How to Build and Use a Sprint Backlog (Ultimate Guide)

How to Build and Use a Sprint Backlog (Ultimate Guide)

Want to build and use a sprint backlog?

While a sprint backlog might look like a simple to-do list, it’s crucial for any successful Scrum sprint.

Why?

It guides the Scrum team members on what to deliver during that sprint! This is super-important from a customer satisfaction as well as a productivity perspective.

If the chefs at your favorite restaurant adopted Agile and Scrum, it would look something like:

  • Food: Deliverable
  • Recipe: Sprint
  • Process: Agile
  • Ingredients: Backlog items

But what goes into these backlog items?

And more importantly, how do you use the sprint backlog?

In this Scrum guide, we’ll cover how to build and use a sprint backlog to help you prepare it as well as Gordon Ramsay cooks dishes!

 

This article contains:

(click on the links below to jump to a specific section)

Let’s get cooking!

But just like any standard multi-course meal, we should start with the appetizers before getting to the main course!

That’s why we’re first going to cover what Scrum is and then tackle sprint backlogs

But if you’re really hungry for the sprint backlog main course, we get that too (click here to jump to that section).

 

What is the Scrum methodology?

Scrum is an Agile project management method that helps teams complete projects as quickly as possible. 

For this, it divides projects into short development cycles called sprints. Each sprint is an iteration during which teams develop different sections of a project.

While Agile software development teams mostly use the Scrum framework, any team that’s looking for some project flexibility, like sales and marketing teams, can also use it.

How does Scrum work?

Let’s illustrate this with an example:

Let’s say you’re developing a recipe app for Gordon Ramsay.

You could spend months planning and building it only to find Chef Ramsay unhappy with the final product. While you gave him tons of features, you still missed the mark. 

Why?

He wanted to highlight his signature dishes, like his Spaghetti Bolognese, on the app’s home screen — something that you missed even with all that planning

And now, you’ve to deal with an unhappy Gordon (good luck with that!).

But if you had followed the Agile software development approach, you could have kept Chef Gordon happy. 

How?

You develop the app in steps, ask the chef for his feedback after each stage and make necessary changes before the next release. 

The result?

An ecstatic Gordon who might even cook you some pasta!

What else do I need to know about Agile Scrum?

Scrum can help you dice your project into different sprints like you’re dicing onions!
Great, right? 

But sprints are only the tip of this massive iceberg called Scrum

You also have various meetings, team roles and Scrum artifacts!. 

Let’s have a quick overview of these elements. 

Note: For each element, we have a detailed Scrum guide that’ll help you understand these concepts quickly. Feel free to check them out if you’re up for some extra reading.

1. Scrum Meeting

Scrum defines a set of meetings to help Scrum teams inspect and adapt their processes. It includes:

  • Sprint Planning: a planning meeting conducted before starting each Scrum sprint
  • Daily Scrum Meeting: a regular Scrum meeting held to discuss what to do on the next day  
  • Sprint Review: held after each Scrum sprint to demo the deliverable to stakeholders
  • Sprint Retrospective: a Scrum meeting held after a sprint to identify what to change in the upcoming sprint

2. Scrum Artifacts

Scrum artifacts are elements that help share essential project information with the team and stakeholders. 

It mainly includes:

  • Product Backlog: lists what features must be developed in the product
  • Increments: a working version of the product the team delivers to the stakeholders

The Scrum sprint backlog is also an artifact as it helps share key information about a sprint. 

(We’ll explore this in a minute.) 

3. Scrum Roles

Each Scrum team is made up of three roles:

  • Product Owner: understands stakeholder needs, relays their feedback to the team and manages the product backlog
  • Scrum Master: helps the Agile team and the stakeholders follow the Scrum framework
  • Development Team: develops the product during each Scrum sprint

4. User Stories

Teams use user stories to describe how a customer will use a product feature. 

This helps them identify:

  • Who the user is
  • The features they need
  • Why do they need these features 

You can check out our Agile project management guide to learn more about user stories.

5. Sprint Burndown Charts

Sprint burndown charts show the work that’s yet to be completed in the current sprint. Scrum teams can use a burndown chart sprint to gauge if they’ll be able to complete the work on time. 

burndown chart in clickup

And that’s it! 

Appetizers are over.

We’re finally diving into the main course!

Let’s get into sprint backlogs. 

After all, that’s why you have been reading so far, right?

What is a sprint backlog?

A sprint backlog describes what the team should develop during a sprint. Some Scrum teams also call it an iteration backlog or a release backlog.

