Organize your backlog

Last Update: 4/11/2017

Team Services | TFS 2017 | TFS 2015 | TFS 2013

While many teams can work with a flat list of items, sometimes it helps to group related items into a hierarchical structure. Perhaps you like to start with a big picture and break it down into smaller deliverables. Or, you've got an existing backlog and now need to organize it.

No matter your starting point, you can use portfolio backlogs to bring more order to your backlog. Use your backlogs to plan your project and to:

  • Manage a portfolio of features that are supported by different development and management teams
  • Group items into a release train
  • Minimize size variability of your deliverables by breaking down a large feature into smaller backlog items

Portfolio backlogs are 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.

With portfolio backlogs you can quickly add and group items into a hierarchy, drill up or down within the hierarchy, reorder and reparent items, and filter hierarchical views.


The images you see from your web portal may differ from the images you see in this topic. These differences result from updates made to Team Services or your on-premises TFS, options that you or your admin have enabled, and which process was chosen when creating your team project—Agile, Scrum, or CMMI. However, the basic functionality available to you remains the same unless explicitly mentioned. For an overview of changes in the navigation experience and working within the user and administration contexts, see Work in the web portal.

From the product backlog page, set Parents to Show when you want to drill up or down within the hierarchy, set Parents to Show. You can also drag and drop items to reparent items from this view.

Hierarchical view of backlogs

Use the expand expand icon and collapse collapse icon icons to expand or collapse one level of the hierarchy.

Collapsed hierachical view

View a backlog or portfolio backlog

To focus on one level of a backlog at a time, click the name of the backlog you want to view.

For example, when you click Epics, you'll see a list of all Epics in your team's active area paths. From there, you can drill down to see child features and backlog items.

Hierarchical view of backlogs

Click Features to see a list of all features in your team's active area paths.

If you don't see all three backlog levels-Epics, Features, and Backlog items, you can enable them for your team. If you want additional portfolio backlogs, see the following topics based on the process model you use:

Add features and epics

Just as you can add items to your product backlog, you can add items to your features and epics backlogs. Here, we've added six features.

Features backlog

You can add epics in the same way. Simply open the Epics backlog.

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.


Reminder: The following screenshots illustrate the work item form for Team Services. Your forms may differ depending on what you have enabled, what process you chose when creating your team project—Agile, Scrum, or CMMI—and what platform you're working from, Team Services or TFS.

Feature work item form, Agile process, Add details to a feature

Field Usage
Value Area The area of customer value addressed by the epic, feature, or backlog item. Values include:
  • Architectural – technical services to implement business features that deliver solution
  • Business (Default) – services that fulfill customers or stakeholder needs that directly deliver customer value to support the business
Effort Provide a relative estimate of the amount of work required to complete a Feature or Epic. Use any numeric unit of measurement your team prefers. Some options are story points, time, or other relative unit.
For user stories and requirements, you capture estimates in the Story Points and Size fields. These fields support usage of the velocity and forecast tools.
Business Value Specify a priority that captures the relative value of an Epic, Feature, or backlog item compared to other items of the same type. 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.
Time Criticality A subjective unit of measure that captures the how the business value decreases over time. Higher values indicate that the Epic or Feature is inherently more time critical than those items with lower values.

Target Date

Specify the date by which the feature should be implemented.

Add child items

With your features defined, you're ready to add child items to them. From any backlog, you can add child items. You can add features to epics, and backlog items to features.

Here we add a product backlog item as a child to the Customer Web - Phase 1 feature.

Add a child item to a backlog work item

Whenever you see the plus plus icon , you can add a child item. The work item always corresponds to the hierarchy of work item types that are defined for your team project.

For Scrum team projects, your hierarchy is as shown:

Hierarchical view of backlogs

Because teams can also set bugs as tasks, bugs can be added as children of PBIs.

The work item types you'll see depends on the process you selected to create your team project.

If you want bugs to show up on your backlog and you're not seeing them, enable them for your team.

Map items to group them under a feature or epic

If you've already created your backlog, and now you want to organize it, you can do that most easily by mapping them.

To map a backlog item under a feature, you first choose Backlog items or Stories and turn mapping on. Next, find the Unparented backlog items group by turning the Parents control to Show. Unparented backlog items will appear at the end of the parented set of backlog items.

Drag items that are currently unparented to the feature under which they belong. Also, you can drag a backlog item to a different feature to change its parent.

Map a backlog item to a portfolio backlog work item


Feature availability: Multi-select of work items on the backlog and sprint backlogs is currently supported from Team Services or the web portal for TFS 2015 Update 1 or later version. This feature works in the same way as multi-select works within query results.

