During a sprint planning meeting your team will decide what user story or stories to tackle next to keep moving toward the project goal or outcome. The purpose of the sprint planning meeting is to develop a list of work for your team to complete in the designated sprint timeframe.

Sounds simple enough, right? In practice, it is not so straightforward. There are some things we definitely think you should consider or revisit when planning for your next sprint. Keep reading to learn five best practices for sprint planning that can help your team work more effectively.

1. Reserve the right amount of time for your meeting.

You may be wondering how long a sprint planning meeting should last. In most instances the correct answer is “no more than two hours per week of the sprint duration.” That means a sprint planning meeting for a weeklong sprint should last two hours or less. For many teams, “about an hour” is the sweet spot for one-week sprint planning, but this can vary based on the work.

When possible, sprint planning should happen earlier in the week so that your team can establish a bit of momentum. That way no one starts and stops work right away ahead of the weekend.

2. Focus on desired outcomes, not the smaller details.

Before starting up work on a larger project, Agile teams will develop user stories to help articulate the goals of the project. User stories are an important part of sprint planning because they help guide the direction of the upcoming sprint. During your sprint planning meeting your team will determine what user story or stories to tackle in the amount of time available.

User stories help keep your team focused on desired outcomes versus smaller details. This results in more efficient meetings and less time spent debating the specifics of tasks.

3. Don’t get too hung up on estimation.

Sprint planning requires some level of estimation. You’ll want to regularly discuss, review, revise, and prioritize work from your sprint backlog — a process referred to as backlog grooming — so that team members can work ahead if they end up finishing a sprint early.

If your estimation for completing work seems off, you can always adjust it in the next sprint. Most teams will use a velocity report to gauge how much work should be done in the next sprint based on previous performance.

There are many different methods teams use to estimate how long certain tasks will take to complete. More traditional teams will give estimates in a time format (days, weeks, months). While teams that fully embrace Agile may use story points as the unit of measurement for estimation. T-shirt sizing is another method that some teams use to estimate and prioritize work.

4. Build your sprint based on your goal.

Building and maintaining a sprint backlog is much easier when you keep your sprint goal in mind. The team should select items or to-dos for the sprint from the backlog based on that goal.

5. Remember: There’s no such thing as a perfect plan.

Complex work is hard to plan for. No matter how good you get at sprint planning, there are always going to be those moments where something unexpected happens. Focus on outcomes and create enough of a plan so that your team can begin working on individual tasks. Stay flexible and make improvements to your process as you learn from your mistakes.

Use Retrospectives to Improve Your Next Sprint

You should hold a retrospective after every sprint, regardless of how well you think it went. The goal of a retrospective is to reflect on the previous sprint and improve the process. Learn more about what makes for a good retrospective in our related post on the Mumo Systems blog.

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