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Sprint planning: What it is + meeting prep

April 27, 2023

As the old saying goes, a goal without a plan is just a wish. That’s especially true when it comes to sprint planning. 

Rather than diving in headfirst, the sprint planning process allows teams to slowly submerge themselves into the upcoming sprint, analyze each work item and potential pitfalls, and ensure everyone is on the same page. 

Below, we dive into the art of sprint planning, including a step-by-step process for leading an effective sprint planning meeting and tips to improve your sprint planning process.

What is Agile sprint planning?

Sprint planning is the first phase of the Agile methodology where teams meet to map out exactly what work will be completed in the upcoming sprint. This step tees up your sprint, ensuring your team understands the goals of the sprint and how you plan to achieve them. 

How sprint planning relates to the Scrum process

As a quick refresher, Agile is a project management philosophy and Scrum is one of the Agile methodologies often used by software development teams. The Scrum methodology includes a number of meetings, roles, and tools to help teams tackle complex projects. Even teams who may not adhere to strict Scrum practices often use some form of the sprint process.  

The Scrum process is broken up into a series of sprints (typically two-to-four-week periods of work). Each sprint contains Scrum ceremonies (aka meetings) to set up, shepherd, and review the project as it develops. Sprint planning is the first of the Scrum ceremonies.

Who attends the sprint planning meeting?

According to the Scrum methodology, the product owner, Scrum Master, and development team will all attend the sprint planning meeting. 

  • Product owner: individual charged with maximizing the product’s value

  • Scrum Master: servant leader responsible for leading the project through the Scrum process
  • Development team: composed of team members that will execute the work, including software engineers, technical analysts, business analysts, solution architects, and IT operations team members
An illustrated explanation of the sprint planning process, including what it is, how long it lasts, and who's involved

What is accomplished in the sprint planning process?

At the end of the sprint planning process, teams walk away with two key artifacts: a sprint goal and a sprint backlog. 

  • Sprint goal: The goal is a one-to-two-sentence description of what the team plans to accomplish in the upcoming sprint.
  • Sprint backlog: The sprint backlog works as a to-do list for the upcoming sprint. During the sprint planning process, the team chooses which items in the product backlog they want to work on during the upcoming sprint, focusing on the most important items.

How long should a sprint planning meeting last?

Sprint planning should last no more than two hours for each week of the sprint. For example, the sprint planning meeting for a two-week sprint would be no longer than four hours. 

Benefits of sprint planning

The sprint planning process is a highly beneficial step of the Scrum methodology. It allows teams to get aligned on upcoming work and discuss any potential pitfalls before they impact the project timeline. 

Benefits also include: 

  • Aligning a team around a shared goal

  • Outlining clear priorities for the upcoming sprint 

  • Identifying potential bottlenecks before you encounter them

  • Communicating team capacity and adjusting the sprint plan accordingly 

  • Creating a plan for how the team will achieve the stated goal

How to prepare for a sprint planning meeting

Before your team gathers for the sprint planning meeting, the product owner should refine the product backlog. This is known as backlog grooming. 

Backlog grooming, sometimes referred to as backlog refinement or backlog management, consists of: 

  • Removing user stories or tasks that are outdated

  • Adding new user stories based on recent customer feedback

  • Splitting large user stories into smaller items

  • Prioritizing user stories 

  • Assigning or reassigning story points and estimates 

  • Proactively identifying roadblocks related to the product backlog items 

After the product owner completes the backlog grooming process, they should have a backlog of “sprint ready” stories to discuss at the sprint planning meeting.

How to run an effective sprint planning meeting

Now that you know what a sprint planning meeting is, we’ll walk through how to lead an effective meeting to set your team up for success in the upcoming sprint. 

1. Establish team availability

At the start of the sprint planning meeting, it’s helpful to gauge team availability for the duration of the sprint. Make note of any vacations, company-wide holidays, or other responsibilities that may impact team members’ ability to complete their work. 

2. Set the sprint goal

Next, the product owner—prepared with their updated product backlog—will share how the value of the product can be improved during the sprint. As a group, the team will decide on a one-to-two-sentence description of the sprint goal that outlines the objective of the sprint. 

