The Sprint Backlog: Why It’s Important and How to Make it Great

Everyone seems to be in love with things like Scrum, Lean and Agile. And rightly so: There is a lot of wisdom packed into those methodologies that we can learn from and apply to our everyday lives as developers or even managers.

But probably the most important tool (and certainly my favorite) of them all is the Sprint Backlog. Let’s explore what the Sprint Backlog is and how to make it work for you!

What Is a Sprint?

First, let’s define what a “Sprint” actually is in Scrum. A Sprint usually lasts two weeks (but can also be four weeks) and comes with the following restrictions: a fixed length no changes in the Sprint backlog allowed after the Sprint starts (with a few exceptions).

The Sprint is a time-boxed iteration that can be scheduled to align with product or project milestones. It’s a container for a set of related work and it has an end date. The important thing about a Sprint is that it has a fixed length, which forces time-constraints on the work. It’s best to align them with your project milestones (e.g. every four weeks) or product releases (e.g. every six months).

It’s important that you don’t allow changes into an ongoing Sprint, so it came as a surprise for me when a Scrum Master, who owns the sprint backlog , told me that he allowed an ongoing Sprint to extend itself from four weeks to six. Technically, the team was not working overtime as it had saved up some time during the first four weeks and is using it in the last two. I still think this is dangerous as you’ll find yourself doing changes into an ongoing Sprint, which will force unneeded questions.

If we look into more technical reasons, then we can say that extending a Sprint means that you extend its capacity and don’t reflect on whether it makes sense to do so: The Sprint Backlog may be extended beyond what can reasonably be accomplished with the given Capacity of the Development Team within the given TimeboxSprint). It’s better to add a new Sprint than to expand the length of an existing Sprint. We don’t have any Scrum Master, seriously!

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There are several problems that are covered by this one statement. I’m not declaring whether it’s true or not here as I simply do not know, but these are just some thoughts on why someone may say something like this: There is no defined team size in Scrum . One Scrum Team can have up to nine members while another may be composed of only six people. Saying you need at least two persons to form a proper Scrum Team seems somehow wrong if you imagine yourself working on smaller projects with less features and moving pieces of functionality every day. If you decide to use this argument then you’ll have to be prepared for someone’s question why you still think one person can’t handle an entire piece of functionality.

You’ve told me several reasons so far, but there must be more? Some tasks are just too complex for Scrum . You may agree that it’s fine to release small features (like a small button) every day but what if the task at hand is to replace an existing ten-thousand lines long method with something else? Even if you’re working alone this could take weeks. This argument I don’t like much because no matter how difficult or complex your work really is, it should take less than three months (Scrum’s Sprint length) unless you were still in definition phase when your team decided on the Sprint length.

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If you’re still in definition phase and your Sprint length is way longer than three months, this really shows that the team does not know how to work together yet. Definition phase should only last a few days before the real work starts – otherwise it’s just management driven project planning which I consider an anti-pattern. It doesn’t matter if ” the client asked for the extra time “. Even though you might be finished at some point (after six month or so), it will be an overkill solution which wastes your money and time in maintenance later.

  • Scrum is too simple! We need more bureaucracy because we’re adults . As Scrum works fine for kids like us, why stick with it? Scrum doesn’t scale. In a large organization there is simply too much work for one team to handle.
  • Scrum doesn’t work if you have external service providers. Of course! Scrum works best in an ideal world where everyone does what they promise and nothing ever changes.

Since the project uses Scrum, we’ll also write a high level plan . No need to do any real estimation. And since our clients pay by the hour, why bother with sprints? We’ll just use some Kanban board – not because it makes sense but because management likes the term ” Kanban “.

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