Organising the Sprint Backlog in Agile Teams

Ewan Roxburgh
September 22, 2020
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Organising your Sprint Backlog in agile project management according to Scrum methodology can be quite a challenge. It requires dedicated time and resources, with the Product Owner overseeing and prioritising work required to plan a Sprint

But what are the tricks to organising your Sprint Backlog in agile Scrum-based project management? What are the issues you’re seeking to avoid and what tools are best to use?

 

What is the Product Backlog?

 

To first understand a Sprint Backlog and managing it, we need to first understand the overarching Product Backlog. You also need to be thinking about your Sprint Goal, which we dissected more in our last blog post.

A Backlog, be it in Kanban or Scrum methodology, is a list of feature ideas, update requests, bugs, technical work and research that’s required to improve the functionality of your project, listed in order of their priority.

 

Organising a Sprint in Agile Teams

Photo by Jonathan Chng on Unsplash

 

What is the Sprint Backlog?

 

With the Scrum methodology, work is drawn from the Product Backlog to be worked on over the upcoming iteration, placing it in the Sprint Backlog.

 

5 Tips for Keeping an Organised Backlog

 

1) Have a simple and clear strategy for managing workload, and stick to it

 

Establishing a system and rules to manage your Backlog and you Sprints is critical. For example, putting a limit on how many items can exist within a Backlog is essential. 

Seeing as they’re your rules, you’ll be tempted to bend them. Don’t.

 

2) Have a dedicated Product Owner

 

Managing Backlogs, prioritising them and aligning them with business requirements takes work. It’s time and effort.

Having a dedicated Product Owner is essential, ensuring they have the time to regularly review and ‘groom’ the Backlog.

Kanban methodology typically doesn’t involve assigning roles in the same way Scrum Teams do, but the team collectively, or a subgroup of the team, can take the time to get everything organised.

 

3) Evaluation and make decisions

 

To avoid ballooning out your Backlog, prioritisation is important. For every idea, critically evaluate it and decide how important it is to your product users. How necessary is its inclusion, and how urgently is it needed?

Again, rules are useful. Cap what’s included in your Sprint Backlog and if new ideas are always emerging — as they ought to — maybe consider a “one in, one out” rule.

 

4) Set expiry limits

 

Ideas can sometimes sit on a Backlog for a while. In that time, user requirements of the competitive landscape may change. It’s important when you decide what’s included in a Sprint to consider how relevant it remains.

Establishing a rule that items on a Backlog be re-evaluated after a period of time helps you keep the Backlog from overly inflating, and ensures it stays timely.

 

5) Section up your list

 

Improving how you organise a Sprint Backlog starts with the Product Backlog. Keeping it sectioned up, be it sections attributed to priorities, stories, features, particular user personas or problem areas, this will make it easier to understand when you draw from it.

You could even plan ahead and keep it sectioned up into individual Sprints if it works for you, assuming you have a strategy in place for making changes and fixes as you go. 

 

Maintaining the Sprint Backlog in Agile Teams

Photo by You X Ventures on Unsplash

 

Tools to Manage a Sprint Backlog in Agile

 

Spreadsheets: The Basic Option

 

Perhaps the most basic and common way to organise a Sprint Backlog in agile teams is with a spreadsheet, be it in Excel or Google Sheets. These can be very versatile and easily interpretable but are not without limitation.

Of course, columns can be customised to your heart’s content, highlighting the priority of each item, the amount of work required, its status, who the work is assigned to, etc. It can be further categorised with horizontal segments that speak to particular user stories or Sprints. In the latter case, your Sprint Backlogs are sections with the Product Backlog — very handy.

However, spreadsheets require a lot of manual maintenance. Reorganising it can be difficult and tedious. Unless you working in the cloud, juggling multiple saves and keeping it updated can be a challenge. Data, once deleted, can be impossible to retrieve. You can work around some of these issues with careful management, but regardless it becomes time-consuming and cumbersome.

 

Physical Kanban Boards: The Most Interactive Option

 

Despite hailing from the continual Kanban methodology of agile project management, Kanban Boards are popular among Scrum Teams for managing Backlogs and Sprints. Physical boards, be they on a wall with post-it notes or a whiteboard, are super popular.

These can take the many forms with task cards prioritised in a vertical column and moved horizontally between other lists as they progress. Anthony Murphy has a bunch of ingenious setups for physical boards such as this. 

Physical Kanban Boards are popular as it’s tactile and tangible, something that a whole team can interact with if they share a workspace. It’s also very visible, great to gather around in a meeting, and excellent at starting conversations.

However, they’re often light on detail; there’s only so much you can include on a post-it note. You can’t attach files or embed links. For people working remotely too, they’re not very accessible. You can’t take a whiteboard with you everywhere you go.

 

 

 

Digital Kanban Boards: The Best Option

 

The ideal tool for managing Sprint Backlogs in agile teams is a digital Kanban Board. Is had the best of both worlds, the flexibility you need, a tactile interface and easy access wherever you may work.

Setting up your Board as you like with custom columns, you can quickly and easily organise your Backlog as you choose. Your first list may be dedicated to your Backlog. As tasks are moved into a Sprints you can shift them to your second list, your Sprint Backlog. As progress continues, they can be shuffled into lists further right, containing in-progress work or changes being tested, until they’re eventually marked ‘done’.

Digital Kanban Boards are quick and convenient, and each card can contain all the information, files and comments you need.

 

Organising Your Backlog in Eoiin Connect

 

Eoiin Connect’s Agile Board Module contains a customisable Kanban Board you can use to manage all sorts of work, including a Product Backlog. It’s a fantastic tool to organise Sprint Backlogs in agile teams.

Check out our tutorial to see it in action:

 

 

 

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