What is a backlog item?

The Scrum Guide lists the first responsibility of a product owner in managing the backlog as “Clearly expressing Product Backlog items” but what is a backlog item?

Backlog items are essentially any ideas that could add value to a product being developed. In Scrum, those ideas are turned into items that are stored on a product backlog – hence, backlog items or product backlog items (sometimes referred to as PBIs).

PBIs can take several forms; requirements for a product (typically expressed as user stories or epics), bugs, technical debt, features, functions, enhancements and fixes. Team process improvements such as action items from retrospectives may also be added as PBIs. PBIs can be seen as anything that contributes towards a future change to be made to the product.

Some examples of high-level backlog items:

  • Improve scalability of the product.
  • Simplify the installation process of the product.
  • Allow users to use the product on different hardware and operating systems.
  • As a customer I would like the address form to correctly validate my new postcode, so that I get deliveries to the correct address.
  • Include time for structured knowledge sharing sessions in the team capacity for the Sprint.

The product owner works to make sure PBIs are clear and concise, and they evolve as the related product is developed. As they evolve, they reflect changes in other requirements, market conditions or technology changes. In conjunction with the rest of the Scrum team, during backlog refinement, the product owner also works to break down PBIs into pieces of work small enough to be completed in a single sprint. PBIs are often then broken down even further into one or more tasks during sprint planning.

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