Learn about sprint planning to create more agile teams

What is agile sprint planning? Besides being one of the four core Scrum ceremonies, a sprint planning meeting is an essential step in ensuring success for any Scrum project. This guide will walk you through the ins and outs of sprint planning and help you take control of sprint planning meetings.

In this sprint planning guide, you’ll learn:

What is sprint planning?

Sprint planning is an event wherein a team identifies their next project and breaks it into time blocks called sprints, which are usually 2–4 weeks long. The process is collaborative, affording all a say in what tasks and projects represent a priority for the team — and how long each will take.

The goal of sprint planning is to provide each team member with discrete, actionable tasks and deadlines. By the end of the meeting, everyone should know exactly what’s expected of them for the duration of the sprint.

Benefits of sprint planning

Sprint planning keeps team members engaged and motivated by allowing them to divide even the most daunting projects into approachable, accomplishable tasks.

Roles and responsibilities are constantly clarified, as are project scope and goals — ensuring the most effective use of everyone’s time. Iterative and nimble, sprint planning is also ideally structured to incorporate learnings as a project progresses, rather than waiting until the last deliverable has been submitted to address problems with process or opportunities to improve outcomes.

The “5 Ws” of a sprint planning meeting

Sprint planning sessions are useful, but they also can potentially lose their focus, straying into conversations that don’t require everyone’s attention or trying to address more than the next sprint alone. Knowing and articulating the purpose and participants ahead of time is essential for ensuring a successful meeting. That’s where the 5 Ws come in:

  1. Who: the Scrum master, Scrum product manager, and Scrum team
  2. What: establish next steps for the team and individual contributors, then assign deadlines to each task
  3. When: the first day of a new sprint, typically once or twice a month
  4. Where: a place with few interruptions, ideally a physical location if possible
  5. Why: more efficient, productive sprints in which all know what is expected of them

Sprint planning prep

Like any meeting, your sprint planning meeting will need an agenda to set expectations, allow for needed preparation, and ensure important items aren’t omitted. Every sprint planning meeting agenda should include discussions about the ultimate objective of the sprint and the team’s capacity, followed by a granular look at the sprint backlog, before you start slotting tasks into the sprint.

Before starting this meeting, the Scrum master and Scrum product manager should assess the team’s capacity, look at the overall timeline of the project (if there is a deadline), and be ready to act on insights gleaned from previous sprints.

Sprint backlog

Your sprint backlog is a list of all the tasks you need to accomplish to complete the project. During the sprint planning meeting, your team will review this backlog to look at what’s left to work on and decide what should happen next to keep the project on track.

Any items not completed in previous sprints might be moved to the backlog. New items that might have popped up during previous sprints will also be here.

Estimating stories

Once you have your backlog of items, it’s important to estimate the time or effort it will take to complete each item. This information helps the Scrum master or Scrum product manager to direct the budget and timeline of the project more effectively.

To accurately capture this data, the Scrum team will discuss and collaboratively estimate the size of each task, often called user stories, which is done using numerical points, hours, comparative sizes (XS, S, M, L, XL, XXL, and so on), or another means of assessing the effort required.

It’s important to take into account each team member’s effort rating, especially if it’s substantially higher or lower than the rest of the group, in case someone has insights about the task complexity or simplicity that the rest of the team hasn’t considered. These discussions can help get to more effective time estimates.

Once items are estimated, you’ll be able to determine how many of these user stories (and which combinations) will fit into your upcoming sprint based on your team’s available capacity.

Determining capacity

Your team’s capacity is a measurement of how many story points or backlogged items they can complete during a sprint under normal circumstances. To find your team’s capacity, multiply the number of team members by the number of hours they can productively work in a day, subtracting time spent in team meetings or devoted to other tasks or projects.

For a simplified example, if you have a team of seven people putting in 8 productive hours a day, you’ll find their capacity by multiplying seven team members by 8 hours. This gives you 56 points per day, or 280 points per 5-day workweek. Then you need to subtract unavailable time, which may include meetings, time off, and other distractions. For example, if you have a 2-hour team meeting every Wednesday, subtract 14 hours from the total (7 workers x 2 hours), and if two team members are taking two days off each, subtract 32 hours from the total (2 workers x 8 hours x 2 days). That would leave you with 234 total points.

Of course, you can’t assume every individual is working at 100% capacity every hour of the day. After all, interpersonal conversations, coffee breaks, appointments, and more are a part of hybrid work life, so you may want to factor in each person’s fractional availability. If you assume each person-hour is 75% productive, multiply your 234 points by .75, and you’d end up with 175.5 total capacity points per workweek. If you work in 2-week sprints, double that total to 351.

Determining velocity

Next, you’ll want to look at the team’s velocity and capacity together. When determining the team’s velocity, the Scrum master or Scrum product manager should be ready to use examples from the past few sprints or previous projects to indicate how quickly the team usually finishes similar work.

Sprint planning best practices

Beginning a new process always comes with setbacks and challenges. Minimize your own team’s learning curve by using the following tried-and-true strategies to ensure a collaborative, positive experience for all involved.

  1. Starting with the team goal or goals, focus on the desired outcome of the sprint.

If you are in a room with a whiteboard or equivalent, write the primary goal where all can see and constantly refer back to it.

  1. Validate estimates and capacity with your team.

Avoid dictating expectations. Rather, listen to and consider what teammates believe they are capable of in the coming weeks.

  1. Set a time limit and stick to it.

Allot two hours maximum for a two-week sprint.

  1. End the meeting with a Q&A to ensure all team members are on the same page.

That said, be wary of individual members wanting to take up the entire team’s time for conversations that could effectively be carried out one-on-one.

  1. Keep it simple wherever possible.

There’s a fine line between empowering team members with the necessary details and micromanaging. Avoid overplanning by allowing all the flexibility to complete their tasks according to how they work best.

Too much detail can be demotivating. Outlining a team goal and specific roles for each team member is enough.

Getting started with agile sprint planning

Fail to carry out smart sprint planning and the fallout will follow you sprint after sprint, compounding mistakes and miscalculations.

Fortunately, the opposite is also true. Plan well and you and your team will find yourselves in a virtuous cycle of cascading benefits, from more efficient processes to increasingly innovative outcomes.

Help ensure the best possible results with tools designed to help facilitate a frictionless, agile sprint planning experience. With Adobe Workfront, the combination of resource management and configurable dashboards — as well as native integrations — empowers your team to respond quickly to shifting priorities and deadlines.

Workfront was founded to help people, teams, and companies get work done. Today, more than 3,000 organizations and the world’s top 10 brands use it every single day.

Try a Workfront interactive product tour.

Get ahead on your next sprint planning meeting. Before the current sprint is over, dig into your team’s current backlog and pull up items you think would be worth prioritizing during your next sprint.

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