It’s essentially a to-do list of the product backlog items that will be developed in the upcoming sprint. And it also includes a plan to do this – just like a recipe.

Who manages it? 

If Gordon’s the stakeholder who’s judging your food, who’s cooking the meal? 

According to the Scrum Guide, the development team is responsible for managing the sprint backlog throughout a sprint.

Product backlog vs. sprint backlog

Since there are more Scrum terms than recipes in Gordon’s cooking book, it’s easy to get lost and confused. 

While some people get confused between the sprint review and sprint retrospective, some also get confused between the product backlog and sprint backlog.

But why?

Maybe because they’re both backlogs? 

Or because the sprint backlog contains product backlog items?

But just like boiling and braising, these two artifacts are very different — even if they sound similar!  

Here’s how:

Product Backlog Sprint Backlog
  • It’s the main project document, also called the project backlog 
  • It’s a subset of the product backlog – dedicated to one sprint only. It’s also called the prioritized product backlog
  • Contains all product requirements for the project
  • Contains only those product requirements that’ll be developed in a sprint
  • Created upon receiving the user requirements
  • Created during sprint planning
  • Product owner handles backlog management 
  • Development team handles backlog management

How to build and use a Scrum sprint backlog?

While it’s a list of tasks, creating the sprint backlog isn’t as simple as writing a recipe. 

But don’t worry, it isn’t as tough as perfecting Gordon’s recipes either.

A. Building A Sprint Backlog

Every MasterChef challenge starts with planning what to cook, right?

Similarly, building the sprint backlog starts with the sprint planning session.  

At the sprint planning meeting, the product owner describes the goal to be met in the upcoming sprint. The owner also suggests which product backlog items will help achieve that goal. 

How are the items chosen

An engineering team chooses the product backlog items based on their priority order in the product backlog

For example, in the first sprint, the highest priority items must be tackled first and are moved into the sprint backlog. Similarly, in the next sprint, the next set of priority items are moved. 

This is why the sprint backlog is called the prioritized product backlog

And if you have any unfinished backlog items from the past sprint, you could develop them in the current sprint.

While the entire Scrum team discusses these items during sprint planning, it’s up to the development team to decide which ones they’ll be tackling in the sprint. 

However, the team must include at least one improvement that was identified in the previous sprint retrospective (for continuous improvement of their workflows). 

Once the items are chosen, they are split into sprint tasks (in the form of user stories) and added to the sprint backlog. The sprint goal is finalized at this stage. 

But that’s not all.

During the Agile sprint planning, the team also chalks out a “forecast plan” on how they’ll go about the work on the first day or two. While this doesn’t have to be well-detailed, it needs to highlight the key steps and the timeframe for developing each backlog item

And there you have it! 

Your sprint backlog is ready.

B. Using A Sprint Backlog 

Now that the recipe’s ready, how do you use it? 

While the sprint backlog is a list of tasks, you can’t just check things off as you progress. 

It’s a dynamic list that evolves as the sprint progresses. 

What does that mean?

Remember, we created only a base plan during the sprint planning meeting

As the sprint moves forward, the team learns more about the work needed to achieve the sprint goal and the plan becomes clearer. To reflect this in the sprint backlog, you should update it. The process of updating a backlog is called backlog refinement.  

Note: The product backlog also goes through backlog refinement to reflect changes in stakeholder needs.

You know how you start cooking something and realize half-way that things are going south?

Same stuff.

How to update the backlog?

Here’s how teams do backlog refinement:

  • If you can include additional tasks, add it to the sprint backlog

    During the sprint planning meeting, the team may select a few items to develop. 

Once those are done, they may still be able to tackle a few more before the current sprint is over. They should then discuss this with the product owner and Scrum master, choose the items and add them to the current sprint backlog.

  • If something is unnecessary, remove it from the sprint backlog

During the sprint planning session, the team may select too many items and won’t be able to finish all of them in the current iteration

They should then remove the least priority sprint backlog items from the sprint backlog after discussing it with the product owner and Scrum master.

  • If something has been completed, update the remaining work in the sprint backlog

This is often done during the daily Scrum meeting with the help of a burndown chart. Based on how long the team took to develop an item, the Scrum master determines the time required for the other sprint backlog items

A sprint burndown chart is then created to track how the sprint is progressing.
Tip: You can use a project management tool to create burndown charts easily.

Ideally, a sprint backlog must not be updated more than once per day and it’s best to do this during the daily Scrum meeting.

While you’ll need to complete most of the sprint backlog items to deliver the increment, you shouldn’t rush through it just for the sake of clearing the backlog. This can actually affect the quality of the end product. 

