Agile team in the middle of an agile sprint

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 so that you can set your team up for success.

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What is a sprint in Agile?

A sprint in Scrum is a short period of time wherein a development team works to complete specific tasks, milestones, or deliverables. Sprints, also referred to as “iterations,” essentially break the project schedule into digestible blocks of time in which smaller goals can be accomplished.

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 allow team members to focus on individual goals and celebrate victories as they occur, rather than waiting for the end of a project.

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.

For instance, 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, WordPress theme installation, sitemap creation, and 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 establish them as the goals of your first sprint, you’ll not only make sure the project starts off on solid ground, you 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.

Sprint planning

Setting up a sprint requires proper sprint planning. The project manager gathers the team to determine how much work can be completed within one sprint. 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 to accomplish too much can lead to team burnout and missed deadlines.

Ideally, your planning should take place in a centralized work management platform, like Workfront. Opt for a system that allows you to follow an Agile approach to your projects and offers a work board for hosting sprints and backlogged tasks.

Daily Scrum

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, what they’ll work on before the next meeting, and if 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.

Sprint review

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, and review project forecasts. Untested or incomplete work is not shown, but is instead saved for the next sprint’s planning round.

Sprint retrospective

The final step in the sprint 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 refer to short, repeating blocks of time in which key parts of the project are completed. Scrum, on the other hand, is the name of an Agile project management methodology that uses set processes and protocols, including sprints, to enhance collaboration and continuously improve upon problems. 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 that you understand how an Agile sprint works, here are a few best practices to keep in mind:

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, and 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.