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Published:Oct 05, 2022

5 Tips To Get the Most Out of Sprint Planning

As the saying goes, “Plan the work and work the plan.”

Sprint planning is a critical part of the agile methodology and continuous improvement. It helps team members prioritize tasks and align expectations before starting an iteration.

But you can’t just throw a few dates and numbers on the whiteboard and hope that things will fall into place. If you consistently over- or underestimate and struggle to stay on track, it’s time to do something about it.

Let’s look at some common agile sprint planning challenges and how you can improve your sprint planning with our top actionable strategies.

Common Sprint Planning Challenges

How can you tell there’s room for improvement in your sprinting planning process? Here are some common symptoms of poor sprint planning:

  • The amount of work exceeds your team’s capacity, and tasks are left incomplete.
  • More work is discovered during the sprint, and the stories grow in size.
  • You have to remove tasks during the sprint because they can’t be completed.
  • Unexpected dependencies often come up mid-sprint and derail your progress.
  • The quality of the output doesn’t meet expectations.
  • Many issues and bugs arise after a sprint.
  • Team members often argue about how to complete the work.
  • The deliverables fail to meet the business requirements.

Too much emphasis on moving tickets often causes these issues — if your team decides what to include in a sprint simply by going into the agile tool and picking the first tickets they see, the outcome will likely fail to move the project forward.

You may also run into issues if the sprint goal isn’t clear. Without a shared objective, your team could turn into a “feature factory” — churning out work without knowing how the outputs deliver business value and contribute to the project’s success.

Additionally, the lack of alignment among developers could create issues. For example, team members should understand how a story may impact another, agree on what “done” looks like for each task, how they should test a feature, etc.

How To Improve Sprint Planning

Sprint planning allows an agile team to consider the big picture and see how the pieces fit together. Here are 5 strategies you can use right away to conduct effective sprint planning meetings:

1. Learn From the Past

When you conduct a sprint review, remember to look at how the last sprint planning session impacted the outcomes of the previous sprint. Some questions to consider include:

  • If team members felt lost during the sprint, did they take the time to understand the sprint’s goal and align their tasks with the business objectives during sprint planning?
  • Does the product owner (PO) regularly demand an unreasonable amount of deliverables from the team, creating a demotivating environment?
  • Do team members trust each other when evaluating story points and assumptions for each task?
  • Are the sprint planning sessions too short or too long? Did the team have the opportunity to understand the scope and align with each other?

Also, invite team members to discuss what worked and what didn’t during the last planning session. Then, you can use the insights to inform your upcoming sprint planning.

spring review meeting

2. Meet Before the Meeting

Before the sprint planning session with the entire team, the scrum master and product owner should meet to set expectations for the next sprint, prioritize the stories the development team should tackle, and identify work items that require more information.

This process is called backlog grooming or backlog refinement. It can help you create a healthy sprint backlog that prioritizes work items, contains the latest estimate for each, and lists user stories ready for developers to execute.

Set aside 30 minutes a few days before the sprint planning session to triage tickets and identify stories for the next two sprints. A product backlog that covers two iterations can help demonstrate how the outcomes of the upcoming sprint can impact the next one.

use backlog management tool to evaluate your backlog items

3. Revisit the Roadmap

It’s easy to get lost in the weeds when you’re busy building features and fixing bugs. Take some time to review the product roadmap and realign stakeholders involved with the project’s vision to ensure everyone understands how the current product backlog items fit into the big picture.

Your roadmap should be current and accessible to everyone in the scrum team. It should inform agile project planning, help you track the progress of long-term work, and allow team members to validate that they’re focusing on the right work items.

While you should build functionalities that will move your vision forward, your roadmap should remain a high-level strategic plan to guide product development. Scrum master and agile coach Robbin Schuurman cautioned against the pitfall of stuffing a roadmap with features, essentially turning it into a giant product backlog.

example of product roadmap

4. Use the Right Collaboration Tools

The right tools can help you conduct a successful sprint planning meeting, especially if you’re running it virtually, to keep everyone engaged. However, more isn’t necessarily better — keep your tools simple so team members can focus on the discussion.

Here are the basics you should have: A virtual whiteboard (e.g., miro.com,) an agile project management tool (e.g., JIRA,) and a video conferencing platform (e.g., Zoom or Teams.) That’s it!

Additionally, review communication tools that the team will use during the sprint and set expectations on when to use which channel (e.g., Slack, email, instant messages, video calls) and the turnaround time.

5. Make Accurate Estimation With Data

An essential component of sprint planning is understanding the amount of work the team can complete within a given period. But it’s also the most challenging part — you must accurately gauge the effort for each task and estimate how long your team needs to complete it.

There are two parts to this equation: Estimating the effort for each task (e.g., using story points) and knowing the team’s velocity (or pace.)

Time required is equal to pace times estimated story points

This post shows you how to estimate effort or story points for a sprint and the various techniques you can use to get everyone onto the same page. Story points are a relative method, so the amount of work one story point represents will differ from one team to another.

You need access to accurate historical data to calculate your team’s pace. As such, you should use a time tracking tool that can associate each entry with a work item to generate granular insights. Then, you can divide the tracked time by the estimated story points to arrive at the team’s pace.

Supercharge Sprint Planning With Accurate Data

Accurate historical data is critical to effective sprint planning. But most time tracking tools are tacked onto the development workflow as an afterthought. If a developer enters a big chunk of time and labels the entry “software development” at the end of the sprint, you can’t gain the granular insights you need to inform sprint planning.

7pace Timetracker makes tracking time and getting the data you need to inform planning as simple and pain-free as possible. Developers can track their time where they work (i.e., on Azure DevOps or GitHub) and associate the hours with each work item without jumping through hoops. Teams can also pull reports in real-time to check their progress, compare it with the estimated pace, and course-correct to stay on track.

Sign up for 7pace to see how you can leverage accurate data to improve sprint planning.

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