What is a sprint planning meeting?
A sprint planning meeting is a working session for development teams to decide which backlog items to prioritize in the next sprint. Attendees include the scrum master, product manager, and members of the scrum team. Together, they work to set sprint goals, determine how the work will be completed, and align on next steps.
Scrum teams are self-organizing — you decide who works on what and when the work is done. But how do you accomplish this? To stay aligned and on track to meet goals, scrum teams hold four events related to sprints:
Naturally, sprint planning comes first in the sequence. This is when the team collectively commits to the batch of work for each sprint, which is typically two to four weeks long. You will determine what you will build, test, and release to customers.
The term "sprint planning" has gained popularity across industries and team functions, so it is not limited to scrum teams. But for the purposes of this guide, we will focus on sprints and sprint planning within the context of scrum development.
Before we get into details and best practices, here is a quick overview:
What is the objective of sprint planning meetings?
To align on a sprint goal and determine which items from the backlog will be included in the sprint
What are the key agenda items?
Designating a sprint goal, discussing capacity, reviewing the backlog, and assigning work
Who attends sprint planning?
Product owners, scrum masters, and the development team
When do sprint planning meetings happen?
At the start of each sprint, usually every two to four weeks
How long are these meetings?
Generally, sprint meetings last one to two hours for every week of a sprint. For instance, if your sprint is two weeks long, the sprint planning meeting should take no more than four hours.
As you read through this guide, this sprint planning template in Aha! Notebooks can help you visualize what these discussions are all about. Of course, it also offers a simple way to start organizing and prioritizing work in your own sprint planning sessions.
Try this sprint planning template in Aha! Notebooks — start a free trial.
The value of sprint planning meetings
Sprint planning meetings are about more than divvying up work items. They provide a critical opportunity for teams to identify how you will build upon the value of your product — for the business and customers. Planning meetings help you maintain the following:
Strategic alignment: Ensuring that each feature or user story is tied to the product vision, goals, and product roadmap.
Upkeep of artifacts: Deciding which items from the product backlog to prioritize during the sprint and moving them to the sprint backlog, a finalized list of work to be completed. This list includes a restatement of the sprint goal and a detailed plan for how the work will be accomplished.
Team accountability and morale: Coordinating on dependencies, scope, and ownership and encouraging team members to drive success together.
Related: What is agile software development?
Who should attend a sprint planning meeting?
Everyone on the scrum team should attend sprint planning — as each role has specific responsibilities during the meeting. Here is a breakdown of each role and their responsibilities during sprint planning meetings:
Sprint planning responsibilities
How to run a sprint planning meeting
While each team will settle on a meeting format that works best for them, there are certain tasks you need to complete each time you meet for sprint planning. If you are new to sprint planning or if your meetings simply need a refresh, consider using this outline to help you create the agenda for your next meeting:
Align on a sprint goal: The sprint goal expresses your overarching objective for the upcoming sprint and should be tied to the value that the work will bring end-users.
Discuss important updates that may impact the sprint: The product owner shares updates from the leadership team, any changes to the product roadmap, or other details that might require the development team to adjust plans.
Refresh sprint velocity: Keep velocity in mind as you plan. It is the measurement of how much work the team can complete during a sprint — calculated by adding up the total story points (or hours) for all completed user stories during a given time frame. Take the average value for the last three to six sprints for a fairly predictable sprint velocity.
Discuss team capacity: Does the team foresee any changes in schedule or resources over the next sprint? Do you have other responsibilities or meetings that will consume your working hours? Being open about capacity will result in a more manageable workload.
Review definition of done (DoD) and acceptance criteria: The product owner reviews the team's DoD and acceptance criteria to establish how the team will measure when work is ready to ship.
Review the product backlog: The product owner presents an organized backlog so the team can review potential work items.
Decide who will work on what: Team members work together to assign work and ask critical questions before work begins.
Record concerns and dependencies: While it is usually outside the scope of sprint planning meetings to fully address all concerns, it is important to record issues to address later. Tracking dependencies can help you flag potential bottlenecks ahead of time so work can progress smoothly.
Confirm consensus: To end the meeting, the scrum master verifies that everyone is in agreement on the sprint goal, the team's commitments, and how you will complete the work.
Sprint planning best practices
Sprint planning meetings provide meaningful connection and alignment for your team. But it can be easy to slip into a stale routine — simply going through the motions of assigning out work. Keep the following best practices in mind to make the most of your sprint planning sessions:
Come prepared: For product owners, this means reviewing past sprints and stakeholder feedback ahead of time and organizing the product backlog so it is ready for the team to use during the meeting. Your development team should also come prepared to surface any concerns, scheduling conflicts, and capacity issues.
Set a timer: This is a time-boxed event, so stay focused. A fixed agenda and stop time encourages folks to move swiftly and not become sidetracked by discussions beyond the scope of the meeting. Devote no more than two hours for each week of your sprint — so four hours maximum for a two-week sprint. Many teams prefer to limit themselves to one hour per week of sprint.
Focus on outcomes: Be clear on what success looks like and how you will measure it. Outcomes can include your planned-to-done ratio of work, deployment quality, and even team happiness — anything that is a key indicator of the team's success.
Plan ahead: Make sure your backlog is organized so team members know what to work on next if they deliver on sprint goals early.
Do not overplan: Sprint planning is about getting clear on goals and outcomes and making sure the development team has what they need to begin working. You need to balance planning far enough ahead with leaving room for adjustments based on mid-course learnings. Part of being on an agile team is responding to changing circumstances without losing momentum.
The best sprint planning meetings blend strategic alignment with tactical planning. They are times for development teams to not only assign work, but also come together around a shared vision for what the work means and how it will impact the business and your customers. When sprint planning is done well, team members leave the meeting feeling motivated and excited about the work ahead.
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