Scrum Sprint Backlog: Main Purpose & Example

Instructor: Stephen Meyer

Stephen has worked as a Project Manager and is PMP certified, as well as certified by the Scrum Alliance.

In a Scrum project, requirements are continually broken down in order to be more manageable. This occurs when they are created, as well as when they are taken into the sprint backlog. Learn the main purpose of a Scrum sprint backlog.

Starting Point

Renee has recently accepted a position as a developer at a software company that uses Scrum as their project methodology. She is new to Scrum and has been using educational resources to become more familiar with it. As someone who will be responsible for completing project work, she focuses on understanding how work progresses throughout the project. This leads her to the sprint backlog.

In Scrum, the most common form of Agile, project work is completed in repeated intervals, typically 2 to 4 weeks in length, known as sprints. In order to be completed in shorter, frequent intervals, the work must be broken down into a more manageable form. This form is known as a user story, which is a project requirement that focuses on functionality for a specific user. User stories are written by the Product Owner, the individual requesting the project. They are kept in prioritized order in the product backlog to be taken on by the development team.

Renee is primarily concerned with how work is taken on by the development team. In Scrum, this occurs at the start of each sprint. The development team meets with the Product Owner in a sprint planning meeting to review the high-priority user stories in the product backlog. Once the team fully understands them and is confident they can be completed during the sprint, the user stories are moved from the product backlog to the sprint backlog. This is the grouping of work to be fully developed and testing during the sprint, kept in prioritized order.

Makeup and Example

As Renee gains an understanding of how sprint backlogs originate, she moves on to what they consist of and how they are used. These questions cannot be answered through educational materials but must come directly from her team. While there are commonalities between sprint backlogs, they vary from team to team. As she focuses on implementation, she needs specific knowledge of her team's practices.

Once user stories move from the product backlog to the sprint backlog, Renee's team breaks them down into tasks, which include anything that is necessary for the user story to be completed. Tasks typically focus on design or coding. For example, if Renee's team was working on a retail website, one user story might be for a customer's ability to create a login. A design task would be creating the layout for the web page that the customer would use. Coding tasks would include validating the login information entered and storing it. This process is completely driven by Renee and her team. It is up to the team to determine the tasks involved with each user story, as well as who will complete each task.

The tasks for each user story progress through stages of completion. There are typically different statuses that reflect whether work is actively being worked on, tested, or completed. This is often done using a physical board, referred to as a Scrum task board, where user stories and tasks are written on post-it notes and the different stages of completion are vertical columns on the board. Electronic versions could also be used but the key is a visual representation of the work and its progression.

Renee's team uses a physical Scrum task board. A user story and its associated tasks start in a column labeled 'Sprint Backlog'. As the tasks are being completed, they are 'In Progress'. From there, the tasks move to 'Peer Review', where the code is verified. After peer review, the user story and all tasks move to 'In Test' where testing occurs and after this is complete, they are moved to 'Done'. It is important for her team to have a common definition of done and what is necessary for tasks and user stories to progress through the board.


Once Renee knows where the sprint backlog comes from and how her team approaches it, the last thing she looks to understand is why it is beneficial. She feels this is necessary for her to embrace the sprint backlog. She could know everything there is to know about it, but she will not be able to fully support it without understanding its value. The benefits of the sprint backlog include visibility and organization, as well as increased efficiency.

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