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Agile & Product Management

6 Tips to Optimize Your Next Sprint Planning in 2023

Sprint planning is a critical component of agile methodology. It helps teams keep projects on track, refine product backlogs, and ensure they’re working on the things that matter the most to your customers. 

Using sprints to structure projects is so effective that according to Zippia, only 9% of agile projects fail. This is an impressive figure compared to the 29% failure rate of the waterfall methodology (which does not use sprints for project organization). 

Despite this, many teams can still have troubles with agile – after all, no method is perfect. You can improve many common issues that teams face during agile development by better planning your sprints. In this article, we’re sharing our top tips for planning better sprints to give you some ideas on how you can help your team get your next sprint started on the right foot.

First, to review: what is sprint planning?

In agile methodology, we split projects into small timeframes called sprints. Sprints consist of a short period of time (usually 2-4 weeks) in which designated developers must complete specific, measurable tasks. The planning of these sprints is called “sprint planning.”

Sprint planning is one of the 4 agile ceremonies. It is a more granular level of planning than planning a roadmap or a software development proposal (for those of you developing software for clients). 

A sprint planning meeting is typically made up of three key players, the product owner, the scrum master (if you have one), and the development team. These are their roles: 

The Product Owner: Oversees the sprint and makes decisions such as deciding the sprint backlog, establishing the goal, and prioritizing tasks. 

The Scrum Master: Ensures everyone is clear about what they must do and facilitates sprint planning. Though usually next in command, the Scrum Master can also be the Product Owner.

The Team: Carries out tasks according to each team member’s skills and experience. They decide who completes each task and how they will do it. 

5 tips for optimizing your next sprint

1. Do the pre-work

Before your main sprint planning session, it’s worth taking time to refine the details of the event. Consider how it will be run, who will manage it, and potential problems you may run into. 

Create an agenda that you can email out ahead of time to give the team a chance to plan ahead properly and keep the meetings more focused. If your team is new to sprint planning, a pre-planning session may be a good idea to get the team acquainted with the expectations of sprint meetings. 

Estimating issues in the backlog before they’re brought to the meeting is also a best practice. Remind your team to go through the backlog and evaluate any outstanding issues. If you’re using Zenhub’s planning poker tool, you can also have notifications go out directly to your team to remind them to estimate outstanding issues. 

2. Think carefully about assigning tasks

Task assignment is one of the most important decisions in sprint planning. It goes without saying that you need to align tasks with the skills of the appropriate person. This is why estimating projects ahead of time is so important – you can get everyone’s feedback on how difficult an issue is to work on and get them thinking about potential challenges. 

While it is always tempting to let the senior devs handle trickier tasks, if a junior dev is interested in honing their skills, now is the time to discuss workload and whether or not it’s a good time for a bit of a challenge. 

Work capacity is an essential consideration for the whole team in sprint planning. We recommend using a tool like velocity tracking to get a good idea of the average capacity of your devs, estimated in story points.

3. Make your goal challenging but not too challenging

For optimum engagement from your team, it’s important that they feel sufficiently challenged. An easy goal might ensure a successful sprint, but the point of a sprint is rapid task completion driven by motivation. 

Determine a challenging yet realistic goal that everyone will feel excited about pursuing. Establish a goal that will excite and inspire innovation in your team members while satisfying customer demand. 

As we mentioned earlier, this might look like giving devs the opportunity to hone their skills and work on issues they’re not familiar with. Leave just enough wiggle room in your sprint for challenges and creative thinking. 

4. Take note of every detail

How is your documentation process during sprint meetings? If your answer is anything but ‘meticulous,’ this is a step you might want to consider optimizing. Documentation is crucial for keeping track of objectives, feedback, ideas, and actions. 

With so much information being tossed around in a sprint planning session, it would be easy for one or more members to get lost. Keeping accurate documents of everything discussed will help to keep information organized and accessible. 

Furthermore, these sessions are a great time to review your issues to ensure they are properly filled out, according to your team’s issue templates. We recommend adding links to any document created in the sprint session directly in the issue. 

5. Gather feedback on the session

Like most things, gathering feedback will always be vital to improving. Sprint meetings should always feel helpful, not wasteful. Here are some prompts you can ask your team after your first planning session or a few times a year to ensure you’re sprint planning is continuing to add value: 

  • Are there items in the session that would be better done asynchronously?
  • Was the allotted time enough for planning?
  • Was the agenda useful? Did we stick to it?
  • Did everyone feel seen and heard during the meeting?
  • Does everyone feel more excited about the next sprint after the meeting?

Sprint planning checklist

Ready to start planning your next spring session? Here is a quick checklist to ensure you’re fully prepared:

  • The backlog is refined with tasks clearly prioritized
  • You have received feedback from all the relevant people
  • You have a way of taking notes throughout the session
  • Reports, documents, and notes from previous sessions are on hand
  • You have considered the capacity of your team concerning the sprint and its goal

What next?

A lot of time, effort, and thought goes into sprint planning. Remember always to analyze the results so that you can improve the efficiency of your process for sprints to come. Get everyone involved and maintain an open dialogue so that your team members feel comfortable speaking to you about any issues. 

Good luck!

About the author

Yauhen Zaremba – Director of Demand Generation, PandaDoc

Yauhen is the Director of Demand Generation at PandaDoc, all-in-one document management tool for almost all types of documents including this PandaDoc property lease agreement template. He’s been a marketer for 10+ years, and for the last five years, he’s been entirely focused on the electronic signature, proposal, and document management markets. Yauhen has experience speaking at niche conferences where he enjoys sharing his expertise with other curious marketers. And in his spare time, he is an avid fisherman and takes nearly 20 fishing trips every year.

Yauhen Zaremba

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