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What is a backlog?

Definition: A backlog is an organized list of features, ideas, tasks, updates, bug fixes, user stories, and sprints that need to be addressed/ completed up to a certain deadline. Backlogs can be sorted by dates, type or importance of tasks, or other criteria the product lead agreed upon.

Backlogs are ever-changing documents that help simplify product development by outlining specific tasks. The backlog contents, format, and type are determined by backlog guidelines.

What is a backlog used for?

Backlogs are used for:

  • Address the urgency and move the critical tasks up;
  • Describe the features required to be implemented for the next release;
  • Track the progress updates;
  • Sketch out the user stories;
  • Highlight the user requests and issues;
  • Answer the questions stakeholders might have.

What are the types of backlog?

There are three types of backlogs:

  1. Product Backlog — A broad list of features worthy of implementation, but not yet organized and refined;
  2. Release Backlog — A prioritized feature list ready for the upcoming release;
  3. Sprint Backlog — A collection of different user stories product owners share with developers and require them to complete in a certain time period.

Benefits of Using a Backlog

Backlog help organize the work, define tasks, and stay punctual with the delivery.

Additionally, backlogs bring the teams together for idea brainstorming (backlog grooming sessions). They also help bridge the time/distance gaps for remote teams and keep them engaged and are often referenced in weekly standups.

A well-managed backlog sketches out the strategic product plan and eliminates the uncertainty with mapped-out tasks, plans, and goals for the product’s future.

Common Challenges With a Backlog

  • Backlog items are not specific enough — Backlog requires collaboration between teams and needs to be written in a language everybody involved understands. Each item should be described in detail, following backlog guidelines. 
  • The backlog format is too complicated — Stick to the simple list with details, and avoid tiers and numerous branches to describe a single idea.
  • Backlog isn’t managed properly — Without good backlog management, backlogs can get messy, unorganized, too long, and lack focus. Hold regular grooming sessions to vet, prioritize, sort, and elaborate on ideas, as well as to define each task. 

What is the difference between product roadmap and product backlog?

Product Roadmap and Product Backlog both belong to the early product development phase and should be in sync, but have different purposes.

A product Roadmap is a high-level tool that shows where the product is headed in the months/years to come, and why

Product Backlog is a prioritized to-do list that comes after you paint the bigger picture with a Product Roadmap. It simplifies complex ideas by breaking them into more digestible parts.

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Article FAQs

What is the Scrum backlog?
The Scrum backlog (or product backlog) is a feature list of a minimum viable product (MVP). Each item on the Scrum backlog is accompanied by a brief feature description. The product teams create Scrum backlogs as a way to jot down the most important feature details for a functional product.
What is backlog grooming?
Backlog grooming is the process of refining, adjusting, and updating the Scrum backlog, so it corresponds with the stakeholders’ vision of the product.
Which role is responsible for managing backlog?
Product Owners belong to both Agile and Product Management teams, making them responsible for backlog management.

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