Sprint goals are often centered around new features requested by customers or solving problems of the existing product by fixing issues or adding components. 

As you’re setting your sprint goal, remember to keep it as concise as possible. Broad goals that cram too many tasks into one sprint can hurt your ability to deliver on time and impact your sprint velocity.

3. Review backlog items

Once the sprint goal is established, the team will talk through the product backlog together to decide what items should be included in the sprint. The team will discuss the estimate and scope, make sure the descriptions are clear and accurate, and establish the definition of done for each item. 

It’s important to keep team capacity and velocity top of mind when estimating and scoping items for the sprint. As a general rule, the total number of story points for the selected items should not exceed the team’s velocity.

4. Determine how the work will get done

Teams may be able to skip this step if the product owner has already broken down tasks into story point values. If that hasn’t been done, then the team will discuss each item they plan to work on in the sprint, paying special attention to potential risks, dependencies, and item complexities. The backlog items should be broken into work items of one day or less, however there may be exceptions depending on the type of work being completed. 

While it’s important to ensure the team is aware of each backlog item and walk through potential roadblocks, remember that the sprint backlog is a flexible roadmap. You can change, add, or remove items from the backlog list if it helps you achieve your sprint goal.

5. Gauge team confidence in the sprint plan

Now that you have your sprint goal and your sprint backlog, it’s time to finish with a vote of confidence and a question-and-answer session to make sure all team members are on the same page. 

Teams often use the fist to five or fist of five Agile decision-making technique to get a team consensus on a sprint plan. The simple process involves every team member holding up a closed fist or a number of fingers conveying their level of confidence in the plan. Five fingers translates to full confidence, whereas a closed fist would indicate a low confidence level. 

Any team member who holds up less than three fingers is given the opportunity to share their hesitations. The group can then work together to address the issue until all team members hold up three or more fingers. For teams in remote settings, they can drop their confidence number in a chat rather than holding up their hand.

Image depicting the key steps of running a sprint planning meeting

Sprint planning meeting agenda template

We’ve created a simple meeting agenda to help guide your next sprint planning meeting. We include the key steps outlined above as well as important questions to ask during the planning process. 

How to improve your sprint meetings

Once your team gets into the groove of sprint planning, these meetings will become second nature. Below, we’ve included a few tips to help your team get accustomed to the sprint planning process and set them up to achieve the sprint goal. 

Update the definition of done if necessary

Definition of done is a list of requirements that should be achieved before a product backlog item can be considered complete. It includes nonfunctional requirements as well as process-related requirements.

Prepare Scrum team capacity and velocity ahead of time

Knowing your team’s velocity and capacity will help you choose the right number of sprint backlog items to complete in the upcoming sprint. 

Sprint velocity defines how much work a team can accomplish during a sprint. To gauge this metric, you’ll need data from a few sprints so you can calculate an average velocity. To do this, you’ll simply add up the completed user story point estimates at the end of each sprint. 

Capacity is another metric related to team availability. This metric is calculated by multiplying the total number of Scrum team members by the total number of working days.

Incorporate retrospective insights into planning

During the planning phase, be sure to touch base on your most recently completed sprint to see if there’s an opportunity to incorporate any retrospective learnings into your next sprint. This will help support your team and improve every sprint, which will ultimately lead to better outcomes. 

Understand that Scrum planning is an empirical process

Teams will learn by doing and improve upon their process as they learn from past mistakes, so don’t aim to plan every minute of your sprint. Instead, focus on your goal and confirm there’s enough backlog for the team to get started. 

Discover how Pluralsight Flow can help you streamline your sprint planning

As you can see, the spring planning process is an invaluable tool for setting your Scrum teams up for success. To gauge just how your team is tracking to your sprint goal, it’s helpful to have a tool like Pluralsight Flow to track progress and flag any potential bottlenecks within the sprint. 

Pluralsight Flow’s Sprint Movement Report provides a visual analysis of your team’s completion and scope added percentages over the course of one or more sprints. The conversation starter feature of the report also provides helpful prompts about what went well and any improvements for the next sprint.

To find out more about how Flow can help you track and improve your sprints, contact our team for a demo today.

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