Product Backlog and Sprint Backlog: A Quick Guide


Agile is a very useful project management methodology when used right. Unfortunately, if the whole team is not familiar with it, things can become inefficient. To avoid that, all agile team members must know what a product backlog and sprint backlog are, both of which are essential for planning and prioritizing tasks in agile project management. These concepts also apply to scrum, kanban and other similar agile frameworks.

What Is a Product Backlog?

The product backlog is a list that compiles all the tasks and user stories that must be done to complete the whole project. But it’s not just a simple task list. An effective product backlog breaks down each of the backlog items into a series of steps that help the development team.

The product backlog is very important for product management, the implementation of agile and it’s also one of the seven scrum artifacts, which shape the scrum methodology. But even if it’s been planned out, the product backlog is not set in stone. Like most aspects of agile project management, there are going to change. Flexibility is crucial.

Agile teams can get help managing a product backlog with project management software. ProjectManager is online work and project management software designed for agile, traditional and hybrid projects. Our robust task list project view can be used to collect product backlog items, set priorities, add descriptions and assign team members. Since we have multiple project views, teams can then switch to the kanban board view and collaborate to plan their sprints. Get started with ProjectManager today for free.

List view in ProjectManager
ProjectManager’s task lists help teams manage their product backlog. Learn More!

Product Backlog Refinement

To respond to changes and adapt to an agile framework, agile teams constantly update their product backlogs. That’s known as backlog grooming or backlog refinement. It consists in adding, deleting and prioritizing tasks in the agile product backlog to maximize the efficiency of an agile workflow. This is done during an agile event called product backlog grooming meeting. The product owner is responsible for overseeing this process, but everyone in the agile team helps.

Product Backlog Example

The best way to learn how a product backlog looks is to check out an example. Here’s a simple product backlog example for you. As you can see, it was created using ProjectManager, a project management software for agile and hybrid teams.

Backlog example on a kanban board

This product backlog shows project tasks and user stories, as well as their deadline, who’s assigned to complete them, their priority level and percent complete. Managers can easily drag and drop these tasks to refine the product backlog. In addition, ProjectManager also allows team members to interact in real time.

What is a Sprint Backlog?

The sprint backlog is a subset of the product backlog. The sprint backlog comes from the product backlog, but it contains only the product backlog items that can be completed during each agile sprint. Think of it as the marching orders for the team as they go off on their short sprint.

The complexity of the project will determine the sprint backlog, but overall the idea is to dedicate the team only to those tasks that can be completed during the sprint. Of course, if it is a complex project the sprint backlog can also grow in complexity and length.

Unlike the product backlog, though, the sprint backlog is unchanged during the period of the sprint. It can be changed, but only during the sprint planning meeting. Once agreed upon, the items and steps to complete them are frozen for the length of the sprint.

How Do the Product Backlog and the Sprint Backlog Work Together?

It’s clear that for the team to work effectively, they must understand the difference between a product backlog and a sprint backlog, and how these two scrum artifacts interact to move the project forward.

Therefore, during the planning meeting, everyone on the development team should discuss what must be done and how it will be completed. There is the product backlog list and the items from that list are then moved to a sprint backlog list.

It’s at this point that each item on the sprint backlog is broken down into tasks, or steps, that will be taken to complete the item. All of this must be clearly communicated and agreed upon, for, as noted above, once started there can be no changes to the tasks and steps needed to complete them.

What Does an Effective Product Backlog Look Like?

While the concept of a product backlog is simple enough, it can be unwieldy, as it’s composed of literally everything that must be completed to bring in a successful project. One must know the project inside and out, and then have the skill set to break each of those individual tasks into a series of steps that can then be assigned to the team, who must not only complete it but understand it.

The Role of the Product Owner

The product backlog is created by the product owner, who is the project’s key stakeholder and therefore has a full vision of the project. The product backlog is a guide for the agile team and therefore must be written out clearly and simply to avoid any miscommunication or misunderstandings.

To make the process as thorough as possible, it must be organized, and each item explained in full as part of the plan to move successfully through the project.

The product owner knows what the customer wants and can work backward from there to make sure everything is done to meet that goal. That’s the product owner’s lodestar, and if the customer’s interests are always leading the backlog, the work will be effective.

What Does an Effective Sprint Backlog Look Like?

By definition, the sprint backlog is easier to create. It’s smaller and more digestible, but that doesn’t mean it can be developed without thinking strategically about the capacity of the team and the resources at hand. If you give a team more than it can handle, the product gets bogged down.

