9 Tips to Help You Ace Your Sprint Planning Meetings

by Jasmin Iordanidis, Product Marketing Manager

17 May 2021

The sprint planning meeting helps agile teams plan and get on the same page about each sprint. It’s an opportunity to decide on prioritization based on the product vision, issue urgency, stakeholder feedback, and knowledge from the previous sprint.

The goal of the meeting is to determine which backlog items should be tackled during the upcoming sprint. The team, guided by the product owner and Scrum Master, decide which items from the product backlog should be moved to the sprint backlog for hopeful completion over the coming weeks (sprint duration).

Sprint planning plays a critical role in the Scrum process. The meeting ensures teams enter a sprint prepared, with work items chosen carefully. The end result should be a shared understanding of sprint goals that will guide the next sprint.

While sprint planning should occur before any type of sprint, for the purposes of this article, we will focus on sprint planning sessions for Scrum teams. Continue reading to learn our top tips for a successful sprint planning meeting. 🎉

How does the sprint planning meeting fit into the Scrum framework?

sprint planning meeting: crocodile calculating

Scrum is a hugely popular agile methodology used in product development. The process involves a series of sprints that are improved upon and adjusted based on continual feedback from customers, stakeholders, and team members.

The sprint planning meeting sees the entire team comes together to decide what work they hope to complete over the upcoming sprint. The product owner helps decide which priority product backlog items move to the sprint backlog. This is an incredibly important phase that guides the team’s goals over the next two weeks.

The Scrum Master acts as a Scrum guide. They help the development team stay on track in each sprint, ensuring everyone gets the most out of the process. The Scrum team works together to complete the amount of work decided on during sprint planning. To ensure everyone remains on track and on the same page, daily stand-ups are held each day. This provides an opportunity for team members to address any issues or potential bottlenecks that could keep work from running smoothly.

Following the sprint, a sprint review takes place, which gives stakeholders an opportunity to provide feedback. Finally, a sprint retrospective meeting gives the team an opportunity to assess and improve upon their process. The Scrum concludes and begins again with another sprint planning meeting.

Here are some tips to make sure each sprint planning meeting sets you up for success:

1. Reserve the same time for sprint planning ⏰

Book your sprint planning meeting on the same day and at the same time every two weeks to ensure your entire team keeps that time slot available. Sprint planning is vital to the success of each sprint — it’s a meeting that shouldn’t be shuffled around.

Pick a time that works for everyone involved, asking for feedback from your team about when is best. Schedule the meetings well in advance in everyone's calendar so that no one forgets about it or books other engagements.

2. Set a sprint planning meeting duration and stick to it ⏳

Sprint planning is important, but that doesn’t mean it should take forever. Set a time limit for your meeting, and do your best to stick to it. If you are well prepared with an agenda and refined backlog, you should be able to get straight to planning.

We recommend scheduling no more than 2-4 hours for sprint planning. Let the Scrum Master be in charge of ensuring the team stays on track and completes planning in the allotted time.

3. Complete backlog refinement before sprint planning begins 📝

Complete your backlog refinement ahead of your sprint planning meeting. Otherwise, you will spend far too much time adding details, estimating, or splitting work.

The sprint planning meeting should be reserved for planning and goal setting. While the backlog shouldn’t be set in stone, it should provide team members with enough details to move forward with planning instead of refinement.

4. Incorporate stakeholder feedback from the sprint review 😍

What insights did stakeholders share throughout the sprint or during the sprint review? You are designing this product for them, so incorporating their feedback is crucial to the end result.

Make sure every decision is based on customer needs. After each sprint, share your product goals and sprint goals with your stakeholders and adjust per their feedback.

5. Incorporate sprint retrospective insights 💡

Sprint retrospectives are a critical part of the agile process, providing a time for the team to discuss how they can improve. There are lessons to be learned every time you complete a sprint or iteration. Agile continually takes what a team learns and turns those experiences into actionable improvements. So, ignoring these lessons would be very un-agile of you. 🤔

How did the last sprint go? Was each team member satisfied with the process, and what was accomplished? What changes did your team decide would make the next sprint more effective? Use these insights to make each sprint better than the last one.

6. Clearly define what success looks like ✅

GIF of Jeremiah Johnson nodding

Set clearly defined goals, objectives, and metrics. What is the definition of done? How will the team know if they are successful? You should leave the sprint planning meeting with a clear idea of what needs to get done and what success looks like.

7. Use estimates to make decisions based on team capacity 📈

Overloading your team or any individual beyond their capacity does far more harm than good. The team will be more likely to make mistakes, and morale will diminish as goals remain consistently out of reach.

Use agile estimation techniques and story points to better understand workload and capacity. How much work and effort is needed to accomplish your goals? Ensure you set realistic and reasonable goals based on your best estimations.

8. Align sprint goals with overall product goals 🎉

Ensure you have a goal for the sprint and that all backlog items relate to the end goal. Your sprint goals should work alongside your overall product goals.

Failing to prioritize your objectives can result in a random selection of to-dos. Completing disconnected backlog items will still get work done, but it will result in unexpected outcomes and a low sense of accomplishment for the team. Each backlog item should be chosen with a clear purpose that relates to your product and sprint goals.

9. Leave room for flexibility 💫

Any agile methodology is flexible by nature, and Scrum is no exception. If there isn’t room for flexibility, something has gone seriously wrong.

It's important to acknowledge that not everything will always go to plan. You will continually find new information, stakeholder insights, and dependencies that the team will need to adjust to along the way. Ensure the team understands they need to be flexible and that they are supported throughout each sprint.

Sprint planning made easy

The effectiveness of sprint planning can make or break the coming week for a Scrum team. It’s important for the development team to take the necessary time to prepare for each upcoming sprint. This means going into the meeting with clear goals, objectives, stakeholder feedback, and a refined backlog.

Make the most of your sprint planning and do it with ease using Easy Agile User Story Maps for Jira. Transform your flat product maps into dynamic, flexible, and visual representations of the customer journey. Story points will help your team make decisions and account for capacity while keeping the customer top-of-mind.

Learn more about the benefits of user story mapping and read our ultimate guide to user story maps.

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