Backlogs, boards, and plans

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What can you do from a backlog view versus a board view? How do these differ from plans? How do changes you make in one show up on the other? What customizations can you make for each?

Which view should you use to work with Agile methods?

In a nutshell...

  • Backlogs display work items as a list and boards display them as cards
  • You use your product backlog to quickly plan and prioritize your work
  • You use your sprint backlogs and task boards when you work in Scrum
  • You use your Kanban board to update work status and when you employ Kanban methods
  • Each backlog is associated with a board, changes to priority order you make in one are reflected in its corresponding board
  • Plans allow you to review the deliverables for several teams across sprints and a calendar schedule Delivery Plans are available for VSTS and TFS 2017.2 and later versions. You access them by installing the Marketplace Plans extension
  • Backlogs, boards, and plans are configurable for each team.

With list backlogs you can quickly develop your project plan; group and prioritize work; and perform bulk updates on selected work items. With boards, you can quickly update status and fields displayed for each work item.

And with plans, you can monitor progress, deliverables, and dependencies across several teams.

You access your backlogs and boards from the Work hub. When you work from the Stories (Agile) or Backlog items (Scrum) pages, you have access to the product backlog and Kanban board. When you work from a sprint page, you have access to the sprint backlog and task board. For an overview of working in Scrum or Kanban, see Get started with Agile project management.

Work hub, product backlog page

Three classes of backlogs, two types of boards

To manage work, you have access to three classes of backlogs—portfolio, product, and sprint—and two types of boards—Kanban and task. Backlogs list work items, boards display work items as cards. Backlog and board views provide similar and distinct features to support planning and tracking.

You use work items to share information, assign work to team members, track dependencies, organize work, and more. You can apply different filters to your backlogs and boards to just show those items of interest.

Portfolio, product, and sprint backlogs

Portfolio backlogs typically track high-level features, scenarios, or epics. Your product backlog contains a prioritized list of user stories, deliverables, or work you plan to build or fix. Portfolio backlogs help you organize your product backlog into a hierarchy of elements. Sprint backlogs contain just those items that each team is working on during a scheduled sprint or iteration period.

For details about working in each type of backlog, see Create your backlog, Define features and epics, and Sprint planning (sprint backlogs).

Tip

You can't sort a backlog by column. However, you can use the Create Query option on each backlog to create a query that you can sort on any field column you choose. To learn more about queries, see Use the query editor to list and manage queries.

Kanban and task boards

Kanban and task boards support visualizing the flow of work and monitoring metrics to optimize that flow. Kanban boards track requirements, are sprint-independent, and you monitor the flow through the cumulative flow chart. Task boards track tasks defined for a sprint and you monitor the flow via the sprint burndown chart.

For details about working in each type of board, see Kanban basics and Task board.

Feature support across backlogs and boards

The following table indicates those elements or tasks associated with each type of backlog and board.

Associated element or task Backlog type:
Portfolio
Backlog type:
Product
Board type:
Kanban
Backlog type:
Sprint
Board type:
Task
Corresponding backlog or board type Kanban Kanban Portfolio or product Task Sprint
Add items and child items
(see notes 1, 2)
Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Reorder items Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Map items Yes (except the top-level portfolio backlog) Yes No No No
Filter Text or tags Text or tags Text or select fields Text Backlog items or people
Show/hide parents Yes (except the top-level portfolio backlog) Yes No No No
Show/hide in progress items
(see note 3)
Yes Yes No No No
Forecast No Yes No No No
Customize: show bugs (see note 1) No Yes Yes Yes Yes
Customize: Columns Yes, see Column options Yes, see Column options Yes, see Add columns Yes, see Column options Yes, see Customize workflow
Customize: Add more backlog or board views Yes, see Select backlog navigation levels Yes, when you add another team (see note 4) Yes, see Select backlog navigation levels Yes, see Schedule sprints Yes, see Schedule sprints
Customize: cards n/a n/a Yes n/a Yes
Charts Cumulative flow
Velocity
Cumulative flow
Velocity
Cumulative flow
Velocity
Sprint burndown Sprint burndown
Duration (see note 5) Project or release Project Project Sprint Sprint