Much like undercooking the chicken because you’re running out of time!

And you know what happens when you serve undercooked chicken to the judges, right?

You go home!

Remember, whatever’s incomplete can always be tackled in the next sprint.

How to manage your sprint backlogs easily

You now know how to build and use a sprint backlog.

But wait… how do you manage it?

Remember, the sprint backlog is no simple recipe. 

You can’t just use a spreadsheet or to-do app for backlog management. That’s only going to complicate things and Gordon’s not going to like the sound of that.

Luckily, you have powerful project management tools like ClickUp to help you out. 

What’s ClickUp?

clickup project management on all devices

ClickUp is the world’s leading Agile project management software. Used by 100,000+ teams in startups to major companies like Google, Netflix, Nike and Airbnb, this tool has everything you need to adapt instantly to the Scrum framework.

Whether you need an online Scrum board to manage backlogs or a platform to communicate updates to your Scrum team members, ClickUp is the only tool you’ll ever need

While it’s not going to help you cook a Michelin-star dish, it’ll definitely help you manage your backlogs.

Here’s a quick look at some of ClickUp’s features:

1. Sprint Lists 

The sprint backlog is all about keeping track of your backlog items

But how do you track them?

With ClickUp’s Sprint Lists, of course!

These are simple checklists that you can use to split backlog items into small sprint tasks

Just like a recipe’s ingredient list, these tasks can be quickly checked off as you progress. You can even add Scrum points to a sprint list to better estimate when you’ll be able to complete the backlog items.  

What’s more?

You can use these lists during the planning meeting or daily Scrum to plan or discuss your sprints.

sprint backlog project view in clickup

2. Burndown Charts 

Remember how we talked about using burndown charts to update backlogs? 

ClickUp lets you create powerful Burndown charts to help you know what’s left to be completed in the project

For easier identification, it’s even color-coded:

  • A red dotted line denotes your target line 
  • A blue line shows your actual progress 
  • A yellow dotted line estimates your final project progress if you continue at the same pace 

burndown chart

This way, you only need a glance to know how things will be if you’re moving at your current completion rate.

Think of it like a cooking thermometer — you can keep checking in on it to know when your turkey’s going to be ready!

But burndown charts aren’t the only visual data ClickUp gives you. You also get:

cumulative flow chart in clickup

3. Board View

Want to view all your Scrum tasks in one place? 

Use ClickUp’s Board View!

It displays all your projects and sprint tasks in an interactive Scrum board

For maximum ease of use, you get various features like:

  • Drag and drop functionality
  • Task categorization with sort and filter features
  • Task organization with tags and custom statuses
  • Multiple other task board views like list, box, calendar and me views 

scrum board in clickup

 4. Detailed Reports

The Scrum methodology is all about improving with each Scrum process

But for that, you need to know how your team’s doing in each Agile sprint, right? 

ClickUp gives you tons of real-time team reports for detailed insights on your tasks and team

And while Gordon may not need these reports, you definitely do!

You get reports like:

  • Task Completed Report: highlights which tasks each team member finished
  • Worked On Report: shows the tasks each member worked on during a given period
  • Workspace Points Report: gamifies task metrics to motivate your team to do well
  • Who’s Behind Report: shows which Scrum team members have unfinished tasks in the current sprint
  • Time Tracked Report: highlights the time spent on tasks by each member

scrum team reporting in clickup

But that’s not all of ClickUp’s features!

This project management software also gives you features like:

  • Priorities: know which tasks are urgent and tackle them first
  • Dependencies: create task orders for your Agile sprint
  • Custom Statuses: create unique task stages according to your project needs. For example, you can create a “testing” stage for your Agile software development project.  
  • Profiles: know each team member’s tasks and responsibilities quickly
  • Assigned Comments: create tasks out of comments to ensure that they never go unanswered

 

Conclusion

Creating a sprint backlog is crucial to defining what the team can pull off in each Agile sprint

But it’s not some simple recipe that you follow word-for-word. 

Instead, it evolves as the sprint moves forward, giving the Agile team an opportunity for continuous improvement. 

However, having a sprint backlog alone isn’t going to help you conquer your sprints. 

You also need to have the right tools to manage all those tasks

That’s why you need ClickUp — the most powerful project management platform ever developed! 

With a wide variety of intuitive project views and progress charts, ClickUp has everything you need to manage your backlogs efficiently. 

Sign up today and start cooking up amazing projects that even Gordon Ramsay would be proud of!

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