Sprint Backlog and the Scrum Sprint

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15th Mar, 2021
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18th Jul, 2020
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Sprint Backlog and the Scrum Sprint

If you are in Scrum, you will hear the word ‘Sprint’ day in and out! You may have heard this word being used in sports by athletes. But if it is something related to sports, then why are we using it in IT?  

Well, even scrum has been derived from rugby! So, what exactly is Sprint in our IT industry? 

Product backlog and Sprint backlog

The Scrum framework has various components like events, ceremonies, and artifacts, all these components are tied to a timeline called ‘Sprint’. Sprint is a timebox during which the development team creates and delivers the solution to the client.  

Sprint defines a period that is focused on brainstoarming, solutions, and delivering a quality product. The timebox or period can differ based on the nature of work and expected delivery. In this article, we will talk about Sprint backlog and the Sprint. Not only will this help you in creating a healthy backlog,but you will also learn about various techniques for estimating and prioritizing your bucket. 

What is Sprint Backlog and how to create it? 

The sprint backlog is a list of items that the team commits in a Sprint. It consists of user stories, bugs, enhancements, or any requirement that is related to the product. The sprint backlog is derived from the product backlog hence you can term Sprint backlog as a subset of the Product backlog.  

The development teams can use Excel or any agile tool to create their Sprint backlog. With the timebox, known as Sprint, the scrum team utilizes sometime during the first day of the sprint to plan out the roadmap for the entire sprint; usually, this is four hours for a sprint of 10 working days. 

The team pulls the high priority item from the product backlog, discusses the solution, the risks and the challenges and comes to an agreement together as a team and makes a commitment. They do this activity till the time backlog fills as per the capacity or the intended velocity. 

The Sprint backlog is derived from the Product backlog

When is the Sprint backlog created? 

The Sprint is initiated with the Sprint planning meeting. This can be seen askick-off for a new timeline. The Scrum team uses the ceremony called “Sprint Planning” to come up with the Sprint Backlog. Usually, the sprint planning meeting goes on for about 4 hours for a two-week sprint with the team size between 7 to 9 members.  

The planning ceremony is divided into 2 parts. The first part focuses on building up the backlog, ordering the items as per the priority, and adding an estimate. In the second part, the team takes care of all the details that would be required to complete the Sprint goal. The sprint backlog is one of the outputs from the Sprint planning meeting, it helps the team to stay focused Sprint.

Sprint Backlog connection with the sprint ceremonies

Agile talks about planning at every layer, whether it is the strategy, portfolio, product, release, iteration, or daily planning. Let us look at the connection of Sprint backlog with different scrum ceremonies.

Sprint Planning

Agile talks about planning at every layer, whether it is the strategy, portfolio, product, release, iteration, or daily planning. Let us look at the connection of Sprint backlog with different scrum ceremonies.

Daily standup

The scrum team uses the daily standup to discuss progress on this sprint goal. In this meeting, they talk about the backlog items, what has been done so far, what backlog items the team will pull next and if there are any blockages in their way. 

Every day the scrum team meets in front of the Sprint backlog. It can be in the form of a tool or a whiteboard with sticky representing different work items and use this Sprint board as the base for the meeting. This not only helps them to stay on track, but it also helps them to foresee any risk, challenge, or an impediment that can hamper the progress of the sprint.

Sprint review 

This is when the Scrum Team showcases their work to the stakeholders. The team gives the demo on the finished items from the sprint backlog. In other words, whatever work was committed in the Sprint backlog gets demoed in the sprint review meeting. 

Sprint retrospective 

During the sprint retrospective meeting the team brainstorms on what went well, what did not, and how can they make it better next time. Here we can talk about the best practices that helped them deliver requirements on time with quality.  

They can refer to the Sprint backlog to talk about creating better requirements and even better estimations. In my experience, I have seen individuals applauding their team members for good work done on the sprint backlog.    

Creation of the Sprint Backlog 

Who creates or owns a Sprint Backlog? 