Notes:

  1. Each team can determine how they want to track bugs: as requirements, as tasks, or not at all. When tracked as requirements, they appear in your product backlog, sprint backlogs, and Kanban board. When tracked as tasks, they appear in your sprint backlogs and task boards. For details, see Show bugs on backlogs and boards.
  2. Work items that appear on each team backlog and board meet the criteria defined for the team selected area and iteration paths.
  3. The "In progress items Show/Hide" control is another filter you can apply to your product and portfolio backlogs. This control essentially shows or hides those work items where work has begun. It's useful to show/hide In Progress items when forecasting sprint work.
  4. When you add a team, you essentially add another product backlog associated with that team. Each team can then manage their own set of sprint backlogs and portfolio backlogs. See Configure team settings for details.
  5. Duration refers to how you use your backlog or board to plan and track work over time. Once you change the State of a work item to done or completed, it no longer appears on a portfolio or project backlog. As you complete each sprint, the system maintains a history of your activity. You can review past sprints and sprint burndown charts by choosing the sprint listed under the Past section. For more information, see Sprint burndown.

Review team deliverables using Delivery Plans

With Delivery Plans, you gain tailor-made views across several teams and their development backlogs—stories, features, or epics. You can use these views to drive alignment across teams by overlaying several backlogs onto your delivery schedule.

Note

Feature availability: Delivery Plans, a Visual Studio Marketplace extension, is available for VSTS and TFS 2017.2 and later versions. All users with basic access can view, add, and configure Delivery Plans. Stakeholders, however, don’t have access to Delivery Plans.

When you configure a plan, you select the team or teams and backlog levels of interest. To learn more about Delivery Plans, see Review team plans.

Example plans view

Now that you understand how backlogs, boards, and plans work, get started using them to plan and track your work.

A few things to keep in mind...

Additional topics of interest:

Additional tools from the Marketplace

You may find additional tools to help plan and track your work from the Visual Studio Marketplace.

Task board items versus query list items

You may notice and wonder why the items shown on the task board may differ from those listed in a query created from its corresponding sprint backlog.

It's possible to assign tasks to an iteration but not have them linked to a parent backlog item. These items will show up in the created query, but might not show up on the task board itself. The system runs the query and then applies a few background processes before displaying the task board items.

Note

Appearance of task and child items on the task board may differ depending on whether you work in VSTS and TFS.

These reasons can cause work items that belong to the Task Category to not appear on a sprint backlog or task board:

  • The task hasn't been linked to a parent backlog item. Only those bugs and tasks that you have linked to a parent product backlog item (Scrum), user story (Agile), or requirement (CMMI) whose iteration path is set to the sprint will appear on the sprint backlog page.

    Note

    In VSTS and TFS 2015.2 and later versions, tasks not linked to a parent appear under an Unparented section.

  • The task is a parent of another task, or the user story is a parent of another user story. If you've created a hierarchy of tasks or user stories, only the child-level tasks or the child-level stories at the bottom of the hierarchy appear.

  • The task's linked parent corresponds to a backlog item defined for another team. Or, the area path of the task's parent backlog item differs from the task's area path.

    Note

    In VSTS and TFS 2015.2 and later versions, tasks linked to a parent work item assigned to another team's area path will appear under the Unparented section.

In Progress items filter

The In progress items Show/Hide filter causes some backlog items to display or not display. Bugs and other backlog items aren't listed when In progress items=Hide and their assigned State corresponds to In Progress state category. Bugs in a New state will display, however, bugs in an Assigned state won't.

On your backlog, set In progress items=Show to see all active bugs and other items on your backlog.