It's the same process to map features to epics. From the Features backlog, drag features to an epic listed under the mapping pane.

Change parent (re-parent) and reorder items

When you need to change the order or grouping, simply drag the item to its new location.

You can re-parent an item using the mapping pane, or simply drag it within the hierarchy to change its parent.

Reparent or reorder work items on a backlog

You can only re-parent backlog items under other features, and features under other epics.

Also, to change an item's priority within a group, you can drag the item up or down within its hierarchical group. This works the same as when you moved items into priority order on your product backlog.

Change parent of multiple backlog items


Feature availability: The Change parent… menu option from the backlog page is supported from Team Services .

From the product backlog you can multi-select several work items and choose Change parent… to link the items to a parent work item item.

Change parent of several backlog items

Work with multi-team ownership of backlog items

Until now, we've worked as if there's one team per team project. However, when you have several teams your hierarchical views may show items that belong to other teams.

Your team's product backlog lists only those items whose area path match those your team has subscribed to. However, if you show parents, you'll see the parent epic of the features and backlog items, even if the epic or feature is owned by another team. Items that are owned by other teams appear with hollow-filled bars.

Team backlog is filtered based on area path ownership

Here's another example that shows the Epics backlog for the Fabrikam Fiber team. Drilling down, you can see all the backlog items and features, even though they belong to one of three different teams - Customer Service, Phone, and Web.

Drill-down of Epics showing features and backlog items owned by other teams

From these views, you can reparent items, both those that you own and those owned by other teams. However, you can't reorder items that another team owns.

This enables management teams to focus on high level features and epics, and development teams to focus on just those backlog items they're responsible to deliver.

To make this work for you, you'll need to add teams and set their area paths. For example, you can create a team structure similar to this one with two management and three development teams.

Conceptual image of backlogs and multi-team ownership

To learn more about hierarchical team and backlog structures, see Portfolio management.

Portfolio backlogs are not only a great way to organize your project plan, but also a great way to provide visibility of project plans across enterprise teams. With portfolio backlogs, management teams can gain insight into project status across all their development teams.


To understand the features supported on each backlog and board, and how each display hierarchical items, see Backlogs, boards, and plans. To learn how to track progress across teams, see Visibility across teams.

A few things to keep in mind...

Backlog controls

Control Function
Backlog Switch to backlog view
Board Switch to Kanban board view
Forecast: On/Off Turn forecast tool on/off (appears only when Parents is set to Hide, and only available for the product backlog)
Mapping: On/Off Turn mapping Off/On
Parents: Show/Hide Turn tree hierarchy on/off
In progress items: Show/Hide Show or hide list of backlog items whose State is active or in progress
Settings icon Configure team settings: Backlogs, Working days, Working with bugs
full screen icon/exit full screen icon Enter or exit full screen mode
expand icon / collapse icon Expand or collapse one level of the tree hierarchy
mail icon Email a copy of your backlog
Filter Turn tag filtering On/Off

Note that even if you have show parents turned on, the Create query and mail mail icon controls will only list items at the currently selected level.

See also Keyboard shortcuts.

Filter backlogs, boards, and queries

If you have many items listed in your product or portfolio backlog, Kanban board, or query results—and you want to focus on a subset of them—you can filter the set.

Filter based on keywords

You can use keywords to filter your backlogs, Kanban boards, and query results. The filter function picks up work items based on any visible/displayed column or field, including tags, based on the keyword that you enter. Also, you can enter a value for an ID, whether or not the ID field is visible.

Here, we filter the backlog to only show items that include 'Web' in any one of the displayed column fields.

Filter using search

The filtered set is always a flat list, even if you've selected to show parents.

The filter criteria ignores the following characters when the field value starts with the character: {, (, [, !, @, #, $, %, ^, &, *, ~, `, ', ".

Filter based on tags

If you've added tags to your work items, you can filter your backlogs, Kanban boards, and query results using the tag filter icon tag filter. For backlogs and query results, add Tags as a column option prior to filtering on tags.

To filter the Kanban board using tags, make sure that you first customize cards to Show tags. See also, Filter the Kanban board for additional options.

To learn more about filtering using Tags, see Add tags to work items to categorize and filter lists and boards, Filter lists using tags

Move work items to a sprint from any backlog or board

You can drag any work item from any backlog or board to a sprint. Even when working from the Kanban or task board, you can drag a work item onto a sprint to change it's iteration path.

Feature availability: This feature is currently supported from Team Services or the web portal for TFS 2015 Update 1 or later version.