What is a Product Backlog?

Scrum Process

A product backlog is a prioritized list of work for the development team that is derived from the roadmap and its requirements. It will typically comprise of a list of the new features, changes to existing features, bug fixes, infrastructure changes, etc.

The backlog is a central element of the Scrum framework and serves as a dynamic document that evolves throughout the project’s lifecycle.

There are two main types of backlogs in Scrum:

  • Product Backlog: The Product Backlog is the higher-level backlog that contains all the features, user stories, and requirements for the product under development. It is managed by the Product Owner, who is responsible for prioritizing the items based on their value to the customer and business goals. The items at the top of the Product Backlog are usually more detailed and well-understood, while items further down may be less defined.
  • Sprint Backlog: The Sprint Backlog is a subset of the Product Backlog and contains the work items that the Development Team commits to completing during a specific sprint, which is a time-boxed iteration in Scrum (typically 2-4 weeks in duration). The items in the Sprint Backlog are selected by the Development Team during the Sprint Planning meeting. These are the tasks, user stories, or features that the team believes they can complete within the sprint.

The key characteristics of a good backlog include:

  • Prioritization: Items in the backlog should be prioritized based on their importance and value to the product and stakeholders. This helps ensure that the most valuable work is addressed first.
  • Estimation: Each backlog item should be estimated in terms of effort or complexity, typically using techniques like story points or time estimates. This helps the team plan and commit to a reasonable amount of work for each sprint.
  • Emergent: The backlog is a living document that evolves as the project progresses and as new information becomes available. New items can be added, and existing items can be reprioritized or removed.
  • Refinement: Backlog refinement, also known as backlog grooming, is a regular activity where the Scrum Team reviews and updates the backlog items. This helps keep the backlog in good shape and ensures that the top items are well-defined and ready for implementation.

Managing the Backlog

Product owners should review the backlog before each iteration planning meeting to ensure prioritization is correct and feedback from the last iteration has been incorporated. Regular review of the backlog is often called “backlog grooming”.

If the backlog isn’t effectively managed, it can get too large. Reviewing the backlog effectively during grooming sessions and pulling in required features, bug fixes, technical debt items on a regular basis into the sprint will help contain the growth.

Who Owns the Backlog?

The Product Owner owns the backlog. The Product Owner is responsible for organizing and maintaining the product backlog. However, the entire cross-functional team works together on the backlog.


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About the Author: Anuj Seth

Anuj is a certified PMP with over 20 years of Software Development and Management experience. He founded PM Tips in 2020. Contributors are welcome. Drop him a note via the Contact page.

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