Create your backlog

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Your product backlog corresponds to your project plan, the roadmap for what your team plans to deliver. Once defined, you have a prioritized list of features and requirements to build. Your backlog also provides a repository of all the information you need to track and share with your team.

Your backlog consists of a list of work items. You use work items to share information, assign work to team members, track dependencies, organize work, and more. Because the most important work appears at the top of the list, your team always knows what to work on next.

Note

Your product backlog is one of three classes of backlogs available to you. For an overview of the features supported on each backlog and the two types of boards, see Backlogs, boards, and plans.

Prerequisites

  • You must connect to a project. If you don't have a project yet, create one in VSTS.
  • You must be a member of the Contributors group or be granted Stakeholder access to add or modify work items. Or, you must have your View work items in this node, and your Edit work items in this node permissions set to Allow.
  • If you haven't been added to a project or team, get added now.

To learn more, see Set permissions and access for work tracking.

  • You must connect to a project. If you don't have a project yet, create one in an on-premises TFS.
  • You must be a member of the Contributors group or be granted Stakeholder access to add or modify work items. Or, you must have your View work items in this node, and your Edit work items in this node permissions set to Allow.
  • If you haven't been added to a project or team, get added now.

To learn more, see Set permissions and access for work tracking.

Open your backlog from the web portal

From your web browser, open your product backlog.

Note

Choose Previous navigation when you see a top-level blue bar. Choose New navigation if you see a vertical sidebar or if you enabled the New Navigation preview feature. The vertical sidebar, along with other navigational features, is enabled when the New Navigation preview feature has been enabled for the signed-in user or the VSTS organization. To learn how to use the web portal effectively, see Navigation Basics.

For on-premises TFS users, choose Previous Navigation for guidance.

  1. (1) Check that you have selected the right project, (2) choose Work>Backlogs, and then (3) select the correct team from the team selector menu.

    Open Work, Backlogs, for a team

    To choose another team, open the selector and select a different team or choose the home-icon Browse all sprints option. Or, you can enter a keyword in the search box to filter the list of team backlogs for the project.

    Choose another team

    Tip

    Choose the star icon to favorite a team backlog. Favorited artifacts ( favorited icon) appear at the top of the team selector list.

  2. Check that you have selected Backlog items (for Scrum), Stories (for Agile), or Requirements (for CMMI) as the backlog level.

    Choose product backlog level, Backlog items, Stories, or Requirements

  3. (Optional) To choose which columns should display and in what order, choose the actions icon and select Column options. To learn more, see Change column options.

    Open Column Options

New navigation isn't supported on TFS at this time. Choose Previous navigation for guidance.

Determine if bugs should appear on your backlog

You have a choice as to how you want to manage bugs. Some teams like to track bugs along with requirements on the backlog. Other teams like to track bugs as tasks performed in support of a requirement, and have them appear on their task board.

If you're using the Scrum process, your default setup is to track bugs along with PBIs. However, if you're working in a project based on the Agile or CMMI processes, bugs don't automatically appear on your backlog.

Talk with your team to determine how they want to manage bugs and then change your team settings accordingly.

Note

Because this setting affects all team members' view of the team backlogs and boards, you must be a team administrator to change the setting. Changing the setting is disabled if you're not a team administrator. Go here to get added as a team administrator.

  1. From your team's backlog page, choose the gear icon to open the common configuration team settings.

    Open configuration settings

  2. Choose the Working with bugs tab and select from the three options available.

    Open configuration settings

    • Choose the first option when your team wants to manage bugs similar to requirements. Bugs can be estimated and tracked against team velocity and cumulative flow. Bugs will be associated with the Requirements category.

    • Choose the second option when your team wants to manage bugs similar to tasks. Remaining work can be tracked for bugs and tracked against the sprint capacity and burndown. Bugs will be associated with the Task category.

    • Choose the last option if your team manages bugs separate from requirements or tasks. Bugs will be associated with the Bugs category.

  3. To see the changes, refresh your backlog.

New navigation isn't supported on TFS at this time. Choose Previous navigation for guidance.

Tip

If, after refreshing a backlog or board, you don't see bugs where you expect them, review How backlogs and boards display hierarchical (nested) items. Only leaf nodes of nested items will appear on the Kanban or task boards.

