What is Sprint Planning?

In scrum, Sprint Planning is a ceremony or event held to set a clear direction and expectations for an upcoming sprint. Sprint planning is crucial for a successful sprint, helping guide the different team roles and keep them in sync with a shared vision and focus.

Without a solid sprint plan, sprints can quickly fall apart or be set up for failure due to unrealistic expectations. This is why planning your sprints is just as important as the sprint itself.

Why Sprints?

When you consider your team’s product backlog (the complete list of items needed to complete for a given product or service), the thought of checking items off one by one is enough to make most developers shudder. Where do you start? Which items should be prioritized? Do new items automatically fall to the back of the list?

This waterfall approach to completing projects often left teams confused, out-of-sync, and unclear of the overarching product vision – why these tasks were being done in the first place. Scrum aims to clear up this confusion and ensure that work is progressing in a way that delivers continuous improvements to the product and user experience.

Scrum instead takes the full product backlog and breaks it down into smaller, workable chunks known as sprints. Each sprint consists of its own set of items to complete (a sprint backlog), and a goal timeline based on the amount of work. The development team would then work together to complete the sprint backlog and achieve the desired sprint goal. Breaking the backlog into individual sprints allows for increased speed and flexibility, such as when making adaptive updates following real-time user feedback.

In the past, it was not uncommon for developers to feel as though they were simply working blind and completing tasks without an idea of how it relates to the product in the long-run. With well-planned sprints, all scrum team members are aware of their roles and how their completed work impacts the bigger picture. Sprints help teams keep in-sync while steadily burning through the backlog in a logical, product and user-focused manner.

Who is Responsible for Sprint Planning?

Sprint planning involves every scrum team member – the Scrum Master, Product Owner, and Development Team. The length of the sprint itself should already be determined at this time.

Sprint planning is held prior to kicking off each new sprint and is led by the Scrum Master. The scrum master must also set a maximum amount of time (or timebox) for the sprint planning event (typically no more than 2 hours per 1 week of sprint time).

During the Sprint Planning scrum ceremony, the Product Owner is responsible for setting the goal or objective of the sprint. They will also need to determine which of the product backlog items help contribute toward that specific goal. Each sprint goal should seek to improve the product’s overall value to the user.

The Development Team then collaborates with the product owner to create a sprint plan based on the sprint goal. Development and the product owner may need to negotiate on which backlog items to include. Oftentimes the question that needs to be answered is what can be done in this sprint to deliver the most value within the allotted amount of time. From this discussion, development will select which product backlog items to include in the new sprint backlog.

Once the Product Owner and Development Team agree on the chosen backlog items, the sprint can then get started.

Tips for Planning Your Sprints

  1. Ensure product backlog is accurate and up-to-date.
  2. Know the length of the sprint you’re planning for.
  3. (Scrum Master) Set a meeting time limit based on 2 hours per week of sprint time.
  4. (Product Owner) Be prepared to clearly define the sprint goal for the rest of the team.
  5. Rather than the work itself, focus on achieving an outcome that delivers value to your users. A well-thought user story can help the team understand the work being done from a user standpoint.
  6. Learn from past sprint retrospectives. Sprint retrospectives – which are held at the end of each sprint – are designed to help focus on improving your processes over time. Determine what worked and what didn’t, and use that information to help guide your next sprint planning ceremony.

The Importance of Sprint Planning

Sprint planning is important for setting the team up for success with clear goals and expectations. It’s critical for each team member to be on the same page, which is why planning must always include the full scrum team.

An effective sprint plan should motivate and provide the team with a clear picture of how this set of work helps to move the product forward. Breaking the product backlog into smaller, logical groups of tasks helps to make sense of the work being done as well as the value it delivers to users.