Sprint Planning: An Essential Strategy for Project Management

Project Management

By Galen Low

Project management plays an important role in an array of industries. And interestingly, a recent study found that organisations that undervalue project management report that an average of 67 percent of their projects fail outright.

Detailed project management strategies can increase the likelihood of a project succeeding, and sprint planning is one of the most agile methods that can be used during a sprint. Time tracking in project management is crucial for understanding how much effort different tasks require, thereby aiding in future planning and resource allocation. 

On average, 37 percent of projects fail due to a change in project objectives, 29 percent fail due to inadequate goals and poor communications, and 25 percent fail due to inaccurate time estimation for task completion.

So, what is sprint planning and how does it mitigate these challenges?

Sprint Planning: An Agile Strategy

Sprint planning is considered an agile organisational framework designed to adapt and respond to continuously changing circumstances.

The goal of the strategy is to determine the tasks that need to be completed, who is responsible for their completion, and how each one will be undertaken.

During the ‘sprint’ (the set period during which the identified tasks will be completed), team members will tackle assigned tasks within a set deadline agreed upon during a sprint planning meeting.

While planning, the team will agree on a larger sprint goal, which should be time-bound, specific, measurable and align with the general project objectives.

Agile strategies like sprint planning have proved invaluable to companies during unpredictable situations like COVID-19, as 93 percent of businesses that had one in place, like sprint planning, fared better than businesses that did not.

Implementing sprint planning

A sprint starts with a meeting that must be attended by the entire project team, as this is when the objectives and tasks will be decided.

The length of the meeting is typically determined by the length of a sprint. Many sprint planning enthusiasts agree that for every week of a sprint, two hours of sprint planning is necessary.

For example, a month-long sprint would require eight hours of sprint planning, which can be broken down into four smaller meetings.

The next step of the planning process is to start the meeting by setting a sprint goal.

 Goals must be measurable, time-bound, and add value to the project. Such goals could include an increase in customer retention by a set percentage, updating a website or specific web page, or expanding a product range, for example.

Once you have agreed on a target, the meeting attendees should complete a review of thewhich includes all of the tasks that must be completed to achieve the set goal.

These responsibilities can then be broken down and assigned to different team members to complete during the sprint to ensure the workload is manageable and should be assigned based on each team member’s capabilities and availability.

The final aspect of a sprint planning meeting is anticipating potential obstacles which might obstruct the sprint goal or delay it.

Any potential problems or obstacles should be considered and prepared for with solutions that can be swiftly enacted if they become a reality.

The plan should also be regularly updated and reviewed to make sure that the team is well-equipped to deal with complications and meet the set target.

The advantages of sprint planning

The framework has a multitude of benefits for project management teams. Firstly, the sprint planning process helps to set clear goals, which ensure all team members know what is expected of them.

A shared goal can be highly motivational and lead to an increase in productivity and help to better prioritise workloads, and can significantly improve team capabilities.

Another benefit is the improvement of communication and collaboration between team members.

During a sprint planning meeting, individuals are assigned their own tasks but are aware of other members’ responsibilities, which can act as a motivator for individuals to complete tasks to a high standard, on time that contribute to a larger team goal

Improved communication has been found to positively impact team effectiveness in achieving a goal or deadline.

Finally, preparing for potential problems during sprint planning can help teams stay on track and allow for extra time should a problem arise.

Risk planning is an essential aspect of the sprint framework that prioritises proactiveness and is far more effective than reactive risk management which is often an expensive and precarious alternative.

The anticipation of problems before they come to fruition can prepare team members for these problems and can minimise their impact, which is often delays and deadline extensions.

Important Things to Consider

The important considerations for sprint planning in Agile project management are as follows:

  • Sprint Goal Definition: Clearly define a concise and achievable goal for the sprint that aligns with the overall project objectives and provides direction for the team.
  • Team Capacity: Assess the availability and productivity factors for each team member, including holidays and other commitments, to accurately gauge the team’s capacity for the sprint.
  • Product Backlog Prioritisation: Ensure the product backlog is prioritised by the product owner before the meeting, focusing on high-priority items that align with strategic goals.
  • Task Estimation: Use estimation techniques such as planning poker to gauge the effort required for each backlog item, ensuring a realistic workload is selected.
  • Sprint Backlog Creation: Select items from the prioritised product backlog to form the sprint backlog, considering the team’s capacity and item estimations to ensure feasibility.
  • Definition of Done (DoD): Establish clear criteria for when tasks are considered complete to maintain quality and consistency, agreed upon by the entire team.
  • Risk Management: Identify and plan for potential risks early in the sprint to mitigate future challenges.
  • Collaboration and Communication: Promote open communication and collaboration among all team members to ensure mutual understanding and agreement on the sprint’s scope.
  • Time Allocation: Time-box the planning meeting to maintain focus and efficiency, typically lasting no more than a few hours for a two-week sprint.
  • Flexibility and Adaptability: Maintain flexibility to adapt the sprint backlog as necessary based on evolving feedback and project needs.

This version retains all the critical elements but is more concise, eliminating some repetitive details.

Key issues to consider

Despite its benefits, some inevitable drawbacks to the strategy should be considered.

The sprint planning process can be time-consuming, especially if the planned sprint is intended to be over an extended period, which requires several hours’ worth of meetings and planning.

This can create added pressure on employees and teams who are already working to tight deadlines and have a heavy workload or are working on multiple projects.

Whilst sprint planning includes preparation for potential problems that could derail a project, this may only work to a limited extent as it is nearly impossible to predict every obstruction.

A problem may require significant adjustments to be made to a sprint plan, which could be resisted by employees who do not want to deviate from the plan or attempt to incorporate new tasks.

The inability to fully predict potential problems is one of the biggest causes of projects exceeding their deadlines and budgets, while overconfidence can affect the success of a project overall.

Finally, sprint planning meetings can sometimes cause team members to over-commit to too many tasks, which may lead to a lack of focus on certain tasks and affect the overall standard of the project.

This can have long-term impacts by ultimately causing a project to fail.

About the Author

Galen LowGalen Low, General Manager at The Digital Project Manager

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