What is Agile sprint planning? Besides being one of the four core Scrum ceremonies, a sprint planning meeting is an essential step in ensuring any Scrum project’s success. This guide will walk you through the ins and outs of sprint planning and help you take control of sprint planning meetings.
What is sprint planning?
In Scrum, every project is broken into time blocks called sprints, usually 2-4 weeks long. A sprint planning meeting is when the team (including the Scrum Master, Scrum Product Manager, and Scrum Team) meets to determine which backlog items will be handled in the next sprint. The sprint planning Scrum ceremony is a collaborative process that allows team members to have a say in when work happens.
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Sprint planning meeting agenda
Like any meeting, your sprint planning meeting will need an agenda to keep the team focused. 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.
Sprint planning meeting prep
Before starting this meeting, the Scrum Master and Scrum product manager should review the team’s capacity, look at the overall timeline of the project (if there is a deadline), and be ready to act on insights learned in previous sprints.
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.
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 more effectively manage the budget and timeline of the project.
To fairly 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, etc.), or another means of capturing 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 that person has insights about the task’s complexity or simplicity 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, in which combinations, will fit into your upcoming sprint, based on your team’s available capacity.
Your team’s capacity is a measurement of how many story points or backlog 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 eight productive hours a day, you’ll find their capacity by multiplying seven team members by eight 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 and coffee breaks are a part of office 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.
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 checklist
To be even more prepared during your sprint planning meetings, come up with a checklist, similar to the following:
- Come prepared with data and estimated story points
- Confirm estimated story points for all items on the backlog (or, at minimum, in the next sprint)
- Agree on the items to move to the new sprint
- Determine the team’s capacity for the upcoming sprint and compare it with the total story points proposed
- End the meeting with a Q&A to ensure all team members are on the same page
Right click and download our sprint planning checklist below.
Well-planned sprints lead to better projects.
Scrum sprint planning is an essential part of the Agile methodology. In each session, make sure you review the backlog in its entirety, identify the tasks that need to happen first, and only include tasks in each sprint that fit your team’s available capacity.
With Scrum’s collaborative approach to sprint planning, the entire Scrum team has access to all of the tasks in the backlog, they can help determine the most important tasks for that particular sprint, and they have an equal say in how best to tackle the next set of challenges together.