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Sprint planning — everything you need to know

by Adobe Experience Cloud Team Are you leading your department’s next sprint planning meeting? Or maybe you have a calendar invite for your first one ever. Like any new and unfamiliar task, it can be overwhelming to learn what something is and how to prepare for it. To remedy that lack of know-how, we’ve put together a comprehensive overview explaining the basics and beyond.

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?

  • Who does sprint planning?

  • Benefits of sprint planning

  • Preparing for the sprint planning meeting

  • Sprint planning meeting length

  • How to structure a sprint planning meeting

  • Best practices for sprint planning

What is sprint planning?

Sprint planning is a meeting held before each sprint to define the goal of the sprint and decide how to accomplish the goal.

Let’s break that explanation down even more.

  • What? Sprint planning provides 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 and have a shared consensus on the goal of the sprint and have that goal in writing.

  • How? 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 everyone a say in what tasks and projects represent a priority for the team — and how long each will take. The team should all know how they’ll accomplish the goal, and they’ll need to create the sprint backlog containing the tasks of how you will meet your sprint goal. The sprint goal should also be in writing.

Who does sprint planning?

Sprint planning is a collaborative process between the entire Scrum team, with every member of the team bearing responsibility. Next, we’ll go over the key members of a sprint planning meeting, including their roles and responsibilities.

  • Product owner — This person leads the preparation for sprint planning, including refining and prioritizing the backlog. During sprint planning they guide by defining the sprint goal — why the team is having the sprint — and finalizing the sprint backlog, or the plan for the sprint.

  • Scrum master — This role schedules and facilitates the sprint planning meeting. During sprint planning they assign tasks to team members and ensure no one is overcommitting, monitor the sprint backlog as it forms, and summarize the sprint planning meeting.

  • Development team — These people are the rest of the participants of the sprint planning meeting. They’re the ones executing the goal. During the meeting, their tasks are to understand the sprint goal, help refine the backlog and estimate user stories (the smallest unit of work in an Agile framework), determine their individual capacity, and commit to their user stories and tasks.

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.

Teamwork is the name of the game with sprint planning, and the backbone of any well-run team is studied with communication processes and tactics. Here’s what you can look forward to accomplishing during sprint planning:

  • Define a clear sprint goal as a team. If you are in a room with a whiteboard or equivalent, write the primary goal where everyone can see and refer to it.

  • Start sprint with an agreed-upon plan. Roles and responsibilities are constantly clarified, as are project scope and goals — ensuring the most effective use of everyone’s time.

  • Establish realistic expectations. Whenever possible, assign deadlines with a little extra padding in case of setbacks.

  • Identify any possible roadblocks. Sprint planning is an iterative and nimble process that allows for flexibility should a setback occur.

Preparing for the sprint planning meeting

Proper preparation saves time during the sprint planning meeting and reduces the chances of failure. Before starting this meeting, the product owner is responsible for preparing and motivating the rest of the team to prepare.

How to prepare for a sprint planning meeting:

  1. Review the last sprint. Reviewing the last sprint — or the last sprint retrospective — will help you see what tasks are left over from the previous sprint and will also help you gauge how long the next sprint should be.

  2. Review the overall project. Take a step back to remember what value you’re trying to bring to your customers. Use this time to ask stakeholders for feedback and additional context. Don’t forget to consider the current market.

  3. Refine the product backlog. By this point you’ll want to review your product backlog and user stories. Decide on the tasks to take on in the upcoming sprint. Refining the product backlog entails actively managing by adding new items as ideas or requests come in, while also removing or modifying items as needed. Since you are pulling tasks from the product backlog to include in the sprint backlog, refining the product backlog will save time and frustration. Asking everyone on the development team, as well as the Scrum master, to help refine the product backlog will save time during the meeting and make it easier to find appropriate tasks for the next sprint.

Sprint planning meeting length

The length of a sprint planning meeting can vary depending on the size of the development team, complexity of the project, and the duration of the sprint. A good rule of thumb is the number of hours needed for sprint planning is two times the number of weeks in the sprint.

This equation will leave plenty of room for thorough discussion, allowing time for each team member’s voice to be heard and for everyone to understand the sprint’s goal and the work that needs to be done. On the other hand, if your sprint planning session goes on for too long, your team 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.

How to structure a sprint planning meeting

A well-structured sprint planning meeting sets your sprint planning up for success. You know you’ve effectively organized your meeting before, during, and after when all team members have a shared understanding of the tasks, helping them to collaborate throughout the sprint.

  1. Identify the goal. A sprint goal is a statement of one to two sentences describing the overall purpose of the sprint. The product owner should bring a general goal to sprint planning and facilitate by asking open-ended questions.

  2. Discuss any updates. The team should discuss what’s happened between the last sprint retrospective and then that may impact this sprint. Thoroughness and transparency are key for this step.

  3. Determine the sprint’s velocity. You’ll want to figure out how long the sprint should take — also called the sprint velocity or time frame necessary to accomplish the tasks. The best way to determine velocity is to look at how long past sprints took. Typically, most sprints are one to two weeks.

  4. Discuss the team’s capacity. Everyone on the team has the chance to say what they’re capable of doing this sprint based on their availability and workload.

  5. Choose sprint backlog items. First, review the product backlog. Then, estimate user stories to make sure they are manageable. If they are too big, split them into smaller user stories. Tasks should be worth doing and achievable within the short sprint time frame. Once you’ve decided on items to work on, move the items from the product backlog into the sprint backlog.

  6. Assign tasks to team members. Once you have your items, everyone on the team should decide what they can do for this sprint. The scrum master can record what everyone is committing to.

  7. Record concerns and dependencies. After tasks are assigned, the team should evaluate dependencies — meaning a potential setback such as another department not providing feedback on schedule — and concerns — such as overall time management.

  8. Reach consensus. The group should end by collectively agreeing they will carry these two artifacts into the sprint: the sprint goal and backlog.

Best practices for sprint planning

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.

  • Start with a refined backlog. A refined backlog helps teams begin with a comprehensive understanding of the stories and ensures they’re working on the most important tasks possible.

  • Define clear goals. Only move on from a user story after clearly defining its goal.

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

  • Decide what done means. There’s a fine line between empowering team members with the necessary details and micromanaging. Whenever possible, define a clear endpoint during sprint planning.

Getting started with sprint planning

Sprint planning helps teams efficiently accomplish projects using their individual resources — their time and skills. When you’re ready to get started, review your backlog and choose what tasks are worth pursuing and achievable within a short period of time.

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 daily.

Watch the overview video or take an interactive product tour to learn more about Adobe Workfront.

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