Whether you follow the Agile methodology at work everyday, or you are just being introduced to the process, there are many steps, terms, and roles to unpack. You’ve got scrum masters, backlogs, retrospectives, burndowns… it’s like the Agile method has its own language. But there is a reason over 71% of software development companies implemented Agile principles in 2020. If done correctly, Agile teams can launch new features and develop software quicker than ever.

Lucky for us, today we are tackling just one aspect of the Agile approach: sprint planning meetings. These meetings are one of the 4 ceremonies of Scrum, which is a specific methodology under the more comprehensive Agile approach. These Scrum ceremonies, or meetings, are all crucial parts of the Agile development process. They outline the framework that helps teams collaborate and get things done. 

The 4 Scrum ceremonies include:

  1. Spring Planning 
  2. Daily Scrum
  3. Sprint Review 
  4. Sprint Retrospective

scrum ceremonies

When planning and executing all of these meetings– including sprint planning–  it’s important to make sure they are as efficient and productive as possible. Ceremonies shouldn’t just be meetings for the sake of having meetings. When team members feel like their calendars are overwhelmed, they are more likely to lose appreciation for the overall agile principles.

That’s why we are giving you all the information and tools you need to efficiently and effectively run a sprint planning meeting 

First of all, what is a sprint?

If we’re going to talk about sprint planning meetings, we first have to clarify the subject of these meetings: the sprint. So what exactly is a sprint, and why is it important to Agile?

Sprints are set timeframes, or development cycles, within the larger development process. Sprints are an important part of the Agile approach, as Agile focuses on shorter development cycles and more frequent product feature releases. These short cycles – or sprints – let teams quickly respond to feature requests and adapt to customer needs. A sprint usually lasts between 2 and 4 weeks, depending on the size and scope. 

How To Run A Sprint Planning Meeting

Simply put, sprint planning meetings are held among teams to plan and set goals for an upcoming sprint. These meetings should be collaborative and inclusive, letting all team members have a say in upcoming work. Just like any other meeting, there are best practices to make sure it runs smoothly and uses time effectively. Ahead we’ve identified 4 best practices to run a sprint planning meeting. 

1. Prepare for the meeting. 

Before the meeting even starts, the Scrum Master and the scrum product owner should meet and discuss a couple of things. It’s important for the entire development team to be a part of the decision-making process, but this preparation will keep the team aligned with larger strategic goals, and will help guide the meeting. 

To prep for the meeting, the Scrum master and product owner should:

  • Identify the overall sprint timeline and goal.
  • Assess team capacity.
  • Apply insights or learnings from past sprints. 
  • Sift through the current sprint backlog.

2. Create and follow an agenda. 

As with any meeting, agendas are incredibly helpful for setting expectations and keeping everyone focused in a sprint planning meeting. Your meeting agenda can be as detailed as you want it to be, as long as it provides a framework for what will be discussed.

It’s important to share the agenda with all participants before the meeting starts. You could do this via email, a Google Doc, or even in PowerPoint slides. But to take your meeting notes to the next level, you should create your agenda in Hive. Once shared with all of your teammates, your agenda can become your hub for collaboration. Hive Notes allow teams to: 

  • Take notes in a shared document in real time
  • Create actions from text within the note 
  • Assign actions to teammates, existing projects, or new projects 

Using a feature like Hive Notes can improve your overall meeting productivity. Hive is the only project management tool with the ability to create new actions or add existing actions to notes. This is especially useful for sprint planning meetings, as it lets you incorporate backlog items directly into the note. No need to switch back and forth between different windows and softwares. 

3. The sprint backlog. 

In these meetings, team members assess the sprint backlog and choose which items to include in the next sprint. This sprint backlog includes all tasks needed to complete the strategic goal, and can be updated and changed throughout the project. If an item isn’t completed in a given sprint, it will be moved back to the backlog. If teams realize something else is necessary for project completion, new items may be added to the backlog. 

Backlog tasks are broken up into 4 different classifications:

  1. User stories: development units describing a product function from the user’s perspective.
  2. Bugs: code errors discovered during use or testing.
  3. Refactoring: restructuring existing code to improve the current functionality.
  4. Knowledge Acquisition: gathering information needed to complete a task.

Once you’ve looked at your backlog, you should select a group of tasks and their associated story points for the sprint. This will be a team decision, based on the specific sprint goal. These should make sure it’s actually feasible. 

Estimate time requirements. 

Once you’ve looked at all backlog items, and you have an idea of which tasks will be tackled in your sprint, it’s time to consider how much time and effort each one requires. Teams use different metrics for this, but time (number of hours) and size (S/M/L) are two common descriptors used. 

When talking about the effort required, it’s important to hear as many perspectives as possible. One team member may know something that another does not, and accurate time estimates are crucial for on-time sprint completion. 

If you use a project management software like Hive, you can actually assign time estimates to individual tasks. This will help developers manage their time wisely and recognize when adjustments need to be made.

Assess team capacity. 

Once you know how long each backlog item will take, figuring out the overall team capacity will help you find the ideal combination of story items to include in the sprint. Team capacity is usually determined by adding each team member’s available hours together, throughout the entirety of the sprint. 

So for example, say your team has 6 developers who are available to work 8 hours a day. There are 5 days every work week, and your sprint is 3 weeks long. You would multiply: 

(6 people) x (8 Hours per day) x (5 days per week) x (3 weeks) = 720

This calculation shows your team capacity is 720 hours for this sprint. If you choose a combination of stories that add up to around 720 hours, ideally leaving a few open hours to account for unexpected bumps, your team should have the capacity to complete the sprint items on time. 

Again, It’s important to involve all team members in sprint backlog discussions, especially those who are actually executing tasks on a daily basis. If they are responsible for completing the tasks, their perspective and commitment is crucial for setting realistic and attainable goals. They are the ones responsible for making it happen, and they understand their bandwidth and availability better than anyone else. 

4. Finalize your sprint plan.

With all of this information, you can find your team’s sweet spot where:

  • The list of tasks satisfies the sprint goal. 
  • The team understands what is required of each task. 
  • The team capacity can support the tasks. 

One you have assembled your list of sprint tasks and everyone is on the same page, you can finish your meeting and get to work! It’s important to remember that the sprint planning meeting is for initial planning. Things might not go exactly as planned, and you might need to add new tasks, press pause on others, and even move some back to the backlog. That’s okay.

Sprint planning meetings are meant to set developers up for success, but adaptability and innovation will also play a massive role in creating the best finished product.

Do you utilize other best practices in your sprint planning meetings? If so, we would love to hear about them. Leave us a comment below and let us know!