How Product and Sprint Backlogs Drive Working Functionality Early On

Why Use Agile Methodology and Scrum framework?

One of the main reasons agile and Scrum works so well is because not using them can cause a litany of problems — in other words, it’s hard to provide an accurate estimate of unspecified requirements. What do we mean by this? In a traditional project management approach, the team will write a very detailed technical specification before starting development. They will then implement all of the functionality as one big package. While this can work, this approach is fraught with so many risks that often, in practice, it doesn’t work. That’s why here at Active Bridge, we don’t use this “waterfall” style approach. Starting the project with a “big bang,” wherein the first deliverable is at the very end of the project, is far too risky. It often results in a product that is too disconnected and distanced from the real business goals and user needs.

agile vs waterfall | Active Bridge

What Is Product Backlog Exactly? Product Backlog Explained

If you’ve got to this point in the article, you’re probably most of the way to being convinced that agile methodologies are essential for a successful development project. However, without this missing part of the picture, understanding precisely what Product Backlog in agile actually is, you can’t get all the way there. This is what we’re going to be looking at in this section.

  • Developing and accurately communicating the Product Goal.
  • Creating and clearly and concisely explaining the Product Backlog.
  • Organizing the Product Backlog and ensuring it is transparent, accessible, and understandable to the team.

How to Create a More Effective Product Backlog (Our Top Tips!)

Filling Out Your Product Backlog

The Product Backlog is filled using various sources, but it’s essential to know why and how these items ended up on the list. The three key sources are the users (customers), and from the business side, managers and developers. The users bring the most valuable information because they help close the gap between the expectation and reality of the software. Ultimately, it’s the users who have to be happy with and use the product regularly after the project is complete, so their input is paramount.

Using SMART Goals

Most people well versed in the business world are familiar with the acronym SMART, but let’s have a quick recap for those who haven’t seen it recently. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, T ime-bound, and is a tool used to guide goal setting. Put simply, with SMART, goals become clear and reachable and allow you to focus on the end result.

Amending the Backlog as Needed

Once you’ve created the backlog, you must adjust it regularly as the program progresses. For example, Product Owners should review the backlog before each iteration planning meeting to refine the prioritization and make changes based on findings from the last iteration.

Product Backlog Prioritization

With limited time to execute all items, we have to choose the most important tasks to execute first, followed by less important (but still needed) tasks. Several different factors go into backlog prioritization, including business value, complexity, risk/opportunity, cost, and customer satisfaction.

Short and Long Term Tasks

In larger Product Backlogs, product owners also group the items into short-term and long-term tasks.

What Is a Sprint Backlog? Sprint Backlog in Agile Explained

The Sprint Backlog in agile is considered a subset of the Product Backlog. The list of items in the Sprint Backlog comes from the Product Backlog but only contains tasks that can be completed during an agile sprint. Another way to think of a Sprint Backlog is marching orders for the team to embark on their next short Sprint.

What Does a Sprint Backlog Contain?

  • Sprint planning — Short sprints allow you to release working versions of the product more often and consequently receive valuable feedback and detect errors ahead of time. In contrast, long sprints will enable you to devote more time to problem-solving. The optimal sprint length lies between these two and is around two weeks.
  • Stand-up meetings — The team should hold short meetings (around 15–30 minutes) daily or weekly. The Product Owner, Scrum Master, and all developers should attend. The meeting aims to get answers to three questions: What has been accomplished since the last meeting? What are the plans for today? Are there any obstacles to achieving the goal?
  • Sprint demo — Developers take turns demonstrating the new functionality live and using actual data. The focus is on WHAT we did, not HOW we did it.
  • Sprint Retrospective — The purpose is to plan ways to increase quality and effectiveness. To achieve this, the team discusses what went well and what could have been improved in the last Sprint, and what to commit to improving in the next Sprint.

How To Design a Better Sprint Backlog (Our Top Tips)

  • Each Sprint should have a clearly defined goal.
  • For the team to be self-organized, we design each Sprint according to a well-defined template: number, sprint goal, sprint backlog with evaluation for each story, team composition, deadlines, daily meeting times, organizational events.
  • Our Sprints are two weeks long (the optimal length for a Sprint). Short Sprints are convenient and allow for much more flexibility. For example, a short Sprint means a short feedback loop which leads to more frequent releases. More frequent releases mean more feedback from customers and less time wasted moving in the wrong direction.
  • Once roles are defined, no one should interfere with the Sprint. Without interference, the team becomes self-organized, self-motivated, autonomous, and highly productive.
  • It’s essential to believe in the power and purpose of daily or weekly stand-ups. They’re not there as an admin tick-in-the-box but as a critical communication tool.
  • We are solely focused on demonstrating working code with real data and getting feedback from real users already working on the system. Anything else is counterproductive.

How the Product Backlog and Sprint Backlog Work Together

To work effectively, the team must have a clear idea of their roles and responsibilities and understand the difference between a Product Backlog and Sprint Backlog.

Next Steps

By now, you’re all clued up on how to implement Product and Sprint Backlogs! You have the tools you need to follow agile methodology principles in a way that drives results. And you should be able to plan a dynamic and robust development project successfully.



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