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Plutora Blog - Agile Release Management, Release Management, Software Development, Value Stream Management

What Is Sprint Planning? Everything You Need to Get Started

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More businesses than ever are adopting agile development methodologies with scrum frameworks. In fact, according to one study, 54% of respondents are now using scrum workflows in their environments—a trend that is bound to continue over the next few years.  

By using agile scrum methods, teams can potentially move faster and more efficiently when developing and delivering complex software products. The approach can boost productivity and bring teams closer together. And this is a powerful combination. 

But success isn’t a given with scrum. It’s a multi-step process—and one that requires careful strategizing and communication across each step. Without this, agile scrum development can easily go off the rails and wind up causing more harm than good.  

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As such, one of the most important stages of scrum is sprint planning. Understanding how sprint planning works and aligns with the rest of the steps in the process is critical for maximizing the promise of scrum and optimizing software delivery. That’s what we’ll be covering in this post. 

The Stages of Scrum Methodology 

At a high level, there are five stages, or phases, within the scrum model, which we’ll explore next. 

Step 1: Creating a Product Backlog

The first step involves creating a list of features to implement during development. Individual items—also known as user stories—are prioritized based on what’s most important. 

User stories can come from a variety of sources. Typically, they originate from customers who submit feedback through comments, queries, and trouble tickets.  

Step 2: Sprint Planning

After you create the product backlog, scrum moves into the sprint planning stage. 

Just as the name suggests, a sprint is a short, time-controlled period where the agile development team works to complete their objectives.  

During sprint planning, you determine how long the sprint will last, and select the user stories that you want to develop from the backlog. 

Step 3: The Sprint 

Once your team sets a timetable for the sprint and selects the stories it wants to develop, the sprint commences and the clock starts ticking.  

Teams often use task boards to assign projects and track progress during a sprint. In this stage, it helps to use an agile tool like Trello to communicate with stakeholders and keep everyone aligned. Visibility and communication are both very important during a sprint, as projects tend to move very quickly.  

Step 4: Review

Once the sprint period ends, the team reviews the iteration and analyzes it for overall value. This information helps determine future iterations and upcoming sprints. 

Step 5: Sprint Retrospective 

The last stage involves analyzing what went well during the sprint and what the team can potentially improve upon in the next one. If all goes according to plan, the sprint ends and a short gap period commences before the next one begins.  

Sprint Planning: An Overview 

Scrum is a popular development strategy because it helps teams communicate, work together, and iterate in stages. When scrum goes according to plan, it can be an enjoyable and highly collaborative way to bring software to market.  

But in order for scrum development to be effective, each sprint requires careful orchestration and planning. After all, the last thing you want to do is rush into a sprint without a clear plan in place.  

Who Takes Part in Sprint Planning?

Sprint planning is a group activity that may include both internal and external stakeholders in a development project. In most cases, the scrum master sets up sprint planning and invites the product owner and scrum team to participate. 

There is no limit to how many people can participate in sprint planning. But in general, it’s better to be strategic about who participates to avoid having too many cooks in the kitchen, so to speak.  

Sprint planning can be an in-person activity or it can take place virtually over a video conferencing and collaboration tool.  

How Long Should a Sprint Planning Session Last?

It is necessary to be mindful of time with sprint planning. After all, developers usually work on multiple projects simultaneously. Putting too much time and effort into sprint planning can frustrate team members and pull them away from other projects.  

The general rule is to cap meetings at two hours for each sprint week. So if a sprint is going to last one week, the planning session shouldn’t go more than two hours. Generally speaking, sprint planning should never exceed eight hours.  

When to Host a Sprint Planning Session 

Sprint planning is more than just a technical planning session. It also doubles as a brainstorming opportunity. Planning sessions can be fun, immersive, and highly engaging.  

Ideally, you want to use that energy to motivate your team and fuel the upcoming sprint. As such, you generally want to perform sprint planning on the first day of a new sprint. That said, some teams like to leave a gap day or even a weekend in between sprint planning and the start of the sprint.  

