How to use the full potential of your backlog

For some teams, the backlog is a project’s current state and projected future. For other teams, it is a graveyard of forgotten tickets. Here’s how to make sure your team’s backlog stays on track.

Backlog management

Article by


Deanna Miceli

Junior Frontend Developer
4 min read13 Feb 2024

The product backlog is a roadmap of any project: All the required work and interrelated dependencies are hashed out thoroughly into individual tasks. Building the product backlog is the first step in understanding the scope of the project. The next most important thing for teams to do is refine the product backlog, also known as backlog grooming.

Backlog grooming is part of the scrum process in which a team meets to examine their backlog items. Missing information, missing dependencies, or outstanding questions are addressed. Only after this can the work be estimated and prioritized. Read more about the scrum process

Make backlog grooming happen continuously

While backlog grooming, the development team’s participation is integral to having accuracy and transparency about the scope of the project. Backlog grooming should happen continuously throughout the lifecycle of the product because new features, bugs, and other deliverables will certainly be added to the product backlog. The feasibility and priority of new backlog items must be discussed and planned as a team during refinement.

The planning phase during or after backlog grooming is when part of a product backlog is transformed into a sprint backlog. Each sprint has its own backlog, which contains prioritized user stories that contribute to the goal of the sprint.

A user story is a way of writing a deliverable through the use of storytelling. It allows teams to describe work in terms of a goal, instead of a specific functionality. Sprint goals and user stories are part of the Agile methodology.

This transformation from product backlog to sprint backlog relies heavily on the development team’s guidance. Developers understand when items are ready to work versus when there are dependencies that must be finished first. Planning the order of execution can make or break a project’s deadline. 

My top 4 tips for agile product teams

1 – Start with small deliverables

Working on huge tickets is a bad practice with an easy fix: Break up those tickets into small user stories. Focusing on a user story should help guide you to a small enough deliverable. From there, create sub-tickets that handle incremental, testable pieces of work. In the end, one large feature might have 3 user stories, with each user story containing 2 or 3 sub-tickets. The advantages here are that parts of a feature can be delivered to testing at a faster rate, and the development team can work concurrently.

Minds at work

2 – Tech debt is not negligible

Have some code smell? Documentation that hasn’t been updated? Version updates that need to be made? These are all examples of tech debt.

Technical debt (or code debt) is the implied cost of future reworking in software development. It results from choosing an easy but limited solution instead of a better approach that could take more time. Here are 10 tips for dealing with technical debt

Stories tagged as tech debt should absolutely be tracked in your backlog. If a component with code smell is scheduled for an improvement, it will be impossible for the Product Owner to know that this update will actually incur extra points of scope. By having a tech debt story that is tagged as dependent on the new feature, everyone on the team will have an accurate estimate of the work needed to deliver the feature. This is only one example of how transparency and tracking everything is useful to a team’s planning. You might be thinking, tech debt tickets are never prioritized. In reality, developers should be advocating for required tech debt tickets to be part of the sprint’s scope when possible.

3 – Knowledge sharing is caring and timesaving

Besides advocating, another important job that developers should do when maintaining the backlog is to add technical details to stories. If they have additional information or examples, those should be added. This includes screenshots, code snippets, links to documentation, specific variable names and file names, and previous examples. You never know who will be working on the ticket, details can make development easier and faster for them. What takes one developer 5 minutes to write down can save another from hours of investigation.

Developer writing down product backlog
Image Source: ThisIsEngineering

4 – Check tickets early enough to be prepared

Finally, being prepared is probably the most important thing a development team can do. The first time reading the tickets does not have to be in the refinement meeting. If tickets are read in advance, the designs and requirements can be cross-checked for missing information or dependencies. There will surely be tickets that are not ready to work in the backlog. Avoiding these tickets before dependencies are resolved will keep the team from wasting time.

Conclusion: An excellent product is the result of successful collaboration

Don’t underestimate the impact the development team has. Instead, take action and use the backlog to its full potential. Maintaining the product backlog and organizing sprints is a collaboration between the development team and the Product Owner. Active participation and ownership result in a transparent and accurate backlog, which builds out an excellent product. 

Involved Minds:
Carina Felsberger
Senior UX WriterInvolved as:Editor
Kaja Fuchs
Junior Product OwnerInvolved as:Editor
Would you like to know more about agile development? I’m happy to answer your questions!
Deanna Miceli·Junior Frontend Developer