If I had to name just one key event of the whole Scrum framework that is being constantly underrated, it would be sprint planning.
It shall be a collaborative meeting where the Scrum team prepares its work for the next sprint. It should not take more than two hours per two-week sprint. Instead of all this, it often ends up with uncertainty and a lot of work ahead still to be done to clarify what the scope of the next sprint shall be.
Sprint Planning and its Significance in Agile Development
This is the event where the team reviews the product backlog. That is a list of epics and features containing requirements and acceptance criteria for the product. The team picks the highest priority items from the backlog to work on in the next sprint. Then, the items are broken down into singular tasks that form the complete work the development team must execute to successfully complete and deliver the sprint.
The significance of sprint planning is in establishing this common understanding of the work that the team commits to deliver. Also, it determines what are the current most valuable items, so sprint planning maximizes the value for the customer. Lastly, this process implicitly creates a sense of ownership and commitment for the whole team. Naturally, this increases the productivity of the team.
Components of Sprint Planning
There are some basic parts that each sprint planning meeting in Scrum should contain.
#1. Product Backlog
Before the sprint planning, the Product Owner should have refined the product backlog to ensure it is up-to-date and prioritized. During the sprint planning meeting, the team reviews the product backlog. They discuss the items that are at the top of the backlog.
#2. Sprint Goal
The team consensually defines a sprint goal and the vision that the Product Owner has for the sprint. This is a summary statement that describes what the team’s incremental value will look like after the end of this sprint. The sprint goal should be specific, measurable, and achievable within the period of one sprint.
#3. Sprint Content
The items from the backlog selected for the next sprint form the sprint content. The team shall be confident that everything that is inside the content team can be fully delivered within the sprint period. For that, the team needs to estimate the effort for each of the items from the sprint content.
Parts of the Sprint Planning Meeting
To put the components into perspective, they all form specific actions you expect to happen in the sprint planning.
The team refines the backlog. It’s a discussion between the Product Owner (as the owner of the content) and the development team, who is here to understand the purpose and acceptance criteria of the items. An item (or story) is refined only if the whole team agrees the story is clear for development activities.
What to Achieve
The ultimate target of a sprint planning meeting is to define a Sprint Goal and agree on Sprint Content that the team will work on in the upcoming sprint.
For that to happen, the team needs to have enough ready-to-take stories and features that can form this content in the backlog. A task for the Product Owner is to prioritize the stories before the meeting so that the development team knows which topics have the highest business priority. A task for the development team is to familiarize themselves with those items and effort-estimate those items in the backlog.
How to Achieve
Sprint planning meeting is all about communication and collaboration between the Product Owner and the development team. They work together to get clarity on the scope of the highest priority items in the backlog. Once the team has enough top-priority stories refined, the Product Owner will define what is the goal of the next sprint. This is a message to all the external stakeholders telling what the next sprint will be mainly about. Or what will be the main intent and purpose of the delivery for this sprint?
The development team will then calculate team capacity for the sprint and fill in the sprint content with the highest priority items that form the sprint goal.
Eventually, the team can add to the sprint content other stories that do not add up to the sprint goal. Even if only to fill up the remaining free sprint capacity. Still, the sprint goal is something the team communicates as the main incremental value of the sprint.
Depending on the level of upfront preparation, the sprint planning meeting can be either quite a long discussion or a very quick decision slot. In case the team is already experienced, there might be already enough well-prepared stories in the backlog for the next two or three sprints.
In such cases, the meeting is really only about defining the spring goal and picking up relevant items from the backlog. If those stories are not ready before the sprint planning meeting, they must be completed at that meeting. Then, this requires interactive discussion between the Product Owner and the development team.
Roles and Responsibilities
There are three main roles that are attending every sprint planning meeting: the Product Owner (PO), the Development Team, and the Scrum Master (SM). Each role has specific responsibilities during the sprint planning meeting.
PO is responsible for the actual content of the backlog and for ensuring that the product backlog is up-to-date and prioritized. PO ultimately owns the sprint planning meeting and is responsible for facilitating the discussion around the product backlog items, helping the team to understand the business value of each item. The PO also communicates and works with the Development Team to determine the sprint goal. And ensures that the sprint content aligns with the overall product vision.