At the end of the day, there are no official rules that you have to follow when planning for a sprint. Teams often modify the scrum process to fit their culture and needs.  

Top Reasons for Sprint Planning

When the clock is ticking on a project, it can be tempting to skip sprint planning altogether and rush right to development. 

While few people like the idea of having meetings during tight deadlines, rushing into a sprint is rarely advisable. Unfortunately, avoiding this process can potentially lead to mistakes and cause you to miss opportunities. 

On the flip side, putting time and effort into a sprint planning session can yield a number of benefits during a scrum project. 

Prioritize Updates

Developers typically have a laundry list of requests heading into a sprint, coming from many different stakeholders including customers, managers, partners, and executives.  

It’s important to be strategic about what changes go into an app and when. But without proper planning, it’s impossible to know what to include.  

Taking the time to run through a backlog and prioritize iterations is one of the most important things you can do when iterating and updating software. If you skip this step, there’s no guarantee the next version of the software will be better. 

Improve Productivity 

There’s no time to waste during a sprint, especially during a short one. If you don’t have a solid plan in place with clear instructions for team members, developers are liable to start asking questions about what they should be working on—or worse, guessing altogether. This can waste valuable time and wind up pushing the sprint past its deadline.  

Taking the time to form a plan and provide instructions can improve productivity and ensure everyone is aligned in their goals and objectives.  

Create Better Software

At the end of the day, your job is to create the best software possible and keep your customers happy. To this end, sprint planning is critical for producing high-quality software that meets customer expectations.  

Promote Teamwork and Collaboration 

Most developers today want to feel engaged at work and like they have a direct say in the software development process. Oftentimes, talented developers wind up leaving for greener pastures when they feel like they don’t have a voice or an opportunity to share ideas.  

Sprint planning allows developers to come together and exchange ideas in a way that is highly collaborative. It’s a way to develop a culture based on equality, acceptance, and teamwork.  

Operate With Agility

Project guidelines can change from hour to hour. A sprint planning session can be the last chance to come together before development commences. As such, it’s a great opportunity to make sure the project is up to date with the latest updates and expectations. If it isn’t, the team can pivot accordingly, taking an agile approach to development. 

Lower Costs

Small mistakes can lead to big errors during sprints, which ultimately causes extensive rework. Unfortunately, this can drive up the time and cost of production.  

By moving methodically and with greater care, it’s possible to lower development costs and keep projects under budget. 

How to Host a Sprint Planning Session

As time goes on, new team members will come on board, and agile strategies are subject to change. As such, it’s likely your organization will develop its own unique way of handling sprint planning sessions as time goes on.   

The following model can serve as a road map for implementing agile sprint planning sessions. 

1. Build Your Planning Team

In most cases, you can build your sprint planning team around a specific project—taking into account the size, scope, and challenges that you expect to encounter.  

To illustrate, you might have a small sprint with clear-cut objectives. This may require having only a few team members involved with sprint planning. On the other hand, a multi-week sprint for a major product update should most likely include product managers, engineering leads, and other stakeholders. 

2. Compile User Stories 

Before you host a sprint planning session, send a notice out with a deadline for user stories. Add the stories into the sprint backlog so that the team can view them and discuss each one together.  

Once the backlog is complete, it’s a good idea to review them and revisit your sprint planning team. Here, you should also double-check to see if you need to include specific team members with specialized skills and experience.  

3. Prepare the Planning Session

Find a time that works for everyone and set up a sprint planning meeting. Remember to be strategic about when you host the meeting; you don’t want to schedule one in the middle of an exceptionally busy time period, for example.  

At this point, you should also finalize the planning session agenda so your team can hit the ground running and take care of business once they come together.  

4. Review the Backlog and Create Tasks 

Heading into the meeting, you should ideally have a complete list of user stories ready to share with the team. This way, you can go through the list together and narrow down the specific items that the group needs to accomplish during the upcoming sprint.  

