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Sprint Scheduling Explained: How to Make a Sprint ScheduleReading time 13 minutes
The main event during agile methodology is the sprint, the stage where ideas turn into innovation and valuable products come to life.
On one hand, agile sprints can be highly effective and collaborative. At the same time, they can be chaotic and inefficient if they lack proper planning and guidance. And for this reason, making a sprint schedule is one of the most important things you can do to ensure that your efforts are successful.
If you’re looking to schedule your next sprint, you’ve come to the right place. Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about sprint scheduling, including some tips to drive the best results.
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What Are Sprints?
Before we dive into sprint scheduling, let’s first take a closer look at how sprints work.
In short, a sprint is a set period where an agile team works to complete a specific set of development tasks. In most cases, there are multiple sprints within a larger development project.
Sprints ultimately provide a framework for taking large, complex software projects and breaking them down into digestible phases.
When a sprint ends, the team shows their work to the project owner, who reviews it. If the project meets expectations, the team moves on to the next sprint.
In some cases, rework may be necessary. This often occurs due to a lack of planning and communication.
What Is a Sprint Schedule?
Since sprints take place over a fixed period of time, it’s critical to avoid wasting time during planning and development. And this is precisely where sprint scheduling enters the equation.
In case you’re unfamiliar, a sprint schedule is a document that outlines sprint planning from end to end. It’s one of the first steps in the agile sprint planning process—and something that requires adequate research, planning, and communication.
Who Creates a Sprint Schedule?
The product owner typically determines the duration of the sprint and checks with the team to make sure it aligns with its workloads and resources.
While there may be multiple project heads collaborating on a sprint, it’s ultimately important to have one owner who oversees all aspects of sprint planning. Likewise, there should be one single schedule to avoid confusion and keep projects running according to a set plan.
Teams often run into trouble when they create more than one schedule. This can create conflict and derail projects midway through their cycles. To ensure things stay on track, one schedule makes sense.
When to Create a Sprint Schedule
Ideally, you should create a sprint schedule early on in the development process—before you get to the planning stage.
Of course, sprint schedules should be highly fluid in the beginning. You will almost certainly have to make changes before you wind up with a final plan that everyone agrees on.
Even so, it’s important to at least have an initial plan in place heading into a sprint planning meeting instead of coming to the table with nothing.
Using a Product Backlog to Guide Sprint Planning
Sprint planning and scheduling revolves around a product backlog, which is a list of available requests for iteration and development.
A product backlog typically contains a variety of requests or user stories from stakeholders like customers, partners, and team members.
During sprint scheduling, the product owner and agile development team analyze the product backlog and determine the number of requests they can deliver.
Product backlogs continuously evolve as stakeholders generate new requests. That being the case, it’s critical to keep a close watch on the backlog to avoid letting it get too large and unmanageable.
What to Include in a Sprint Schedule
Since sprint schedules outline the basic elements of a sprint, there are some universal elements that you should always include.
Start and End Dates
In order to meet your deadlines, you have to provide specific start and end dates for projects and individual sprints. In general, it’s a good idea to communicate with your team before sprint planning to make sure the dates are viable.
To illustrate, you may have several team members going out of town or working on other projects throughout the month. If you don’t check their availability, you could wind up proposing impossible deadlines, which doesn’t help anyone. By researching availability ahead of time, it’s easier to make sure the schedule works for everyone.
Every software project and sprint needs clear and concise goals to be effective.
There are typically large-scale sprint goals, which may include tasks like building a website or mobile application. For such projects, there is usually one large goal and several underlying sprints with individual goals. If a project involves creating a website, a sprint goal might be to build a secure login system or payment portal.
Given these points, you need to plan ahead when putting sprints together to make sure each one supports the ultimate task at hand.
Within each backlog is a list of individual requests or user stories. For example, you may have requests for items like website buttons and user authentication features. Most product owners go into sprint planning sessions with a list of outstanding user stories and narrow down the list together as a group.
The final schedule should contain a list of specific tasks and instructions. The schedule should also clearly assign team members to individual tasks so that everyone is crystal clear about the items they own.
Under each task, you should provide brief descriptions outlining the main overarching story goal. Effective schedulers always strive to make it easy and intuitive for developers to follow along and complete objectives.
Why Is Sprint Scheduling Important?
Product managers often ask whether it’s possible to start a sprint without going through the time-consuming scheduling process. If you decide to ditch the sprint scheduling process, do so at your own risk. After all, a lot can go wrong during a sprint and lead to project failure.
In light of this, here are some of the top reasons why sprint scheduling is important.
Keep Projects on Track
One of the top challenges in software development is keeping projects on schedule. Projects often wind up running past their target launch date, which is frustrating for customers, partners, and internal stakeholders alike. Sticking to a schedule makes it easier to produce software promptly. This also lowers production costs, thereby bolstering the bottom line.
The act of outlining sprints in a master schedule and planning ahead can help you visualize the process and identify potential challenges and barriers that may arise. Teams often iterate between sprints and make changes as resources and needs change. By taking this approach, teams can maximize efficiency across all touchpoints.
Do Your Due Diligence
In truth, software projects often fail, even when they go according to plan. When this happens, stakeholders usually analyze the process to figure out a determining cause for failure. And for this reason, it’s critical to always have a documentation plan in place that you can cross-reference to make sure you’re on track.
Respect Other People’s Time
Right now, we are going through a period known as the Great Resignation. Workers across all fields, from CEOs to developers, are quitting their jobs and pursuing new journeys. This often stems from burnout or being overworked.
To keep employees engaged, managers need to take active measures to make work enjoyable and efficient. It’s important to avoid overloading team members and wasting their time. This is another area where sprint scheduling can help.