Teams might feel they can do more than they can, so it’s up to the development team and the scrum master, an expert in scrum methodology who guides through skill and experience, to know what the team is able to do by having a good estimation of their ability.

Define Parameters for the Sprint

Remember, a sprint is usually only over a two-week period, though this time can differ depending on the size of the team and project resources, so the sprint length is another variable to determine. The sprint, while short, must not overtax the team or force them to rush and produce a sloppy deliverable.

Therefore, as the sprint backlog and the steps necessary to complete are being figured out by the development team, brainstorm with them, and open up a dialogue to determine what is feasible in terms of a strategy for the sprint.

Before moving a task from the product backlog to the sprint backlog, the product owner and scrum master must be sure the team is clear on the steps needed to complete that task. Get them to sign off, so there is no confusion that could cause trouble during the sprint.

Don’t Forget to Prioritize

It’s always a good idea to prioritize the tasks on your product backlog from crucial to less important. This is a task for the product owner, being the one most intimate with the needs of the stakeholders.

While the scrum master would seem a logical choice to help with prioritizing, it’s important to remember that the scrum master is only there to help with the process, not with the product. But that’s another term and process for another time.

With knowledge of the product backlog and sprint backlog, you’re well on your way to using agile to help with your project management. It’s a great organizing principle, and one more arrow in your quiver.

Agile Project Management Templates

As stated above, agile is a very important project management methodology that’s used in many industries such as product and software development. There’s a lot to learn about agile and for that reason, we’ve created free guides and templates to help you manage your agile projects. Here are some of the most important templates to help with your product backlog.

Requirements Gathering Template

Our free requirements gathering template for Word can help you collect what information you need to solve the problem or achieve the objective of your project. This is where the product backlog starts to help stakeholders and users understand what is required. Once they all agree, teams can start to develop the tasks necessary to get there.

Product Development Template

You have the requirements, but you need to know the pathway to deliver the product to market. That’s where our free product development template comes in. It helps you organize all the parts so they work together to deliver the product on time and within its allotted budget. Get everyone involved in product development, from idea to product design.

Agile Sprint Plan Template

The whole point of having a product backlog is to prepare your team for upcoming sprints. Our free agile sprint plan template lets you involve the entire team in the collaborative process of planning for a sprint. See the phases of the sprint and fill in the details, which saves time and gets your team to work faster.

Manage your Backlog with ProjectManager

ProjectManager is award-winning software that helps agile teams manage their product backlog and collaborate in planning sprints. Our multiple project views let agile teams work with the tools they prefer while giving other departments that might manage their work differently the features they require. All project views share real-time data so there’s a signal source of truth that keeps everyone working together.

Manage Your Backlog on Kanban Boards

One of the multiple project views in the kanban or scrum board, an essential agile project management tool. This visual workflow feature allows teams to manage their backlog on cards and then work together in planning sprints. Managers get transparency as cards move from one column to the next, representing the production cycle. If there’s a potential bottleneck, managers can reallocate resources quickly to clear it up and keep teams moving forward.

A screenshot of the Kanban board project view

Track Progress With Real-Time Dashboards

For a high-level view of the progress and performance of your team, we have real-time dashboards. There’s no setup required as with other inferior tools, and the software automatically captures and calculates six project metrics that are then displayed in colorful and easy-to-read graphs and charts. Managers get critical information that provides them with valuable insights in real time to make better decisions.

ProjectManager’s dashboard view, which shows six key metrics on a project

Generate Reports With One Click

When you need more detail than the dashboard can provide, there are several real-time reports that you can generate with a keystroke. Get reports on project status, variance, costs and more. All our reports can be filtered to show only the data you want to see. It’s easy to share them as PDFs or even printed out, depending on how your stakeholders prefer to be updated. More data means a better understanding of your project for you and your stakeholders.

ProjectManager's status report filter

Our software is collaborative to the core, which is what agile teams need to work better together, whether that’s managing their backlog or planning sprints. Comments can be made at the task level, you can even tag someone not in the team if you require their opinion. Teams can also share files. All updates are delivered by email notifications or in-app alerts so everyone is always working together.

When creating a product backlog and sprint backlog, it’s crucial to have the right tools to organize, prioritize and assign all those tasks. ProjectManager is a cloud-based project management software that has a real-time dashboard to track the progress of the project and offers a robust online platform with kanban boards for teams to collaborate during sprints. Try it today and see for yourself with this free 30-day trial.