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All you need to know about managing your sprint backlog 8 min read
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According to

Sprint: to race or move at full speed

Backlog: to hold in reserve

Which makes the sprint backlog a bit of a misnomer. Much like the Panama hat, which comes from Ecuador. Or the strawberry. Not technically a berry.

However, given the world of project management also harbors such gems as RACI, PERT, SWOT, and EVM, we should probably just be thankful it’s not another acronym to sweat over and move on.

In this article, we’ll clarify exactly what a sprint backlog is and how to use it. We’ll also show you our top pick for the software that makes managing your sprint backlog a piece of cake.

No prizes for guessing which though.

What is a sprint backlog?

In Agile project management — specifically Scrum project management — “sprints” are short increments of time where specified project tasks are completed. The sprint backlog is the list of work items that will be tackled in that sprint.

The sprint backlog is a subset of the product backlog. The product backlog is a list of all the features the business wants to be developed over the life cycle of the project.

At the beginning of every sprint — during the sprint planning meeting — the project team decides which features from the product backlog will be worked on and moves them over to the sprint backlog.

The sprint plan needs to show 3 things:

  • Sprint goal. One or 2 sentences that explain the why of the sprint.
  • Sprint backlog items. This is a list of what’s being delivered during the upcoming sprint.
  • Delivery plan. The action plan of how to deliver each backlog item.

The sprint backlog can be displayed in a Scrum board, like this one.

screenshot of the sprint planning template showing items on the sprint backlog

Deciding which items will be worked on actually starts at the end of the previous sprint, during the sprint review meeting.

In this sprint meeting, the project team shares the work that’s been completed during the current sprint with business stakeholders. Each sprint backlog item will be discussed, and feedback sought.

This input helps inform what should be worked on during the next iteration. There’s a process of product backlog refinement as new features are requested, and each task is reprioritized.

In conjunction with the product owner — who represents the needs of the business — the project team pulls items over from the product backlog to form the sprint backlog for the next sprint.

To learn more about the key meetings used during a sprint, check out our article on Scrum ceremonies.

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How to use a sprint backlog

Once the sprint backlog has been agreed by the project team and business stakeholders, it’s time to get to work.

The sprint backlog can be used for 2 main things:

Work allocation

A key principle of Scrum teams is that they have the right capability and capacity within the team to tackle whatever features are required to be developed.

This means that individual team members are best able to pick their own items to work on from the sprint backlog. In this way, work isn’t allocated by one person but is chosen by individual team members based on their expertise.

The sprint backlog will also have an estimation of how much effort each item requires to be delivered, which helps team members to match their capacity with the work that needs to be done.

Effort can be estimated in hours or using story points.

What are story points?

Story points are a unit of measure that describes the effort required to deliver a particular product backlog item.

Story points are estimated by the project team and are influenced by the amount of work, the perceived complexity, and the risk and uncertainty involved in delivering the item.

The numbers themselves don’t matter, it’s their value relative to each other that is useful. A story point of 0.25 requires half the amount of effort of a story point of 0.5.

Over time — by tracking how many story points they can deliver each sprint — a project team’s more accurately able to predict its overall capacity. This is known as the team’s velocity and helps with resource planning for each iteration.

screenshot showing iteration planning board including capacity planning information

Progress updates

At the end of each sprint, the sprint backlog is a useful reminder of what was agreed to be completed during the sprint.

During the sprint review meeting, the project team can go through each item and demonstrate the progress made to business stakeholders. Their feedback about the items that have been developed during the sprint also informs future sprint planning.

During the sprint, the backlog can act as a visual reminder of what’s being worked on and by whom.

Daily meetings — called stand-ups — are held where each member of the project team updates the rest on exactly what element they’re working on that day, and what they plan to work on next.

This is a helpful way to keep everyone on the same page and to identify any obstacles that are interfering with work being done by the team. Any obstacles that are identified are owned by the Scrum Master, whose job it is to remove them.

A great way to visually monitor progress during the sprint is on a burndown chart.

What’s a burndown chart?

A burndown chart is a visible representation of the effort required over the time period in question.

image of an example sprint burndown chart

(Image Source)

A burndown chart can be used at a project level to monitor overall project progress against the business requirements captured in the product backlog.

It can also be used during a sprint to monitor progress against the sprint backlog tasks.

At the start of the sprint, the project team can map its expected effort over time, using story points as a measure of effort. During the sprint, the team can map how many items have been completed, and compare that to the amount of effort still to be completed.

This gives an indicator of progress and dictates whether the project is running to schedule or if some long nights of work lay on the horizon.

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How to manage your sprint backlog using

Planning and prioritizing work for each sprint starts at the previous sprint review, where stakeholder feedback is received and new items added to the product backlog.

The product backlog is then reviewed by both the project team and business stakeholders to decide what’s worked on next. Timely and transparent progress reporting is required to inform that decision. offers 8 different data visualizations in a clear and colorful dashboard, so it’s easy to measure both sprint and overall project progress.

Plus’s in-platform suite of collaboration tools means collecting stakeholder input is easy. Project documentation can be shared, viewed, and annotated in real-time, so feedback is traceable and in context.

image of comment tracking on a sprint planning board in

Scrum team members have autonomy over how they plan, organize, and monitor the progress of their work.

The building block functionality of the Work OS means team members can build workflows that suit them and the way they work.

Information stored in the sprint planning board can be shown in several ways while maintaining a single, central source of data.

For example, some team members may organize their tasks in a Gantt chart, whereas others may prefer the simplicity of a ‘Done’, ‘Doing’, ‘To-Do’ Kanban Board.

screenshot of work organized in a Kanban board showing completed, in-progress and stuck tasks.

And if you want to monitor progress using a sprint burndown chart, can help through its 2-way integration with Excel.

Exporting effort levels from the sprint backlog to Excel helps estimate your planned effort, whereas importing your in-flight burndown chart helps track progress against the backlog.

Keep everyone on track using a sprint backlog

In this article, we’ve brought clarity to the contrarily-named sprint backlog. The sprint backlog is useful for maintaining focus during each sprint, clearly showing what needs to be achieved.

During the sprint, the burndown chart shows what’s been completed from the list and what’s still outstanding.

The burndown chart is a great way to visibly show progress during the sprint and should be prominently displayed to motivate and encourage effort.

What are you waiting for? Get started today with our sprint planning template.

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