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A Guide to Sprint Planning For Software Teams
Published:Jun 07, 2022

A Guide to Sprint Planning For Software Teams

“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” – Benjamin Franklin.

Effective planning is the first step to a successful software development project, whether you’re building a new product or updating an existing one.

Poor sprint planning can have a downstream effect on your project. It can also set unrealistic expectations that could derail the team.

Let’s look at how you can set your team up for success with better sprint planning.

What Does Sprint Planning Involve, And Why Is It Important?

Spring planning is an event in the agile scrum methodology that marks the start of a sprint. The process defines what the team can deliver during the sprint and how they can achieve the outcomes.

Sprint planning is typically done during a dedicated meeting where the entire scrum team collaborates to define the scope and goal for a specific time frame (e.g., during a two-week sprint.) The process also considers how each selected backlog item relates to the sprint goal.

At the end of a sprint planning meeting, the team should be able to articulate the goal of the sprint and how they’ll achieve the objectives.

The Benefits of Sprint Planning

The sprint planning event, when done right, sets the team up for success by getting everyone on the same page. It helps team members focus their efforts and stay motivated. Here’s why you should invest in your sprint planning process:

  • Understand team capabilities: Get an overview of each team member’s workload to allocate resources effectively. The process also helps the team keep the big picture in mind to address skill gaps proactively.
  • Manage expectations: Review backlog items and agree on what will be addressed in each sprint so teams can monitor their capacities. Setting up frequent feedback loops also allows you to catch issues early to avoid costly rework.
  • Foster clarity and transparency: Reiterate the three pillars of Scrum — transparency, inspection, and adaptation to guide the team to work together efficiently (e.g., by collaborating on a digital scrum board.)
  • Stay focused on the goal: Help teams stay on track to hit the end goal while managing small chunks of immediate work. They can better understand how these small tasks fit into the big picture and ensure that the project progresses as planned.

Sprint Planning Time Box: How Long Should You Spend on a Planning Session?

While sprint planning is an essential component of the Scrum framework, you shouldn’t be spending a disproportionate amount of time on the meeting.

The general rule of thumb is to timebox the planning session, so the team spends no more than two hours planning for every week of the sprint. For example, the sprint planning meeting should be under 2 hours for a one-week sprint.

Sprint Planning Time Box: How Long Should You Spend on a Planning Session?

This time box is a good starting point, and the actual time the team spends on planning can be influenced by various factors. For example, an experienced team can perform sprint planning much faster.

Additionally, a planning session guided by clear goals and outcome-oriented users stories is more efficient. Don’t delve into the details of the backlog right away. Instead, use the first half of the meeting to clarify the objectives and desired outcomes of the sprint.

How To Prepare For a Sprint Planning Meeting

Before going into a sprint meeting, the Scrum team should gather the right input to help them determine what value it can realistically deliver during the length of the sprint. These inputs include:

  • Product backlog items (PBIs): Evaluate PBIs in detail, prioritize their importance, and estimate the efforts required (e.g., story points.)
  • Product roadmap: Review the strategic direction of the product and its functionalities to ensure that the PBIs are aligned with the roadmap work items.
  • Constraints and impediments: Identify business or technical limitations that could affect the team’s ability to deliver the desired outcomes.
  • Team velocity: Understand the team’s velocity based on historical data to determine how much work it can complete within a sprint.
  • Team capabilities: Take stock of which team members are available for the sprint and what skills they have.
  • Initial sprint goal: Have the product owner articulate the business objectives they want to accomplish during the sprint.

How To Conduct an Effective Sprint Planning Meeting

Your sprint planning meeting should answer these two questions:

  • What can you deliver within the duration of the sprint?
  • How will you accomplish the work needed to achieve the results?

You can answer these two questions by determining the sprint’s scope and plan.

How To Conduct an Effective Sprint Planning Meeting

How To Define the Scope of a Sprint

Finalizing the scope of the current sprint is the first step in the sprint planning process:

  • Sprint goal: The sprint should end with a potentially shippable product increment. The goal should be as clear as possible (e.g., improve page load time by 10%.)
  • User stories: Identify user stories that correspond to your sprint goal. The product owner should help clarify any questions the team may have. These stories will become the sprint backlog.
  • Sprint capacity: Assign story points to each task and determine how long it takes for the team to complete a set number of story points using historical data. You can see if the team can achieve the sprint goal within the duration of the upcoming sprint.

How To Define the Plan for a Sprint

The development team will take the user stories in the sprint backlog and break them into smaller tasks. Team members will identify dependencies and assign hours to each work item.

The Scrum master reviews the estimates to ensure that the initial commitment in the scope is realistic. Otherwise, the team should work with the product owner to discuss trade-offs.

Review the Definition of Done (DoD) and acceptance criteria to ensure that team members are committed to the sprint goals. The team should also decide on the quality and maintenance work included in the sprint to address production defects and customer complaints about the current product.

The Output of a Sprint Planning Meeting

At the end of the sprint planning session, you should have a sprint goal and sprint backlog, a list of tasks that correspond to the deliverables, an estimation of how much time and effort those items will take, and team members responsible for each work item.

How To Navigate Common Sprint Planning Challenges

Managing the many moving parts in sprint planning isn’t a walk in the park. Here’s how to avoid some common pitfalls:

  • Avoid overcommitment by communicating the complexities and risks with stakeholders early in the process and setting realistic expectations.
  • Avoid spending too much time on the backlog by conducting a backlog refinement to evaluate and prioritize the items before the planning meeting.
  • Don’t spend too much time on upfront planning. Instead, define a plan and an outcome that offers “just enough” direction for the next sprint.
  • Avoid confusion by ensuring that everyone is on the same page about a specific sprint goal and can directly measure the progress.
  • Don’t confuse estimates with commitments. Set the expectation that changes to project plans, capacity, or limitations may happen along the development process.
How To Navigate Common Sprint Planning Challenges

The Foundation of Sprint Planning Success: Data

Sprint planning involves estimating and scoping based on historical data. A team’s ability to create accurate estimates for a given scope and set of tasks depends on access to granular insights into how much time they spent on similar work items in the past.

Tracking time accurately and generating insights from the data can help you identify potential bottlenecks, create accurate estimations, commit to the right amount of work for each developer and DevOps sprint, and improve communication among team members and stakeholders.

7pace Timetracker helps agile teams log their time where they work (i.e., on Aure DevOps and GitHub) and associate the time spent with each work item to gain granular insights into their velocity.

By understanding your team’s pace—how much time they need to complete one story point, you can accurately estimate the time required for each work item and set realistic expectations on how much you can accomplish in each sprint.

Try 7pace and see how you can get the data you need without jumping through the hoops to inform your next sprint planning meeting.

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2 comments

Emily Jones

02-05-2024

Thank you for this comprehensive guide to sprint planning! 🚀 The step-by-step breakdown, coupled with valuable insights into the benefits and challenges of the process, provides a clear roadmap for successful sprint planning. The emphasis on effective communication, realistic expectations, and the use of historical data is particularly insightful. I appreciate the practical tips on how to avoid common pitfalls and navigate challenges. The inclusion of 7pace Timetracker as a tool to enhance team efficiency and gain granular insights adds a practical and valuable dimension to the guide. Overall, a fantastic resource for software teams embarking on sprint planning. Looking forward to more insightful content!

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04-20-2023

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