What Is Agile Sprint Planning?

Sprint planning sets the parameters for the execution of a sprint, a major component of the Agile methodology for project management. Agile is most often associated with software development, but it can be useful in other applications where an incremental approach would be effective.

Sprints break projects down into bite-sized chunks that can be more easily digested by the development team. It also gives a team context for their work and allows teams to have input into their workload. 

Working in small segments gives the team opportunities to quickly adjust and use what they are learning to tweak the project in real time, instead of waiting until the very end of the larger project’s completion. This allows for agility and improves the chances that the product will be delivered on time and perform to expectation.

The Importance of Sprint Planning

Sprints typically last one to four weeks so good planning is essential to success. Without it, a sprint can fall apart in a hurry.

Agile sprint planning clearly defines the goal of the sprint, who will be responsible for what, and how success will be measured. It provides a shared focus for everyone involved. And by understanding the context for their work, it can help to make the overarching goal more concrete and improve motivation.

Preparing for a Sprint Planning Meeting

The sprint planning meeting is run by the scrum master (project manager) and will involve the participation of the product owner and development team. Allow two hours of planning for each week of a sprint. If your sprint is two weeks, allow four hours to plan. 

If your sprint runs three-four weeks, you’ll want to break up your sprint planning meeting into at least two meetings to avoid an overly long planning meeting.

Product Owner: 

  • Summarize Sprint Review. The product owner should analyze the results of the previous sprint review for stakeholder feedback and lessons learned that can be applied to the new sprint. 
  • Sprint Proposal: The product owner takes stock of the overall project to determine the next logical goal to move the project forward? The group may refine the goal, but the owner should come prepared with a suggestion.
  • Refine the Product Backlog. The owner will review the list and update by deleting any user stories that may no longer be relevant, adding new stories if needed, and breaking larger stories into smaller tasks that can be more easily accomplished during a sprint.

Scrum Master (or Project Manager):

  • Agenda. The scrum master typically facilitates the sprint planning meeting so they will prepare the agenda. It is typically distributed ahead of the meeting, so everyone has a chance to review it before coming together. 
  • Schedule. The scrum master will schedule the space and time for the meeting with plenty of advance notice to secure full participation of the group.
  • Determine Availability. The scrum master will calculate the total hours the team can devote to this sprint. They will consider the time commitments to other projects team members may have and upcoming time off for holidays, vacations, medical leave, etc.
  • Determine Velocity. The scrum master will estimate the volume of work the development team can produce during this sprint based on previous performance and availability of the team members.

Sample Agenda for a Sprint Planning Meeting

  1. Product Owner presents the sprint goal in context of the larger goal.
  2. Product Owner shares updates, anything impacting the project as a result of the last sprint, and stakeholder feedback.
  3. Scrum master will review availability and estimated team velocity for this sprint.
  4. Developers will choose user stories (tasks) that align with the sprint goal and those they feel can be achieved during the sprint. 
  5. Creation of list. Team members, the product owner, and scrum master will negotiate the work, moving items from the product backlog list to the sprint backlog list as they are decided on.
  6. Refinement of list. Tasks will be assigned, and definition of success determined for each.
  7. Questions. Time for questions to ensure everyone is on the same page.

Benefits of Sprint Planning

If you’re still wondering if an elaborate sprint planning meeting is really necessary, it might be helpful to think of it as a bit like the preproduction of a play, it includes everything needed to get the actors on stage and performing.

A sprint planning meeting begins with what was learned from “opening night,” the previous sprint. The product owner reviews any changes in processes or project direction as a result of what was learned during the previous sprint. 

The “actors” are assigned their roles and the “director” will outline what to strive for in this performance. The whole team is there for the “read through” so everyone knows everyone else’s role. When the entire cast knows what the play should look and sound like in its final form, you’re much more likely to get the desired result.

In essence, sprint planning meetings help to increase focus, boost performance, and create a shared understanding of what success looks like in regard to a particular sprint. Prepare well and reap the rewards.