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The Scrum framework presents a well-defined structure for agile projects to follow. The iterative project progression is supported by several key meetings and artifacts. The Product Backlog is one of the most important artifacts. It is essentially a prioritized collection of all the work to be completed – a subset of which feeds into each iteration, or Scrum Sprint.

So what is a Product Backlog?

One of the successes of Scrum is its ability to break up a large project or product development into smaller stages. This allows the team to  proceed iteratively towards project completion. To be able to do this, a list of all work tasks (known as items) is created. This list is known as the Product Backlog and is composed of Product Backlog Items.

Product backlogs are an essential component of Scrum. They are a list of all the features, tasks, and requirements that need to be completed for a given product or project. In Scrum, the product backlog is used to order and track the progress of work, as well as to communicate with stakeholders about what is being worked on and when it is expected to be completed.

The items within the Product Backlog are ordered by priority, complexity, developer availability, ROI and a whole number of factors. This is important, as it will reflect the order in which the project team takes them on. It is also important that work tasks are broken down sufficiently to create meaningful and workable items that can be included in a single Sprint.

One of the primary benefits of using a product backlog is that it allows teams to focus on delivering value to the end user. By ordering the items in the backlog, teams can ensure that they are working on the most important tasks first, rather than getting bogged down in low-priority tasks or spending time on unnecessary features.

Product Backlog Management

In order to effectively manage a product backlog, it is important to keep it up-to-date and well-organized. This typically involves:

  • regular review and refinement of the items on the backlog,
  • ongoing collaboration with stakeholders to ensure the priorities reflected in the backlog align with the needs and goals of the product or project.
  • regular interaction with the team clearly understand what is being built

By keeping the backlog organized and ordered, teams can stay focused on delivering value to the end user and ensuring that the product or project is a success.

Breaking down and estimating Product Backlog Items

Effective product backlog management ensures that the items on the backlog are clearly defined and easy to understand. This involves breaking down large tasks or features into smaller, more manageable chunks. By doing so, teams can more easily track progress and identify any potential roadblocks or issues that may arise.

As well as priority, each item in the Product Backlog is given an estimate of complexity. This can be done using story points – usually, a points scale (such as 1 to 10, but anything can be used) agreed amongst the team.

The team assigns each item a points value based on how easy or complex it will be to complete. This is easier to work with than fixed time estimates.

Defined and managed by the Product Owner

Scrum teams are largely self-managing instead of having a traditional project structure with a defined manager. However, the Scrum framework does define specific other key roles as part of a project. One of these is the Product Owner. They are responsible for the Product Backlog, item priorities, and story point values.

Prior to the start of a project, the Product Owner will create the Product Backlog and then manage it as the project proceeds through iterations. The Product Backlog is a living document and should be reviewed and kept up to date with changing requirements throughout the project.

From the Product Backlog to the Sprint Backlog

The Product Backlog contains all the work needed in the project. To implement these, they need to be handled within a single Sprint. The subset of items taken on in each Sprint is known as the Sprint Backlog. The Sprint Backlog is produced at the Sprint Planning meeting, held at the start of each Sprint session.

The Product Owner may help and guide selection, but the team members are responsible for decisions on inclusion. Decisions are based on the current requirements, item priorities, the points value of the remaining items, and the team’s capacity.

A ‘Sprint goal’ or high-level objective for what the team aims to achieve during that Sprint is also defined. Ensuring team focus is a key element of Scrum, and techniques like this help to maintain this.