The Development Team is responsible for selecting the product backlog items that they will work on during the sprint and effectively creating the sprint content. Only the development team can commit to the specific items from the backlog. The Development Team is responsible for estimating the effort required for each task and assigning them to team members.
SM is responsible for orchestrating the sprint ceremonies and facilitating the sprint planning meeting, ensuring it all stays on track. The SM also helps the team understand the purpose of the sprint planning meeting and the importance of creating a shared understanding of the work. It’s also about teaching the team the best agile practices along the way.
Everybody (in the scope of their roles) collaborates to establish a joint agreement on the work for the next sprint and how the team will deliver it. The team members are responsible for asking questions, sharing their perspectives, and working together to create sprint content. The ultimate goal is to deliver high-quality deliverables within the period of the sprint.
How to Prepare for Sprint Planning
Most of the preparation work lies on the Product Owner. PO is the one responsible for backlog readiness and preparation. It’s not that the PO must define all the stories and features in the backlog, but the responsibility and ownership are with the PO. It is also up to the PO to own this meeting and drive the content discussion.
Then, the development team shall study the backlog well before the sprint planning so that the meeting itself can run smoothly. If the people read the items for the first time on the sprint planning, obviously, it will take much more time to get clarity on the items.
Each item to be discussed in the sprint planning shall also have acceptance criteria already defined. This is, again, a task for the PO to ensure. The actual item content and acceptance criteria are the two most important inputs for the sprint planning. If they are lacking or are only very wobble (typically a story containing only the header and no content at all), then the team can’t prepare for them in the first place.
Setting the Goal in the Right Way
The most effective process of setting up goals and objectives during the sprint planning meeting is to follow something that you can call an iterative approach. Here are some steps that tell more about how to define effective goals and objectives:
Review the Product Backlog before the planning. Then you know what you will discuss (to not waste time on the meeting).
Define the Sprint Goal together once possible stories for the next sprint are ready to take by the team.
Select the backlog items to form the just agreed sprint goal. Make sure they all are achievable within the sprint.
Refine the Sprint Goal, if necessary, once the sprint content is formed with the items from the backlog. Adjust what’s needed to ensure proper and clear sprint increment communication to everyone outside the team.
Review and revise sprint goals even during the sprint itself. Especially if strong and unpredictable complications will occur. In that case, sprint goal redefinition is needed, and the sooner it will happen, the better for everyone.
Just do not forget every sprint goal shall reflect actual sprint capacity (how much the team will be available in the next sprint), and effort estimation for each item forming the sprint content must exist.
Best Practices for Sprint Planning
If you want to succeed in this meeting, then always prepare yourself in advance. This message comes mainly to the Product Owners, but this is not to exclude the development team as well. Everybody should review the current state of the product backlog well in advance.
With that, you don’t need to ask the people if this is really the first time they see this story. In an ideal case scenario, you would like to have some of the most straightforward stories already estimated. Although, that’s not a realistic expectation most of the time.
SM should do all that’s possible to keep the meeting focused on the actual agenda and topics to cover. This is extremely difficult, especially if the team is not mature yet. There is a strong tendency to discuss everything and every detail and question even the basic facts that one would otherwise consider as atomic. Cut this off and tell the team to move on.
Collaboration and communication are what drive every successful scrum team. Everyone has the opportunity to ask questions at any time, so use it for good. There’s nothing worse than sprint planning, where you can hear only the Product Owner (or even worse, only the Scrum Master).
The sprint planning meeting must have concrete time limitations. Do not extend this agreed time slot. And please, do not create another (special) second part of sprint planning because the one that just happened was not enough. Learn from it and do it next time (much) better.
An Absolute Don’t
Don’t leave the sprint planning without having the items split into stories. It’s a usual mistake to believe this is something that the team can do even later. First of all, it has a direct impact on the accuracy of the estimations for the sprint content.
Also, you effectively move some of the activities of the sprint planning into a time that is for the actual development of the items. You shorten the sprint content development time and don’t even give it a time limit.
