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23/100 - Agile Sprint Planning Meeting: How to Do It Right?


Sprint Planning Meeting in Web3 Projects
Source - Freepik

In the Scrum agile framework, a Sprint Planning Meeting is an event that establishes the sprint goal and plan for the upcoming sprint. A sprint is a brief, time-boxed period during which a scrum team completes a predetermined amount of work which delivers value. The development team commits on high priority items from the product backlog and take them into the sprint.


In the previous blog we looked at 'Guidance on Forming a Software Development Project Team'. Let’s look at some of the key concepts around Sprint Planning in this blog through the below topics:

Prerequisites for upcoming Sprint Planning Meeting

Before the upcoming Sprint Planning Meeting, it is necessary to have a prioritized backlog. Hence the need for sprint refinement sessions before sprint planning. Backlog refinement happens during the sprint refinement meetings which precede sprint planning meeting. Refinement sessions done well reduces the discussion time to a large extend during planning as the team would have already discussed on each story, estimation done, tasks listed etc.


What happens during a sprint refinement meeting?

  1. Sprint refinement meetings help teams to get a clear understanding of the work that needs to be done and what can be realistically completed in upcoming sprints.

  2. Refining the Product Backlog is the process of refining and breaking down Product Backlog items into smaller, more detailed things and elaborating with all required details like description, designs, estimate, tasks etc

  3. At a typical sprint refinement meeting, the development team will review the stories that will be going into the next sprint and run through groomed backlog items with the developers.

  4. Questions will be asked to gain clarity on the work that needs to be done.

  5. The meetings are relatively short and occur once or twice a week to have all the stories meeting definition of ready criteria by the upcoming sprint planning meeting.

Sprint Planning Meeting Prerequisite - Refined Product Backlog
Source - Freepik

Sprint Planning Meeting Agenda

  • The Product Owner ensures that there is a prioritized backlog available as an input. PO presents the product backlog items one at a time and the scrum team discusses them and add to the sprint backlog

Question 1 to be addressed during sprint planning: What value is the sprint delivering?

The Product Owner suggests enhancements to the product's value and utility during the current Sprint.

  • The entire Scrum Team then collaborates to establish a Sprint Goal that outlines why the Sprint is valuable to stakeholders. The Sprint Goal must be decided prior to the end of Sprint Planning.

  • A sprint goal is a brief, one- or two-sentence summary of what the team intends to accomplish during the sprint.

  • It is written by the team and the product owner in collaboration.

Question 2 to be addressed during sprint planning: How it can be Accomplished During This Sprint?

  • The Developers plan the work necessary to build an Increment that meets the Definition of Done for each selected Product Backlog item. This is typically accomplished by breaking down Product Backlog items into smaller, one-day or shorter tasks.

  • How this is accomplished is solely up to the Developers' discretion. Participation is from not only team members, but the development Team may also invite other people to attend Sprint Planning to provide advice.

Other key considerations:

  • Selecting too much or too little work for the next sprint can be one of the issues, and developers should consider their past performance as well as upcoming capacity when making these decisions.

  • Sprint Planning is limited to eight hours maximum for a one-month Sprint and four hours for a two week sprint. For shorter Sprints, the event length is typically reduced.

  • The Scrum Master facilitates the Sprint planning meeting. The team may also engage SMEs from outside the team to participate in the meeting.

  • Definition of Ready checklist helps as guidance to include only those stories or tasks which meet the DoR criteria so that that the probability of getting them to Done is high.


How to calculate the capacity of the development team for a Sprint?

Choosing how much can be achieved during a Sprint might be difficult. The greater the Developers' knowledge of their past performance, upcoming capability, and Definition of Done, the greater their confidence in their next Sprint projections.


Velocity based calculation:

  1. Determine the average team velocity of the development team (approx. from last 3 to 6 previous sprints)

  2. Select high priority items from the product backlog that correspond to that average velocity.

  3. Determine whether the stories are meeting the Definition of Ready Criteria, to be taken into the sprint.

Capacity based calculation:

  1. Determine the team’s available capacity by excluding holidays, planned leaves, Org training etc

  2. Select high priority items from the product backlog that correspond to that capacity

  3. Determine whether the stories are meeting the Definition of Ready Criteria and ensure all the development team members have work as per their bandwidth.

Note:

At the initial stages of team formation, it is recommended to go with commitment-based planning where the team will discuss and decide on what amount of work they would complete. As the team matures, team velocity and capacity-based planning can be implemented. Both, the past team's velocity and available capacity together help in effectively planning sprints.


Team velocity is the great equalizer. Keep the sprint capacity planning calculations simple and avoid over engineering.

How to conduct an effective Sprint Planning Session?

An effective Sprint Planning meeting is crucial for setting a solid foundation for a successful Sprint in Scrum. Here are 10 key tips to help you conduct an effective Sprint Planning meeting as a Scrum Master:

  1. Prepare Before the Meeting: Ensure the Product Backlog is refined and prioritized before the meeting. The Product Owner should clarify the priorities and be ready to discuss the top items.

