Illustration of project backlog.
September 30, 2020

What Is a Project Backlog + Examples?

Backlog Management

Here are the basics for your project backlog.

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What Is a Project Backlog?

A project backlog is a prioritized and structured list of deliverables that are a part of the scope of a project. It is often a complete list that breaks down work that needs to be completed.

The project backlog helps structure scope and identify business priorities before teams spend too much time planning the details.

For longer projects, teams may not keep the entire work breakdown structure in the project backlog. Instead, it may only focus on what needs to be done during a specific time period.

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What Does the Project Backlog in Agile Do?

Agile methodology focuses on products. Still, project-based organizations are still applying some Agile practices, such as working with backlogs. The project backlog replaces the product backlog. The main difference is that the project backlog is temporary. It will live as long as the single project. Whereas a product backlog (in theory) will have no end date and be used continuously throughout the lifecycle of a product.

Product backlog best practices should be implemented for your project backlog. For example, you want to have a single person own the backlog prioritization. The focus should also be to help the people managing the backlog to:

  • Detail the work.
  • Estimate timelines.
  • Refine user stories.
  • Prioritize backlog items.

What Project Backlogs Should Do

  1. Align stakeholders and teams by being a transparent single source of truth for the project’s scope.
  2. Be flexible and adapt as the project changes and new information is uncovered.
  3. Improve accuracy of deliverables.


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What is the Difference Between a Product Backlog, Sprint Backlog, and Project Backlog?

There are a lot of different types of backlogs. What makes them different?

Product Backlog

The product backlog is used by organizations to plan work for enhancing their product. Typically, organizations that aim to be Agile have abandoned projects altogether and the product backlog is the artifact that defines scope. This backlog is a container for work that you want to do to remain competitive. The product owner works in collaboration with other stakeholders (customers, teams, and analysts). Items are then added or removed, allowing it to change frequently.

Sprint Backlog

A sprint backlog is a subset of deliverable items that usually form a product or project backlog. It contains all work items the team has committed to completing within a current sprint (which may also be items from outside the product backlog). All of these items should be finished during the time-specific sprint. It is important that your sprint backlog aligns with your overall sprint goal.

Project Backlog

Project backlogs contain ideas that focus on a specific project. These backlogs are usually handled by a project owner in charge of a single team. Projects can be part of larger products managed by a product backlog. For example, an organization may deliver customer implementation projects as part of a larger product backlog. Or a game development company might manage each generation of a game as a project with a fixed delivery date (for example around Thanksgiving).

Get Tips to Master Your Mega Backlog >>


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Project Backlog Examples

Whether you are a big or small team, what does your project backlog need?

Project backlog items (PBIs) often include features and bugs — which are visible to customers. It also can include research, which is invisible to customers, but important for teams. When it comes to writing user stories, project backlog items should use the following template:

As a <stakeholder>, I want <action> so that <benefit>.

Project Backlog Examples: Features

New project backlog items come from a variety of sources. End users, support, sales, project management, and developers can all submit new ideas to your project backlog. These can be difficult to prioritize. You need to balance:

  • Existing customer satisfaction.
  • Near-term sales opportunities.
  • Long-term project vision.

As the project manager, you need to routinely review and resolve any conflicting or duplicated requests. This ensures your project backlog consists of features that can attract new customers and build loyalty with your existing customer base.  

Project Backlog Examples: Bugs and Defects

Bugs and defects are problems discovered by end users that escaped quality control during development. When working with a project backlog, testing is usually done as a part of each PBI. These can be managed within an issue tracker but can also be included in your project backlog.
Project Backlog Examples: Research

Research is instrumental when you know very little about how to implement a new feature or concept—or want to try something new. Either way, circumstances require you set aside time to expand the team’s understanding.

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How to Create a Project Backlog That Scales

When working on a project, teams often are working on an agreed-upon timeline and fixed scope. As the project owner, you need to manage your “cut line” for the project of what can and cannot be a part of it. Learn how you can create one backlog to manage it all.

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Unite Your Backlogs

Planning and organization are critical to your success. Your backlog needs to provide guidance to your teams, and their projects. When you create and manage it correctly, you can use a backlog for more than just a single project. But your project management tool needs to scale.

Because as your projects get bigger, it makes sense to manage one backlog for all. It helps everyone on your team navigate constant change, deal with dependencies, reach peak productivity, and deliver maximum value to both the business and the customer.

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Manage your backlog like a pro using Helix Plan (formerly Hansoft), the Agile backlog management tool for productive teams.

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More Tips on Backlogs

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