Regular readers of the EasyRetro blog will have seen countless entries about every aspect of working with sprints. There’s truly no better place to learn about sprint and agile methodologies than our blog. Still, we had a thought — what if we made it even easier for newcomers to fully understand everything there is to know about sprint methodology?
So, here it is. The essential guide to sprint methodology. You’re about to learn everything you need to know to get started, all in one place!
What is a sprint in Agile methodology?
Sprints are the very core of Scrum and Agile methodologies. Sprints are set periods of time in which the team needs to complete a series of tasks.
A sprint will typically last for a short amount of time, with most guides stating a sprint should last no longer than 4 weeks. They are designed to break a project down into bite-sized, manageable pieces. This ensures that each task gets the correct amount of attention and items in the product backlog are not rushed.
Every sprint should result in a workable version of a deliverable product.
How do you plan a sprint?
How you plan your sprints determines how well a project runs. During the planning stages, you establish what can be delivered by the end of the sprint, how you will achieve the work, and how much time it will take.
Sprint planning meetings require a degree of discipline throughout the team. The product owner needs to come prepared with the product vision, stakeholder feedback, and lessons learned from previous sprints. Without this preparation, product owners will have no way of setting the scene for the upcoming sprint, which can cause confusion when it comes to picking the tasks from the product backlog that offer the most value.
The product backlog should also be wholly refined and up-to-date to provide clarity during the planning session.
To plan a sprint, you need to bring the whole team together to discuss and plot an overarching plan for the sprint. To do this, you need to look at five key points.
What is the overall goal of the sprint? What can the team do to achieve that goal? What items from the product backlog will contribute to the goal?
How will they deliver the sprint goal? This conversation will look at how much value each item will bring to the overall product and how much effort it will take to get that value.
The entire team needs to be involved in planning sprints. The product owner will define the goal based on the value they deem most important, while the development team needs to determine if they can deliver that goal in the set amount of time. If either party is absent from the planning stage, the sprint likely won’t bring much value to the project.
The product backlog is a catalog of tasks that need to be completed to create the final product. This provides the perfect starting point for any sprint planning session, as it offers a predetermined list of tasks that could be part of the current sprint. When planning a subsequent sprint, the team can look at the output of previous sprints to help guide their decision-making.
Setting and understanding the goal of your sprint should be the ultimate focus of your sprint planning session. Everyone should leave the meeting with a complete understanding of what they need to do to achieve that goal and the value of the sprint.
It can be very easy to get caught up in which tasks should come first, who should do it, and how long it will take. This only distracts from the planning process, especially because most of this stage relies on assumptions. Instead of thinking about how you’ll do a task, look at the outcome of each task.
User stories offer a great way of describing the work from the point of view of a customer. User stories allow the development team to relate any issues and improvements to the outcome the customer is looking for, rather than focusing on the problem.
Do’s and Dont’s of Sprints
While the concept of sprints and sprint planning seems pretty simple, it can be a little confusing for newcomers. At EasyRetro, we like to keep things as simple and, well, easy as we can. With that in mind, here are some handy do’s and don’ts to get you started.
Do make sure everyone understands the goal of the sprint
Every single member of the team needs to be on the same page. This includes the product owner, as well as everyone on the development team.
A sprint should start when everyone is aligned with the sprint goals to ensure the sprint brings the most value to the overall product.
Do make sure you have a well-organized and prioritized backlog
A well-organized backlog helps to align the product team and clarifies what the most important features are. This is crucial for sprint planning because it gives everyone the information to plan sprints confidently and efficiently.
For an in-depth look at how to effectively calculate sprint velocity, click here!
Do have a good understanding of the time it will take to achieve the goal
One of the core aspects of a sprint is that you complete the sprint within a set time-box. Having a specific length of time to complete each sprint allows the team to work at a comfortable pace and serves to help estimate product completion timeframes.
Do use the sprint planning meeting to dig into specific details
As we mentioned previously, sprint planning meetings should leave everyone on the team on the same page regarding the sprint’s outcome. This means any confusion your team may have should be cleared up during the sprint planning meeting rather than after. This way, everyone leaves the meeting with the same level of understanding.
Do make sure someone captures your sprint plan using a project management or collaboration tool, like EasyRetro
Let’s be blunt here. There’s no point in running an in-depth meeting to plan your sprints if you’re just going to jot down key points on a couple of post-it notes.
It’s only human to forget a few things here and there. By putting your sprint plan into product management tools, you have an easy-to-use, easy-to-read place for everyone to remind themselves of the objective. Using a platform like EasyRetro can also help you keep track of everyone during the sprint and assess how well the sprint is running. You can use all this information in the sprint retrospective to understand how the sprint went and identify any changes needed for upcoming sprints.
Don’t add too much
The whole point of Agile and Scrum methodologies is to build a product in the most efficient way possible. The team also needs to be able to pivot at short notice if the project requires it. This simply isn’t possible if you try to cram as many tasks into the sprint as possible.
Remember, true value is about quality, not quantity.
Don’t underestimate the time needed
It’s important for teams not to confuse efficiency with speed. Sprints aren’t about getting as much work done as possible in a small amount of time. They’re about how much value you can bring the product and customer during that time-box.
Don’t worry too much about moving quickly. Instead, make sure people are on the same page
Despite the strict sprint time-frames, teams don’t need to focus on completing every single task as quickly as possible.
The main thing to worry about is ensuring that everyone on the team is clear on the product vision. You should make clearing up any confusion a top priority.
Don’t include high-risk work
Any tasks that could cause significant disruption to the sprint should be kept to a minimum. If a single task looks like it could derail a sprint due to its size or complexity, try to break it down into smaller chunks that will be more achievable.
Making sprint planning a breeze with EasyRetro
At EasyRetro, we don’t believe that sprint planning — or any other aspect of the sprint methodology — should be difficult. That’s why the entire EasyRetro platform is built to be accessible for anyone, regardless of skill level.