Convert ideas into backlog items or stories

Your backlog shows work that you are planning to do or have started working on. As soon as the State of a work item is set to Done or Completed, the work item no longer shows up on your backlog. You can use the backlog controls to filter or change your view.

Tip

If you've already defined a long list of items, you don't have to reenter them one at a time. Instead, use Microsoft Excel to quickly import them to your backlog.

  1. Before you start adding work items, choose the view options icon and turn the slider for Parents and Forecasting to Off.

    Add a product backlog item

  2. To add a work item, choose the plus-iconNew Work Item, enter a title and then press the Enter key or choose Add to top.

    Add a product backlog item

  3. Repeat this step to capture all your ideas as work items.

New navigation isn't supported on TFS at this time. Choose Previous navigation for guidance.

Note

Depending on the process chosen to create your project—Agile, Scrum, or CMMI— the items in your backlog may be called product backlog items (PBIs), user stories, or requirements. All three are similar: they describe the customer value to be delivered and the work to be performed.

By default, PBIs and bugs appear on Scrum backlogs, user stories on Agile backlogs, and requirements on CMMI backlogs.

Move items into priority order

After you've got some items on your backlog, you can reorder them to create a prioritized list of work. Frequently reviewing and prioritizing your backlog can help your team know what's most important to deliver next.

Reorder your backlog by simply dragging work items. Or, if you prefer the keyboard, hold the Alt key and use the up and down arrows.

Reorder work items

Tip

You can't sort your backlog on a column. If you want to view a sorted listed, click Create query, save and open the query, and then sort the query results. To learn more about queries, see Use the query editor to list and manage queries.

Add details and estimates

Getting your backlog built and prioritized provides the high level roadmap. However, before your team can actually start work on any item, they'll need more details. You capture these details within the work item form.

Tip

To plan a sprint, at a minimum you should estimate the effort involved to implement each backlog item. You capture effort in the following fields within the work item form: Effort (Scrum), Story Points (Agile), or Size (CMMI) fields.

Open each item (double-click, or press Enter to open the selected item) and add all the info you want to track. Enter as much detail as the team needs to understand the scope, estimate the work required, develop tests, and ensure that the end product meets acceptance criteria.

Product Backlog Item form

Field Usage
Effort
Story Points
Size

Provide a relative estimate of the amount of work required to complete a PBI. For user stories and requirements, you capture estimates in the Story Points and Size fields.

Most Agile methods recommend setting estimates for backlog items based on relative size of work. Such methods include powers of 2 (1, 2, 4, 8) and the Fibonacci sequence (1, 2, 3, 5, 8, etc.). Use any numeric unit of measurement your team prefers.

The estimates you set for Effort, Size, or Story Points are used in calculating velocity and forecasting sprints.

Business Value Specify a priority that captures the relative value of a PBI compared to other PBIs. The higher the number, the greater the business value.
Use this field when you want to capture a priority separate from the changeable backlog stack ranking.
Description Provide enough detail to create shared understanding of scope and to support estimation efforts. Focus on the user, what they want to accomplish, and why. Don't describe how to develop the product. Do provide sufficient details so that your team can write tasks and test cases to implement the item.
Acceptance Criteria

Define what "Done" means by describing the criteria that the team should use to verify whether the PBI or the bug fix has been fully implemented.

Before work begins on a PBI or bug, describe the criteria for customer acceptance as clearly as possible. Conversations between the team and customers to determine the acceptance criteria help ensure a common understanding within the team to meet customers' expectations. Also, this info provides the basis for acceptance testing.

Try this next

Now that you've got a working backlog in place, your team can begin work on the top priority items. From here, it's time to make the decision on how you want to work as a team: Scrum or Kanban? You can use these methods independently or together.

Teams that want the least overhead in terms of tracking and estimating may prefer Kanban. Teams that like to work at a steady cadence and plot the details of their sprint plan may prefer Scrum and sprint planning.

Note

Depending on the process chosen to create your project—Agile, Scrum, or CMMI— the items in your backlog may be called product backlog items (PBIs), user stories, or requirements. All three are similar: they describe the customer value to be delivered and the work to be performed.

By default, PBIs and bugs appear on Scrum backlogs, user stories on Agile backlogs, and requirements on CMMI backlogs. Each team can choose how they want to treat bugs: either as requirements or tasks.