  2. Set Clear Objectives: Start the meeting by stating the Sprint Goal. This goal should align with the product roadmap and current priorities and be clear to all team members.

  3. Encourage Collaboration: Facilitate discussions between the Product Owner and the Development Team. Ensure everyone's voice is heard and that there's a collective understanding of the tasks and goals.

  4. Ensure Realistic Commitment: Guide the team to select an amount of work they can realistically complete during the Sprint. Use historical velocity as a guide but consider other factors like team capacity and complexity of work.

  5. Break Down Tasks: Encourage the team to break down Product Backlog items into smaller, manageable tasks. This helps in understanding the work better and estimating more accurately.

  6. Focus on Value: Guide the team to focus on selecting items that deliver the most value towards the Sprint Goal and overall product vision.

  7. Clarify and Confirm Understanding: Make sure everyone has a clear understanding of each backlog item and what is expected. Encourage questions and clarifications.

  8. Review and Adjust: If the team realizes mid-way that the goal is too ambitious or too light, be prepared to adjust the scope by adding or removing items from the Sprint Backlog.

  9. Time box the Meeting: Keep the meeting within its time box (usually from 30 min to an hour, depending on the Sprint length and the backlog readiness from the refinement). This keeps discussions focused and efficient.

  10. End with a Commitment: Conclude the meeting with a commitment from the team to the Sprint Goal. This fosters a sense of ownership and responsibility towards the work in the upcoming Sprint.

Remember, as a Scrum Master or Project Manager, your role is to facilitate and ensure that the meeting stays productive and focused on the goal, while ensuring that the team doesn't feel pressured into overcommitting but takes the high priority and high value stories into the sprint for development.


Sprint Planning Meeting Additional Recommendations

  1. Occasionally the meeting falls on holidays, during that time, a planning meeting can be set up on the previous day to have the sprint backlog and sprint goal ready for anyone who wishes to start working.

  2. It is an imperative that all the team members and product owner are present for the sprint planning meeting for any final clarifications or changes in priorities before committing the sprint.

  3. Sprint planning needs to align with upcoming release plans and product goals. Team should visit release plans and roadmap to have their work done in the sprints aligned to bigger goals.

  4. During this planning meeting, scrum master needs to consider any buffers for production requests or mid sprint activities which regularly come up as a high priority. (This depends on the context of the team)


Sprint Planning Meeting Anti Patterns

Sprint Planning Meeting Anti-patterns

  1. Development team is overcommitting or under committing on the stories to be taken for a sprint.

  2. Product Owner allocating works to each team members more like a Project Manager.

  3. Team is taking up stories which are not yet refined or not meeting the DoR criteria

  4. Planning with too much detail (discussing minute details of each task) or too less detail (planning at epic level and not necessarily breaking down to stories or tasks with many dependencies).

  5. Focusing only on features ignoring technical debts, refactoring, non-functional requirements etc

Many such anti patterns can exist and would require continuous trainings, coaching and mentoring from Scrum master and Agile Coaches to build best practices in Sprint Planning Meetings.


Planning Sprints in Innovation Projects

Sprint planning in innovation projects like web3, GenAI, research etc is vital for navigating the inherent uncertainties and rapid changes these endeavors often involve. Key to success is fostering a mindset of flexibility and creativity during Sprint planning. Teams should focus on setting achievable, yet ambitious goals that encourage innovative thinking. Actionable points include:

  1. Prioritize Learning: Emphasize learning goals alongside product goals, as understanding new technologies or markets can be as valuable as tangible deliverables.

  2. Encourage Cross-functional Collaboration: Bring diverse perspectives into the planning process to spark creative solutions.

  3. Risk Management: Identify and discuss potential risks upfront, and plan for contingencies.

  4. Celebrate Creativity: Encourage and recognize innovative ideas and approaches within the team, enabling a culture of innovation and experimentation.

Conclusion

Effective Sprint planning meeting is the first step for a successful sprint. This meeting is where the team gets together to come up with a plan for what they will accomplish during the sprint. The product owner is responsible for making sure that everyone has all the information they need to make decisions about what items should be worked on during the Sprint. Scrum master is responsible for overall facilitation.


Sprint planning is a crucial part of the Sprint and an essential part of any successful agile project. With Sprint Planning, Scrum Teams are able to ensure planning and alignment between all stakeholders involved on what the Sprint goal is and the value it would deliver towards the end of the sprint.


Anything to add on Sprint Planning Meetings? Let us know in the comments below.


Recommended Readings


Coming up in the next blog - 'Release Planning'.

Note 1: This blog is part of a 100 Days of Learning Series on Digital Project Management frameworks and best practices published on Program Strategy HQ. For more details on the 100 days of blogging campaign check out Blog 0.


Note 2: Reach out to info@programstrategyhq for any queries.


Note 3: Program Strategy HQ Disclaimer for Reference.

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