Sprint Planning 101: The Ultimate Guide to Running an Effective Project Sprint

Before undertaking a complex project, it is a good idea to plan ahead and decide how you will tackle the work. Imagine trying to clean out a cellar or attic that’s absolutely filled with clutter and junk. The scope of the task is so enormous that it is difficult to decide where to begin. But by breaking the job down into smaller, more manageable parts and deciding how you’re going to proceed, you stay organized and focused, working more intelligently and more efficiently. Before you know it, you’ve completed the job!

This principle also applies to conducting a project using the Scrum methodology. A core building block of Scrum is a sprint. Let’s dig into sprints, sprint planning — and what it is, who does it, why you should do it, how to do it, when and where to do it, and the resulting benefits.

First, let’s take some time to define a few terms.

Agile Scrum Master Certification Training

Master the Agile Project Management MethodologyVIEW COURSE
Agile Scrum Master Certification Training

What is Sprint Planning?

Scrum is a framework that facilitates the development and sustaining of complex products. Scrums are broken down into a series of sprints. Sprints are defined time periods in the Scrum framework of no more than one-month duration, designed to create consistency in a project. Sprints begin immediately after the previous sprint ends, forming a chain of events that eventually culminates in completing the project at hand.

Sprint planning involves setting up the strategies, goals, and timelines for the current sprint. According to the Scrum Guide, sprint planting “…initiates the sprint by laying out the work to be performed for the sprint. This resulting plan is created by the collaborative work of the entire Scrum Team.” In simple terms, it’s an event within the Scrum framework where the team decides what they’re working on during this sprint and what the goals are.

Sprint planning must be limited to a maximum of eight hours for a one-month sprint. Smaller sprints should require less planning time.

Every sprint meeting should produce two results:

  • A Sprint Goal. One or two sentences describing what the team intends to achieve in this sprint
  • A Spring Backlog. A list of backlog items for the product the team commits to completing and a list of tasks needed to deliver the backlog items

Who is Involved in Sprint Planning?

The cast of characters in sprint planning meetings include:

  • The Product Owner. The product owner is usually the product’s key stakeholder. During the meeting, they describe the highest priority elements to the Scrum team. The product owner should be ready to talk about the project’s top ten priorities, and should suggest a sprint goal.
  • The ScrumMaster®. The ScrumMaster is the Scrum team leader, fulfilling the role of a project manager. They ensure the team is adhering to the agile principles and practices. They are the project’s champions, responsible for guiding the team and the product owner.
  • The Scrum Team. We can’t forget these folks because they’re the ones who will be doing the work!
  • Outside Stakeholders (Optional). Scrum teams sometimes invite outsiders who have an interest or stake in the product. However, this rarely occurs — there’s something to be said about “too many cooks in the kitchen.”

When and Where Does Sprint Planning Occur?

Now that you know who is supposed to be attending the sprint planning sessions, you need to figure out where they are meeting and when.

Many Scrum teams have a designated team room, a space dedicated to carrying out the Scrum project. Ideally, the room has everything the team needs, including whiteboards, flipcharts, task boards, workstations, and plans and charts.

Unfortunately, the pandemic has thrown everyday business practices into disarray, and teams must get more creative. This creativity usually involves using collaborative or audio-visual conference software, like Zoom, Skype, Slack, or Microsoft Teams. There are many virtual whiteboards available now, too.

Whatever the medium, the team needs a private, dedicated area at their disposal to best follow the agile principles and touch base regarding the sprints.

As for when the sprint planning occurs, naturally, it happens at the beginning! Sprint planning happens at the beginning of a project, usually right on the heels of a preceding sprint review and retrospective. That way, the team can apply any observations and insights gathered from the last sprint to the new one.

Agile Scrum Master Course (FREE)

Become an agile scrum pro with the free courseEnroll Now
Agile Scrum Master Course (FREE)

How Do You Conduct a Sprint Planning?

Now that you have more information about what a sprint planning session is, who’s involved, and when and where it should be held. But what about the actual sprint planning? How do you make it happen?

