Effective Sprint Backlog Management

A Scrum Team building a Sprint Backlog during Sprint Planning
Mitch Lacey | Feb 25, 2024

The Sprint Backlog is a Scrum artifact, or a tool, at the heart of a Sprint. It is an artifact that when mismanaged or ignored, often leads to Scrum teams to be in a whirlwind of disorganization. What is this artifact that holds such importance? Let’s dive into Sprint Backlog, understanding its core definition, its ownership, and who is responsible for its management.

What is a Sprint Backlog?

As illustrated in the Scrum Guide, the Sprint Backlog is more than a simple list; it’s the heartbeat of every sprint. Created at the Sprint Planning meeting, the Sprint Backlog is a living document containing everything your team has forecast or committed to complete during a single Sprint. It details the user stories, job stories, feature sets - everything planned for development during the Sprint, along with the tasks required to complete them.

When is the Sprint Backlog Created?

The Sprint Backlog is created at the beginning of the Sprint, during the Sprint Planning meeting. This is where the entire Scrum team’s aspirations for the upcoming sprint translate into a concrete action plan.

What goes in the Sprint Backlog?

A good Product Owner will come to the Sprint Planning meeting prepared with the work they want to see accomplished during the Sprint. They will have a selection of items from the Product Backlog, based on priority, and based on what the historical velocity (work executed over time) shows can be can realistically be achieved during the Sprint. These items are then dissected into tasks and estimated by the Developers, as they are responsible for the execution of the work in the Sprint Backlog.

Who is Responsible for Managing the Sprint Backlog?

My agile colleagues and I often joke with a phrase,

  • The people who identify the tasks also estimate the tasks.
  • The people who estimate the tasks also execute the tasks.
  • The peole who execute the tasks also manage the tasks.
  • The people who manage the tasks are also the people who identified the tasks.

Ownership of the Sprint Backlog is a duty solely owned by the Developers on a Scrum team. They are the creators and caretakers of this document, collaborating to outline the work and adapting it as needed. This behavior helps to reinforce the cross-functional and self-managing aspect of Scrum.

Who Executes the Work in the Sprint Backlog?

The Developers are the ones who breathe life into the Sprint Backlog’s items. As the creators of the tasks needed to accomplish the work, they transform the Sprint Backlog from a mere collection of tasks into a completed increment of the product. Their business titles are meaningless, their overall objective should be to create a product increment that adds additional value and is demonstrable. Overall, their goal is to create customer satisfaction through continuous delivery of valuable software or work.

What is the difference between the Product Backlog and the Sprint Backlog?

The Sprint Backlog is the work created by the Developers for a single Sprint. The Product Backlog is the work identified by the Product Owner, collaborating with the business, customers and/or stakeholders to identify all potential journeys and discoveries.

The Product Backlog is an extensive list of everything that might be needed in the product, constantly evolving and reprioritized, while the Sprint Backlog is focused, detailing only what the team commits to address in the current Sprint.

The Sprint Backlog and Execution are two sides of the same coin, one laying the foundation, the other building upon it every day. And while Scrum guides your execution, how to do the work, it’s the Agile spirit that propels your team forward, the mindset to approaching the work.

The Sprint Backlog is not merely a Scrum artifact; it’s a commitment that each member upholds, promoting transparency, self-management and collective-ownership in a team’s ability to adapt as needed. In its simplicity, is a solution to an otherwise complex problem of project management in the Agile era. It’s an embodiment of planning, collective responsibility, and the nimble execution of tasks.


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