Adopting Agile methodologies is critical for meeting new customer needs, changing direction based on evolving situations, or being responsive to market demands.
These methodologies focus on maximizing value to the end customer by building products in iterations – shorter cycles – to ensure that they meet the dynamic market needs. The project is broken down into smaller periods known as iterations or sprints. The overall project is delivered by completing these sprints in a sequence.
Instead of planning a large project, Agile teams plan one or a few sprints at a time (a few sprints are usually grouped into a Release or a Program Increment – PI). It is crucial to plan the sprints well.
Poor sprint planning can result in missed sprint scope, story leakage, and demotivation, causing unclear expectations for stakeholders and ultimately derailing critical projects.
Before starting the sprint, the team needs to collaborate, plan and schedule the exact work the team will do during the sprint. In this article, you’ll learn about sprint planning, how it works, and sprint planning best practices.
As mentioned earlier, every product development initiative using an Agile method, such as Scrum, comprises multiple sprints.
A sprint in Scrum is a “time-boxed” (meaning time-limited) iteration in which some planned work is completed and made available to the customer. In a single sprint, teams focus on providing a specific set of product features for the overall project.
Delivering some working features in each sprint enables the team to deliver value more frequently, get customer feedback faster, make course corrections if needed, and ultimately, deliver a product that satisfies the customer.
This is Agile’s – and Sprint-based developments – fundamental goal. Breaking down the project into sprints helps deliver the working product faster, gain valuable customer feedback and quickly make the required changes.
The majority of sprints range from 2 to 4 weeks – although teams are free to define longer or shorter sprints based on their business need and capability.
Sprint Planning is the process of planning the scope and other related aspects of a Sprint. Sprint Planning is done before the start of a Sprint in what is known as a Sprint Planning meeting.
The sprint planning meeting outlines the scope and plan – including specific activities, such as a stakeholder demo, for the upcoming sprint.
In a sprint planning meeting:
Sprint planning meetings are done on the first day of the sprint. This is ideally done after the previous sprint retrospective is complete.
A sprint retrospective is a team event that happens after the previous sprint is over. It is an event where team members review and discuss the recently finished sprint.
They gain valuable insights and lessons that can be used to make the upcoming sprints more effective. Finally, team members agree on the core priorities and finalize the product backlog items to be worked upon during the ongoing sprint.
Teams can schedule the sprint planning sessions at a regular time slot every week or month. Then they can prioritize the sessions and parallelly complete other engagements.
For sprint planning to be successful, it is important to have all the key players in the team. A Scrum team usually has the Scrum Master, Product Owner, and development team members – they all must be present during the Spring Planning meeting.
For successful sprints, it is essential to have a clear sprint planning agenda. It keeps the team focused on the sprint objectives, organizes the deliverables, and avoids the wastage of resources.
A sprint planning session includes:
Teams may use historical data to see if the backlog items can be completed in the sprint. If the user stories are too large for a single sprint, they need to be broken down into smaller user stories that are valid and can be completed independently.
Next, they prioritize the items to see which ones are critical and need to be worked on now and add them to the sprint backlog. The less critical stories that can be performed later may be moved back to the product backlog (to be worked on in later sprints). Any important items missed in the previous sprint which must be completed are added to the sprint backlog.
Agile teams must lay down the sprint plan outcomes to have successful sprints.
The entire team needs to discuss, outline and finalize the sprint goal and sprint backlog before starting the sprint. It happens in a planned cadence – at the start of every sprint.
Sprint goal: The sprint goal is the purpose of planning and executing the sprint. This could be one single or a specific set of features for the product under development based on its nature and scope.
Sprint backlog: The sprint backlog includes all the user stories the team will work on during the sprint. This is a list of user stories (and often defects identified by customers or internal teams) that need to be completed during the Sprint in order to advance the overall project.
Based on our own experience and that of our customers, the following sprint planning best practices are worth a read to ensure that your sprint stays organized and goes as per plan:
Given the distributed nature of the modern organization, and the new hybrid world we find ourselves in, Sprint planning often needs to be done virtually – using web-based apps and collaboration tools such as Zoom or Teams.
Having a powerful, yet intuitive and configurable tool for planning and managing your overall releases, projects and sprints is most important.
Tools such as SwiftEnterprise or SwiftKanban, with versatile backlog grooming, sprint planning and execution capabilities as well as powerful metrics can be invaluable in getting the entire team and all the stakeholders on the same page with respect to the plan and the real-time status of a sprint as well as the overall project.
In summary, a Sprint represents a small project that needs to be scoped and planned well, and executed even better. A 2-4 week timeline passes pretty quickly and it comes time to make the sprint delivery and move on to the next Sprint.
With a good understanding of the overall process and a set of good tools to manage the overall project/ product or a marketing strategy, effective Sprint Planning can be a breeze!
Digite’s SwiftEnterprise and SwiftKanban tools have a variety of tools – including a “roadmapping” timeline view for Agile teams, and a full function tasks plus sprint planning capability – that can help you and your team in the delivery of any type of work or projects. If you are interested, you may request a demo here.