During the meeting, it’s important to assign team members to specific user stories. Be sure to keep time estimates and workloads in mind. Before you break, make sure that team members are comfortable with their tasks and have either the bandwidth to complete their objectives or the resources in place to bring in other team members and assign work.  

5. Conclude the Meeting 

Once you end the meeting, the sprint will officially begin. So, when you have a viable plan in place, go ahead and wrap it up to commence production.  

Be sure to compile all notes and decisions from the meeting for future recordkeeping and planning. Chances are you will compile information and ideas that can be useful for upcoming sprints or iterations. 

After the meeting, summarize the sprint planning and send a notification to all team members that recaps objectives and deliverables.  

Best Practices for Sprint Planning

Effective sprint planning can go a long way in helping a scrum team meet its objectives. That being the case, it pays to spend some time refining your approach.  

To ensure your agile development model goes as smoothly as possible, keep the following tips in mind for sprint planning. 

Avoid Overloading Your Team 

As a scrum master or project planner, it’s on you to make sure your team is capable of delivering on the upcoming project. 

This is where it helps to have total visibility into team workflows. Oftentimes, developers will take on too much work to show they are working hard and trying to help the team. But when developers go overboard, they wind up rushing through assignments and creating extra work for everyone involved. 

For this reason, you should be realistic about what the team can actually accomplish and bring in other team members when necessary to meet objectives—by either changing priorities with other projects or bringing in third parties to assist with production.  

Make Sure There Is a Scrum Master

Let’s face it: Scrum master can be a thankless job. It requires planning, coordinating, and making hard decisions that can impact the workflow of the entire team.  

Most of the time, the scrum master is a team member who has the bandwidth or ability to take charge and lead the group. In some development teams, the scrum master stays the same from project to project. Other companies choose to rotate scrum masters to avoid burning people out. 

Regardless of how your company chooses to handle the scrum master position, it’s important to have a clear project leader before embarking on an agile project. When it comes down to it, there needs to be a single person that team members can report to. 

Use Agile Metrics to Guide Production

Each project provides key insights that your team can use to guide future production and maximize output.  

Many teams now use agile metrics to monitor production across different phases of the software development life cycle and assess overall software quality.  

Some of the key items you should track include velocity and burndowns for sprints, epics, and releases. Control charts and cumulative flow diagrams can also prove useful for monitoring progress. 

Mind the Gap 

In a perfect world, every day would be a sprint. But in reality, too much time spent developing can burn out employees and make it harder to learn and improve.  

Most teams typically take two or three gap days between sprints to assess progress, make changes, and strategize. 

Plan Ahead 

The more time you have to prepare for a sprint, the better. It’s never a good idea to scramble for a sprint planning session or have one last minute. 

Ideally, sprint planning should be an ongoing process. You should have a running backlog full of feedback, and prioritize items throughout the week. That way, your team can have an easier time going through each one and sharing insights.  

Plutora’s Approach to Sprint Planning

As you can see, a lot rides on effective sprint planning. This is one of the most important parts of scrum methodology. When you master sprint planning, everything else tends to fall into place during development. 

If you’re looking to improve your organization’s sprint planning capabilities, you might want to check out Plutora’s Value Stream Flow Metrics Dashboard, which provides a variety of advanced planning tools and metrics. With the help of Plutora, team members can gain instant visibility into concurrent workflows and make better decisions about what items require urgent delivery.  

Success with agile planning requires looking beyond agile release trains and deep into the specific ways that workflows are occurring. With this in mind, Plutora’s value stream management platform provides the transparency to help teams understand where value and waste are occurring during agile development.  

With Plutora, your team can break through bottlenecks, automate governance and security, and streamline dependencies to see how changes will impact operations. It’s the easiest way to take your sprint planning capabilities to the next level. 
To experience the transformative power of Plutora, demo the platform today.

Justin Reynolds

This post was written by Justin Reynolds. Justin is a freelance writer who enjoys telling stories about how technology, science, and creativity can help workers be more productive. In his spare time, he likes seeing or playing live music, hiking, and traveling.