Understanding Backlogs in SAFe: Team Backlog vs Program Backlog

Understanding Backlogs in SAFe: Team Backlog vs Program Backlog

A backlog is a central holding place that consists of a list of prioritized items that are going to be implemented. These work items can be epics, features, user stories or tasks that are essential elements supporting the strategic plan which needs to be executed by an organization.


The Scaled Agile Framework provides a very organized approach towards managing and aligning the work items that need to be done.
There are two categories of backlogs in SAFe:

1. Team Backlog

2. Program Backlog

We shall highlight the differences between the two backlogs and explain the significance of each. We will also discuss the reasons why they are an integral part of the Scaled Agile Framework’s fabric and why there is a need of having two backlogs.

Program BacklogTeam Backlog
Consists of Features and Enablers that need to be implemented by the Agile Release Train to deliver value in a Program Increment.Consists of User Stories and Enablers for the individual teams of the Agile Release Train that need to be completed in an iteration.
The Product Management owns the Program Backlog.The Product Owner owns the user stories from the Program Backlog. The breakdown of the features to User Story level is done during PI Planning.
Features are prioritized by doing Weighted Shortest Job First (WSJF).User stories are estimated by the teams by doing poker planning where each user story gets a value using Fibonacci numbers.
Backlog is managed by a Kanban system.Backlog is managed by either a kanban or a scrum board whatever is suited by the teams.
Capacity needs to be effectively allocated for the team backlog while keeping the needs of the team and the agile release train.Capacity needs to be effectively allocated for the team backlog while keeping the needs of the team and the agile release train.
Extensive research and discussion is done with customers, business owners, product owners, system architects to create the features.Behavior driven development is used to attain clarity on user stories.
Only the product management can enter stories into the program backlog.All team members can enter stories to the team backlog.
Consists of PI Objectives, capabilities and research work.Can consist of any improvement stories suggested in the iteration retrospective.


Having two backlogs helps in managing work and expectations more effectively. In the Scaled Agile Framework, the presence of two separate backlogs can hugely impact the progress and visibility of the work being done. This increases predictability, transparency and alignment towards achieving the goals of every team.


There is no strict commitment to completing everything on the team backlog as everything that is in the team backlog will eventually get done as it gets prioritized. If it does not exist then there is no chance of it ever being done.


The Product Owner provides any guidance related to achieve the goals of the sprint. The Team backlog is refined where issues, dependencies, stories are either added or removed.

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