Post 2 — Sprint Planning (and How to Make it Fun)

Tips for the Best Scrum Ceremonies Ever!

Sprint Planning is a time-boxed meeting to a maximum of eight hours for a one-month Sprint, or four hours for a two-week Sprint. This ceremony takes place usually the last day of the Sprint for the upcoming Sprint. The Scrum Master ensures that the event takes place and that attendants understand its purpose. The Scrum Master teaches the Scrum Team to keep it within the allotted time-box.

Sprint Planning answers the following:

● What stories can be delivered in the upcoming Sprint?

● How will the work (stories) be completed?

Stories are selected from the Product Backlog and pulled into the Sprint Backlog. Now remember, the stories in the Sprint Backlog are not a commitment, but a forecast.

There are two key items for the Planning Session:

1. Sprint Goal

2. Sprint Backlog

Score with Sprint Goals

A sprint goal is a short, one- or two-sentence, description of what the team plans to achieve during the sprint. It is written collaboratively by the team and the product owner. Here are a few examples for an eCommerce application:

● Implement basic shopping cart functionality including add, remove, and update quantities.

● Develop the checkout process: pay for an order, pick shipping, order gift wrapping, etc.

The sprint goal can be used for quick reporting to those outside the sprint. There are always stakeholders who want to know what the team is working on, but who do not need to hear about each product backlog item (user story) in detail.

The success of the sprint will later be assessed during the sprint review meeting against the sprint goal, rather than against each specific item selected from the product backlog.

Sprint Backlog — Locked and Loaded

The sprint backlog is the other output of sprint planning. A sprint backlog is a list of the product backlog items the team commits to delivering plus the list of tasks necessary to delivering those product backlog items. Each task on the sprint backlog is also usually tracked.

An important point to reiterate here is that it’s the team that selects how much work can get done in the upcoming sprint and velocity provides the measuring stick. The product owner does not get to say, “We have four sprints left so you need to do one-fourth of everything I need.” We can hope the team does that much (or more), but it’s up to the team to determine how much they can do in the sprint.

Ok now that you know what to do above, are you tired of running your sprint planning meetings exactly the same way every iteration? Here are a few tips to switch things up during sprint planning and keep things interesting:

1. Get Physical — Rotate Those Story Cards — That’s right. Rotate ’em, pass ’em around, draw funny pictures on them. You’d be amazed what happens when everyone has to handle them. Hand them to someone on the team and ask them to tell you what they (the stories) are all about. It’s very likely they will breeze through a couple and then stop, scratch their heads, and admit they have no idea what the next story is all about. Perfect! Follow up with questions, modify the story, talk about the story and hand the deck to the next person.

2. Divide and Conquer (Split and Recombine) — split the team, and the cards into two or more groups. Have them work separately for a while to analyze the stories, then swap.

3. Tag Team — Pair people up and have them review a story together. Present the story to the team. Come up with a list of questions for the story. Come up with a list of proposed tasks.

4. Form a Committee — Sometimes the team will appoint a subgroup to serve as a committee. The committee is responsible for grooming the backlog and setting everything up nice and pretty for the rest of the team. This enables the rest of the team to keep focused on implementation, while putting people they trust in charge of massaging the requirements.

5. Recruit Through Swarming — Take the facilitator out of the equation. Let the people decide what they are going to work on next. No rules — anybody can pick any story.

6. Extra, Extra — Interview your Customer(s) — Treat the planning meeting like an interview or talk show and your customer(s) the star of the show. Have a prepared set of questions, capture the answers.

7. Multi-team — Break up into sub teams (~3 people). Have the sub teams pull items from the backlog and deliver them. Teams can compete, teams can share, teams can reorganize frequently

8. Presidential Executive Order — OK, so sometimes the product owner can act like the President delivering the Inaugural Speech to the team. Here are your stories…implement them. I would suggest this not become the norm, but once in a while, if the team is burnt out and wants the stories handed to them, it works.

9. Word Up! — Ask the team to put the stories in their own words. Perhaps everyone could do this. Then share the results. Rephrasing a story description requires that you understand the story. You might find that the new words to describe the story sound a lot better than the original.

10. Super Iterative Planning — What if you had a constraint that only allowed you to do your complete planning meeting in 10 minutes? Then you do a retrospective for 2 minutes, and try again. How many iterations of planning does it take to come up with a good plan?

OK, so there you go. I bet there are a whole bunch of different ways to run a planning meeting. So, get off your duff and try something different! An effective planning meeting is a meeting where everyone is engaged and interacting — that demands a great deal of creativity from all team members.

Stay tuned for my upcoming posts for tips about the Daily Stand-up, Sprint Review, and Retrospective.

Robin Morgan is a LeapFrog Systems Agile Player / Coach with over 15 years of experience leading successful teams and projects.