If you’re planning to use an Agile approach to your project management, you’ll need to learn about the key role sprints play in helping your team complete tasks on time and budget. Here’s everything you need to know about sprints in Agile project management and sprint management in general so you can set your team up for success.
Table of Contents
- What is a sprint in Agile?
- How long is a sprint?
- What is the sprint cycle?
- Sprints vs. Scrums.
- Agile sprint best practices.
- Sprints are at the heart of Scrum approaches.
- Frequently asked questions.
What is a sprint in Agile?
A project sprint in Scrum is a short period of time wherein a development team works to complete specific tasks, milestones, or deliverables. Sprints separate a project timeline into smaller, more manageable blocks.
Working on a six-month-long project can get tedious and leave Agile team members feeling like they’re not making any progress — even when they are. By breaking your project plan into sprints, you’ll set smaller goals and individual KPIs throughout, rather than waiting for the end of a project. This makes sprint project management an essential tool and skillset.
How long is a sprint?
Sprints typically do not extend longer than one calendar month. Some teams might work in two-week sprints, while others might prefer weekly sprints. For more complex projects, monthly sprints might make more sense, as they give contributors more time to complete tasks and showcase accomplishments.
Let’s consider how sprint project management works.
If you have a website launch project, you might split three months’ worth of work into six two-week sprints. During sprint one, your goals might include:
- Hosting setup
- Theme installation
- Sitemap creation
- Content interviews/research
Tasks like these can often feel like prep work that team members are eager to get out of the way so they can focus on the real meat of the project. But if you reframe them as the goals of your first sprint, you’ll not only make sure the project starts off on solid ground, but you’ll also help team members feel an early sense of accomplishment while they’re ramping up for the more intense work down the road.
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What is the sprint cycle?
A sprint cycle is the repeatable process you’ll go through every time you manage and plan a sprint. The steps of the process will stay the same — what will change are the insights you learn at the end of a sprint and how you apply them to make the next sprint even more effective.
There are four stages, also called Scrum ceremonies, that the project manager takes ownership of within each sprint, including sprint planning, check-ins, reviews, and retrospectives:
Setting up a sprint requires proper sprint planning. This is the project manager’s chance to decide on objectives and actions for an upcoming sprint. The project manager gathers the team to determine:
- How much work can be completed within one sprint
- And how it will be completed
This list of objectives is known as the sprint backlog — an important aspect of sprint project management.
It’s important that there is enough work to fill the time span, but not too much.
- Not planning enough work. Can derail the project and lead to budget and timeline overages.
- Planning too much work. Can lead to team burnout and missed deadlines.
Ideally, your planning should take place in a centralized work management platform, like Adobe Workfront.
Choose a system that allows you to follow an Agile approach to your projects and offers a work board for hosting sprints and backlogged tasks.
Also known as stand-up meetings, daily Scrum meetings ensure sprints are running on schedule and all team members are in the loop when problems pop up. Sprint stand-ups typically only last 15 minutes and require each team member to:
- Discuss what they’ve accomplished since the last meeting
- Explain what they’ll work on before the next meeting
- Detail any obstacles are standing in their way
Daily stand-ups should be quick touch points. If more in-depth meetings are required, they should be scheduled outside of stand-ups.
Once a sprint is completed, the project manager hosts a sprint review meeting with all team members and stakeholders to:
- Demonstrate sprint outputs
- Determine what was accomplished and what wasn’t
- Review project forecasts
Untested or incomplete work is not shown, but is instead saved for the next sprint’s planning round.
The final step in the sprint project management process is the sprint retrospective. This takes place after the sprint review and before the next sprint planning session.
This collaborative session allows team members to discuss accomplishments and challenges during the previous sprint so that processes can be altered, if needed. The goal is to fix one thing at a time and make small, incremental changes from sprint to sprint.
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Sprints vs. Scrums.
Sometimes, the terms “sprint” and “Scrum” get confused, but they describe different things.
- Sprints. These are short, repeating blocks of time in which key parts of the project are completed. They form part of a Scrum approach.
- Scrum. An Agile project management methodology that uses set processes and protocols, including sprints, to enhance collaboration and continuously improve.
Sprints are often considered the heart of any Scrum approach, as they allow projects to be broken into manageable chunks.
Agile sprint best practices.
Now you understand how an Agile sprint works, here are a few best practices to keep in mind:
- Ensure clarity of tasks. Make sure everyone knows what’s in the sprint and what each team member is responsible for.
- Check on tasks before meetings. Before each meeting or daily stand-up, be ready to share the status of your tasks as well as any concerns, barriers, or red flags.
- Don’t handle sprint planning alone. Even seasoned project managers need help estimating how much time tasks will take (Story Points) and which steps to prioritize. Sprint planning meetings should be a team effort or, at a minimum, should allow contributors to sign off on sprint tasks and raise potential obstacles.
- Use data to improve. During your sprint review and retrospective, consult data from your work management platform to help inform future sprint decisions. Perhaps you learned that having two team members collaborate before completing a task saves time. Take advantage of available data to make better decisions.
- Budget time for everything. Include enough time for QA checks and technical fixes, so you know the work your team has performed during the sprint will hold up under scrutiny — and avoid any potential faults further down the line.
Agile project management is all about adapting and updating your project plan as needed, based on new information and insights learned within the project’s sprints.
Sprints are at the heart of Scrum approaches.
Project sprints are essential building blocks of any Scrum-based project. These time boxes are used to:
- Accomplish small chunks of the larger overall project
- Keep your team focused on what’s in front of them
- Build and sustain momentum
- Prevent anyone from feeling overwhelmed
Adapting your processes as you go is innate to the sprint mentality, and reviewing sprints once they’re complete helps generate new insights and provides opportunities to celebrate every small victory along the way.
Find out how Adobe Workfront can assist in your project sprints with a product tour today.
Frequently asked questions.
What is sprint and release in agile?
‘Sprint and release’ is a key principle of agile project management. Each sprint aims to get an element of the project completed.
When completed, sprints take the project to the point of delivering product to the client or publishing something live, like a piece of software, that’s called a release. Hence the two go together, sprint and release.
What is the definition of a sprint in agile?
The definition of a sprint is a dedicated period of time in which a set amount of work will be completed on a project. It’s part of the agile methodology, and an Agile project will be broken down into a number of sprints, each sprint taking the project closer to completion.
How do you manage sprints in agile?
To successfully manage sprints in agile you need to prioritize planning. For example, each sprint should have a clear objective or goal. The amount of work you need to complete during the sprint must be scheduled realistically and accurately.
You must ensure the sprint is on track with daily stand-up scrum meetings, also invaluable for identifying potential blockers. Once the sprint is completed, you should conduct a review for any learnings for next time.