Remember, sprint planning covers the following three issues:

  • Why is this sprint important?
  • What can be and will be done in this sprint?
  • How will the designated work be done?

Before beginning, the product owner should be fully prepared — having a full grasp of lessons learned from the previous sprint review, the stakeholder’s vision of the product (for instance, has it changed at all?), and stakeholder feedback.

The product backlog should also be refined and updated.

With all these items squared away, it’s time to set the spring planning agenda. The following steps show a typical sprint planning structure.

  • Settle on the team’s overall strategic objective for the new sprint. This stage successfully ends with a one- or two-sentence goal.
  • Check the newly updated product backlog and decide which items belong on the next backlog and why.
  • The ScrumMaster should call for a team consensus on the proposed goal and backlog items.
  • Figure out who is available to participate in the sprint. Does anyone have any upcoming vacations, personal days, other essential projects that may affect their availability?
  • Discuss the team’s capacity based on member availability or capacity due to other project responsibilities.
  • Talk about known issues that could interrupt or slow down progress on reducing backloads.
  • Assign new sprint backlog tasks to team members based on skill sets, capacity, and other appropriate criteria.
  • Estimate the timeframes for each assigned task and agree on designating “done” for each item in the project tracker.
  • Confirm the upcoming timeframe.
  • Open the meeting to relevant questions. This task typically falls to the product owner, who is responsible for ensuring that project collaboration stays on track.

Although this has been touched upon before, it bears reinforcing — limit your sprint planning times. Teams should dedicate no more than two hours for each week planning sprints. This practice is also known as “timeboxing,” and it sets a maximum amount of time for the team to finish a task. Note that there is no minimum time limit, just a maximum. The ScrumMaster must ensure that everyone understands the limitations set up by the timebox.

Also, sprint planning involves a good amount of data-based estimation. You can improve the accuracy of your estimates by ensuring that the scrum team is working on and coordinating through the same sets of data. 

The Benefits of Sprint Planning

The primary benefit of spring planning is that it lets a team begin a new sprint with a common understanding of what they hope to accomplish with this sprint and create a plan to make it happen.

We can further break down this benefit into smaller, focused points including:

  • Enables the team to decide on the sprint goal and the level of commitment
  • Allows task discovery, prioritization, sign-up, and estimation
  • Produces a platform suited for communicating dependencies and focusing on team capacity to create and commit to an achievable goal

No one should undertake a large project without having a plan. Scrum breaks projects into sprints, and sprint planning keeps team members organized and focused on each stage of the project. Expectations, goals, resources, and deadlines are all explicitly spelled out, eliminating confusion, wasted effort, and missed deadlines.

Understand the Scrum methodology and their implementation with the Certified ScrumMaster certification training. Check out the course now.

You Can Become a ScrumMaster

If you’ve read this article carefully, you are sure to get the idea that ScrumMasters are a crucial part of any successful scrum. Scrum is a popular methodology in today’s business world, and it has resulted in a positive job outlook for ScrumMasters over the last few years. If you would like to become a Scrum Master, Simplilearn has what you need to get your start.

The Certified ScrumMaster® (CSM) certification training course provides a greater understanding of Scrum methodologies and how to implement them. The course helps you become a Certified Scrum Master, a designation offered by Scrum Alliance to practitioners who have successfully completed a CSM course and demonstrate their understanding by passing the exam.

The CSM certification is a two-day training course that gives you a comprehensive overview of Agile project management's Scrum framework, opening countless career opportunities across multiple industry sectors. Glassdoor reports that ScrumMasters in the US can earn a yearly average of USD 97,319. Annual average Scrum Master salaries in India come in at ₹1,239,318, according to Payscale.

Check out Simplilearn today and begin a new career as a fully certified ScrumMaster!

About the Author

SimplilearnSimplilearn

Simplilearn is one of the world’s leading providers of online training for Digital Marketing, Cloud Computing, Project Management, Data Science, IT, Software Development, and many other emerging technologies.

View More
  • Disclaimer
  • PMP, PMI, PMBOK, CAPM, PgMP, PfMP, ACP, PBA, RMP, SP, and OPM3 are registered marks of the Project Management Institute, Inc.