Making an effort to plan sprints and align workflows around availability can lead to a happier and more productive environment. This can potentially reduce turnover and encourage better employee reviews and recommendations.
Create Better Software
At the end of the day, there’s one overarching goal behind agile methodology: creating better software. Sprint scheduling can help guide agile projects, leading to more effective outcomes. If you’re doing agile development, sprint scheduling is critical for success.
How to Make a Sprint Schedule
Now that you have a clear understanding of what goes into sprint scheduling, we can jump into the process of assembling one. As time goes on, you will most likely form your unique approach to sprint scheduling. In general, however, you can build a schedule around the following steps.
1. Check Your Roadmap
First, you should try and get a sense of the big picture. It’s a good idea to start with your product roadmap to understand the overarching goal and how many upcoming sprints you will need. Generally, agile development involves continuous development and iteration. In some cases, you will have ongoing sprints with no clear end in sight. Once you have a clear understanding of the overall scope of the project, you can start planning individual sprints.
2. Review Your Master Backlog
Next, take a look at your master backlog and try to prioritize the stories on the list. This is something you should review with your team. Different team members can help vet requests and determine which ones are beneficial and which you should bump or omit altogether. Ideally, the stories in your backlog should correlate with each sprint’s main goal. Prioritizing and aligning stories and sprints can help maximize their output and reduce rework.
3. Determine Your Resources
At this point, you should have a clear understanding of the overall product roadmap and the types of deliverables that you need to focus on. As soon as you have this information, you should review your resources and determine whether your team has the bandwidth to complete each sprint. It may be necessary to hire new developers, automate certain processes, or bring in third-party support to help with development. This is something you’ll want to determine in advance so you don’t wind up lacking support midway through a sprint. Should that happen, you can overload certain team members and end up pushing projects past their acceptable delivery date.
4. Establish a Time Frame
It’s necessary to set a firm time frame for each sprint. Sprints tend to be uniform in duration throughout each phase of an agile development project. What you want to avoid is having projects with short, medium, and long sprints. To this end, the best approach is to figure out a time frame that works for everyone and then assign individual tasks accordingly.
5. Propose a Schedule
You also need to have a schedule draft ready in advance of your first sprint planning session. This way, you can share the schedule and make changes instead of starting from scratch. This ultimately saves time and gives team members a chance to provide feedback and request changes. Just keep in mind that the schedule may change significantly during your sprint planning meeting. It’s best to remain flexible and be willing to make changes.
6. Finalize the Schedule
After you leave the sprint planning meeting, you should revisit the schedule and incorporate any updates. Send the final version to the group and leave some time for last-minute changes or requests. Once the master schedule is ready to go, your team can proceed with individual sprints.
Tips for Effective Sprint Scheduling
Becoming an effective sprint planner typically takes a lot of practice. Many project leaders struggle at first to create schedules and adapt to changes during production. All things considered, the more you lead agile projects, the better you will become at predicting potential challenges and pitfalls and planning individual sprints.
Here are some tips to keep in mind to help with sprint scheduling.
Be firm About Deadlines
Challenges are bound to arise during sprints that can make it difficult or impossible to meet deadlines. But as a project manager, it’s your job to ensure projects remain on track no matter what.
Part of managing sprints involves knowing when to be firm about deadlines and when to extend time frames to accommodate sudden changes or unexpected issues. Keep in mind that if you consistently break deadlines, it can impact the time frame of an agile project, setting a launch back weeks or even months beyond its target date. When you boil it down, agile development is all about working quickly.
Have Developers Sign off on Sprint Goals
Developers are usually busy and simultaneously balance multiple projects. While it’s easy to rush through sprint planning and scheduling and take on too much work, doing so leads to missed deadlines, finger-pointing, rushed work, and project delays.
To prevent this from happening, it helps to have deep visibility into what other people are working on. It also helps to have developers sign off on sprint goals to vouch that they agree to each sprint workload and can meet their target objectives. Taking this small step can help keep developers honest and provide opportunities to request more resources when necessary. When team members communicate and provide feedback about workloads, everyone wins.
Leave a Gap Between Sprints
It can help to leave a gap of one or two days between each sprint. This helps control the pace of development and provides opportunities for assessing progress and making changes. Leaving a gap can also help reduce burnout and give developers a chance to recharge between coding sessions.
Avoid Changing Sprint Goals
It can be tempting to change sprint goals as new stories enter into the mix and priorities change. But in general, it’s best to avoid changing sprint goals once you finalize your schedule. If you start to consistently change sprint goals, you can lose sight of the overall objective.
To avoid complications, it helps to have a system in place for prioritizing new additions and adding steps to the sprint process. Sticking to a plan results in a system that’s more organized and efficient for everyone.
Of course, there are exceptions to this rule, and sometimes you may have to change your plan to accommodate an urgent request or fix. But as a best practice, it’s much better to stick to the plan whenever possible.
Automation Is Key to Sprint Scheduling
Sprint scheduling and planning is a time-consuming and laborious process. Team leaders often spend hours planning sprint schedules and incorporating changes.
Many agile leaders use automation tools to streamline sprint scheduling and communication. Automation tools can make it easy to assess teamwide resources and plan upcoming sprints.
How Plutora Helps With Agile Sprint Scheduling
When looking for agile sprint scheduling tools, it helps to find a platform that brings together planning capabilities and analytics into user-friendly dashboards.
Enter Plutora, which offers a purpose-built tool for sprint planning and execution. With the help of Plutora, product owners can quickly understand upcoming feature deliveries, risks, and available resources, making it that much easier to crush sprint after sprint.
To learn how Plutora can help your team create sprint schedules that enable you to accomplish more, try a demo today.