It’s never a good idea to increase, prolong, or multiple sprint ceremonies. Despite that, this is exactly what’s happening most of the time. Don’t follow the crowd here.
Sprint Planning Tools
Let’s briefly look at some planning tools you can use while executing the sprint planning sessions. It might help you achieve higher efficiency, although I could argue that the most efficient way is still to have a mature team without additional tools.
Tara.ai is a sprint planning tool that uses artificial intelligence (AI) to help with planning and managing sprints more effectively. The tool is designed to automate manual tasks involved in sprint planning, such as estimating effort and assigning tasks to team members. Tara.ai also provides real-time insights and analytics for the teams to track their progress and areas for improvement.
Obviously, one of the key differences between Tara.ai and other similar tools is the use of AI. Tara.ai uses machine learning algorithms to analyze data from previous sprints and provide recommendations to understand how to improve the process for the next sprints. The tool can also help to create more accurate and detailed user stories.
Another specific aspect is how customizable Tara.ai is. The tool can be configured to match the specific needs of each team. It can even be integrated with other tools and platforms quite easily.
ClickUp is a sprint planning tool that gives you a comprehensive platform for project management, including sprint planning. The tool is very feature-rich and supports a range of possible integrations.
The key difference between ClickUp and other tools is in the flexibility. You can customize ClickUp perhaps even more and construct many custom workflows and processes to fulfill your requirements for the project. The tool provides a range of templates and pre-built workflows that you can further customize.
Another difference is that ClickUp supports a range of integrations with other tools and platforms. The tool can be integrated with popular tools such as Slack, Trello, and Google Drive, allowing teams to streamline their workflow and collaborate together.
ClickUp gives the team a good amount of features to help with planning and managing their sprints, like task management, time tracking, and reporting. The tool supports real-time insights and analytics to analyze the team’s progress over time and, with that identify areas for improvement.
Lucidspark is a sprint planning tool that provides a virtual whiteboard for teams to collaborate and plan their sprints. The tool aims to help teams brainstorm new ideas and put a system into information chaos. It just plans the team’s work more effectively.
One of the key differences that put Lucidspark apart is its focus on visual collaboration. The tool provides a range of templates and visual elements that teams can use to organize their ideas and plan their sprints. The virtual whiteboard enables the teams to collaborate in real time, greatly eliminating the disadvantages of various locations.
Another property of Lucidspark is its wide integration possibility with other tools and platforms. Similarly to the ClilckUp, it easily ntegrates with tools such as Slack, Google Drive, and Trello.
Lucidspark supports many features for teams to plan and manage their sprints. For example, task management, time tracking, and reporting. And yet again, Lucidspart also provides real-time insights and analytics to help teams track their progress and identify areas for improvement.
Wrike is a sprint planning tool that provides a comprehensive platform for project management, including sprint planning.
One of the key differences between Wrike and other similar tools is its focus on real-time collaboration. Wrike has implemented a range of collaboration features, including real-time editing, commenting, and task assignment. The tool also supports out of the box many communication features, like chat, email, and video conferencing.
Wrike can integrate with similar tools such as those mentioned before (Slack, Google Drive) but also with Microsoft Teams, which can be an advantage for some companies.
Wrike also supports features to help teams plan and manage their sprints. Those include task management, time tracking, and reporting.
Zoho Sprint is another planning tool that provides a comprehensive platform for Agile project management.
One of the key properties of Zoho Sprint is its focus on simplicity. The tool gives you a simple and intuitive interface that is easy to use. This is true even for teams that are new to Agile project management. The tool also provides a good amount of templates and pre-built workflows that can be customized to fulfill the requirements of your project.
As with other tools from the list, Zoho Sprint also provides task management, time tracking, and reporting. And also real-time insights and analytics for the teams to measure and identify areas for improvement.
Executing the sprint planning in the right way is a process that you can only master with experience. Even if you learn all the theories that are available, people’s very first basic instinct when in a meeting will be to drift away from the focus area.
A team full of technical experience is also a team full of complications. The maturity of the team, in this case, measures the understanding of the mindset rather than the experience level of the technical skills they have. That’s why it is so important to know where to improve and (even more importantly) how to improve.
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