your sprints and project arrive on time, every time.