Engineering Backlog

What is an Engineering Backlog?

A backlog is any list of unfinished, actionable tasks to be completed to achieve a strategic goal. The product owner maintains an engineering backlog. This backlog is a tool to track and prioritize the development team’s tasks in upcoming sprints. This is common in agile organizations.

However, it’s important to note that the term engineering backlog has different meanings in different companies. Some agile organizations use the term to describe a backlog where the product owner breaks down epics or user stories into specific engineering tasks. (In this case, the team’s engineering backlog is essentially the product backlog.)

For other companies, the engineering backlog is a place to track and prioritize product ideas and suggestions. The engineering team itself may submit these. Still, other organizations use an engineering backlog as a dedicated document for maintaining a list of product bugs and defects that need fixing.

What’s Included on an Engineering Backlog?

As we pointed out above, an engineering backlog can have several definitions and uses, which vary by organization. But the typical items you will find on this type of backlog will include:

  • New user stories
  • Changes to existing user stories)
  • Product bugs and defects
  • Specific tasks (or blocks of time) to address technical debt in the product
  • The initiatives for the engineering team to complete in the next sprint
  • Engineers’ suggestions for improving the product
Product teams often struggle to prioritize the right features that give customers the most value. The backlog is essential to your process, but treating your backlog as your roadmap has several pitfalls. Join Jim Semick from ProductPlan and Michael Lauricella from Atlassian to learn how your backlog and strategic roadmap can work better together.

Who Owns the Engineering Backlog and How Do They Maintain It?

The product owner is responsible for maintaining the engineering backlog. These responsibilities include:

  • Keeping items on the backlog arranged in priority order at all times.
  • Ensure the backlog items are all actionable, clearly written, and a standard development cycle timeframe is feasible. (For agile companies, this is typically within one or two development sprints.)
  • Regularly reviewing the backlog items against the product roadmap. Ensure the development team’s current task-level plans align with the company’s strategic goals for the product.
  • Removing items that no longer belong on the engineering backlog for any reason.
  • Facilitating regular backlog grooming sessions with the cross-functional team to make sure the next several sprints worth of tasks are clear, actionable, and ready to be discussed in a sprint planning session.
  • Among the details, a team might update or refine during a backlog grooming session.
    • Changing the timeframe estimate to complete a task.
    • Adding more detail to a task.
    • Rearranging the priority order of several tasks.

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