Creating a Sprint backlog is a joint effort from the team, the product owner, and the scrum master. Together, they come up with a plan, discuss the implementation and the ownership lies with the Scrum team. When the Sprint backlog has been created and the team has committed to a Sprint goal, no one except the development team change the sprint backlog.

The Sprint Backlog is a joint effort from the team, the product owner, and the scrum master

How often should it be updated? What happens if it isn’t updated properly?

Keeping the sprint backlog updated is important for the success of this sprint. It not only provides transparency, but it also helps the team in managing their ongoing work. The development team should update the Sprint backlog continuously as and when the work is done, or if they move to a different requirement or story.

Many teams update their Sprint backlog during the daily standup meeting. It is advisable to update the sprint backlog at least once per day. In case the team has not been updating the sprint backlog, the burndown chart gets impacted and it will not reflect the correct picture.

The team checks and updates the Sprint Backlog during the Sprint, keeping the Sprint Goal intact. They will thus know whether they will be able to finish the Product Backlog items they picked for the Sprint.

What does Sprint Backlog contain?

Sprint backlog contains the product backlog items which the team has committed to complete in the sprint timeline. It can include tasks, bugs, research items, and at least one process improvement item which is good to have. If the team comes across any new item that is required to attain the Sprint goal, they can add it to their sprint backlog.

Estimating and prioritizing the sprint backlog 

Keeping the backlog healthy is the utmost priority for the team, this requires knowledge of estimation techniques and prioritizing tools. The scrum master can coach the team with an understanding of Effective an efficient prioritization and estimation. Let us look at the ways of prioritizing and estimating the Sprint backlog.

Prioritizing the Sprint Backlog

Sprint backlog is created with the items from the product backlog, which means they are already ordered and are in line with the priority as per the client or the stakeholder. Pulling items into the Sprint backlog does not mean that the priority will change because the sprint backlog is still tagged to the product backlog. Hence, the Sprint Backlog stays ordered as per the priority as it depends on its parent ‘Product Backlog’. 

The estimate helps the team to limit the amount of work they can commit in the sprint. Also, recognizing tasks and estimating them during sprint planning assists team members to better organize their work. Below are a few of the widely used techniques for estimation:

Planning Poker

Here, every participant uses a numbered (Fibonacci) card and estimate the stories. Voting is done anonymous and the team discusses when there is a big difference in the estimates provided. Voting is repeated until the complete team reaches a consensus around the precise estimate. It works well when the team must estimate a comparatively small number of stories, a maximum of 8-10, with a small team.

T-Shirt Sizing

This is a seamless method to estimate a large backlog of relatively large items. Particularly when you have numerous parallel scrum teams occupied on the same product. Items are estimated into t-shirt sizes: XS, S, M, L, XL.

The Bucket System 

More effective than planning poker, this method is a decent substitute when the team must estimate many items with a big group of members. Here, you form several buckets in the arrangement of planning poker. The group evaluates the items by placing them in these “buckets”.  

Dot Voting 

A highly simple and effective technique to estimate. This technique is more of a decision making and one can use it for estimating. Everyone in the group gets a few stickers and can pick to vote for the individual items. The more dots is an indicator of a bigger size. This method works fine with both small and large teams. 

In Conclusion

The Sprint backlog provides structure to the team and helps them stick to the plan by focusing on the sprint goal. Creating a Sprint backlog is a collaborative effort between the scrum team members, this serves as a runway for the iteration and smooth execution of commitment.  

To achieve the Sprint goal, it is important to have a healthy sprint backlog. I hope this article helps you create a good Sprint backlog that serves your sprint goal.

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Deepti Sinha

Blog Author

Deepti is an Agile Coach by profession and Freelance Trainer with over 11 years of industry experience working primarily with healthcare & finance clients in delivering business. She has played a wide variety of roles in the graph of her career, whether it be, management, operations or quality. She likes reading fiction, management and loves to write her experiences. Her colleagues mostly describe her as very detail oriented person with a knack of creativity and imagination. And yes, she loves feedback more than her coffee!!