Everywhere you look, it seems new products hit the market every day. Tech companies have to work faster to deliver more without compromising quality. And while that sounds great, building and testing system-wide functionality and every little feature in a multidimensional product quickly enough to stay competitive is overwhelming. Whether you’re building new software or making updates to existing products, the process can be complex and requires solidarity within teams to mitigate risks and prevent compromises to existing systems.
Many have adopted agile methodologies for software development and best practices for swift and high-quality software delivery. Agile is rooted in iterative development and a project management approach that encourages frequent inspection and adaptation to products and processes.
To put agile into practice, many use the heuristic scrum framework to manage complex processes in teams, with an emphasis on working in sprints and sprint planning.
What is sprint planning?
While anyone can use sprint planning to manage projects, it traditionally stems from the agile/scrum methodology in software engineering. Sprint planning is incremental work, selected from a product backlog, that happens in short periods of time and is planned in advance.
Planning and sprint length will vary with every business and project, but agile/scrum methodology suggests that teams dedicate two hours of planning for every week-long sprint. So, if your sprint is two weeks long, you would probably spend four hours actually planning your sprint.
Within the agile software development lifecycle (SDLC), the goal is to produce a working product at the end of each sprint. So, sprints should be long enough to keep teams focused, yet long enough to build and test a quality deliverable. Some sprints may last more than a month but are typically two work weeks long. Each sprint includes multiple checkpoints, such as a daily standup or collaborative document, to give teams a chance to pivot or make changes as needed.
Sprint plans are agile/scrum events that guide what can and should be built by development teams and how. Typically, sprints are planned during a dedicated meeting where the scrum team defines the scope and goal for the two-week period and details how each selected backlog item will help achieve the sprint goal.
Teamwork is essential to successfully move from sprint to sprint. The following key players should be included in your team sprint planning meeting:
- The product owner, who is basically the stakeholder. This person manages the product backlog and clearly explains the content, availability, and order in which items will be worked on.
- The development team, who does the work of building and delivering an increment at the end of each sprint.
- The scrum master, who is the meeting planner. This person promotes scrum practices and values and facilitates non-scrum team interactions to maximize value and productivity.
Why use sprint planning?
The purpose of sprint plans is to ensure success through a shared and detailed understanding of the work ahead. Sprint planning helps teams control projects and better manage product backlog to deploy small parts of projects quicker and more frequently to enhance customer satisfaction.
Projects with lengthy product backlogs can often result in overcommitment and hurt efficiency in the long run. Sprints encourage teams to keep the big picture in mind but to focus on the necessary steps—rather than leaps—required to ensure there are no gaps or weaknesses in the product, such as key UX considerations.
Reviewing the backlog in advance as a team fosters discussion and consensus with the product owner around exactly which backlog items will be tackled in each sprint. By engaging in sprint collaboration, teams can monitor developer capacity and manage expectations, all of which can save time down the road.
The scrum master is likely going to advocate for transparency, inspection, and adaptation throughout each sprint. These three pillars of scrum help move the team forward efficiently and can be easily put into practice with a digital scrum board on Lucidchart. The whole team can contribute to the document and see what they should be working on in each sprint, make suggestions if changes are needed, and see where other teams fit in.
How to plan a sprint
When you select your goal and backlog items, many teams will break out the backlog items into different tasks (your sprint backlog), estimate the length of time for each task, and verify the right items have been selected.
In general, you can follow this agile sprint workflow outline to get the most out of each sprint:
- Plan: Begin each sprint with a planning meeting and decide on what will be worked on.
- Develop: Design and develop following the approved guidelines.
- Test/QA: Test and document the results before delivery.
- Deliver: Present the working product or software to stakeholders and customers.
- Assess: Solicit and incorporate feedback from customers and stakeholders into the next sprint.
The agile framework is a useful tool to guide rapid development and deployment, but it often leaves us wanting to spend less time planning and more time working. You can optimize your plans with visual workflows, such as a sprint diagram. Use these diagrams to inform scrum teams and stakeholders of the action plan and where each person is at within the sprint duration. Track version history or even toggle pages in Lucidchart to see the differences between each sprint cycle and see how far the product has progressed in the SDLC.
As you follow the agile sprint timeline, here are three tips to help you plan and execute:
Maintain an organized product backlog
Before a sprint begins—and ideally prior to a sprint planning meeting—the product owner should groom all existing product backlog, also called backlog refinement. The product backlog is a comprehensive list that details what is needed in the product and in what order. Given the iterative nature of software engineering, product backlog is never fully complete and is always changing.
To stay organized and on the same page, the product owner and development team should make continuous improvements to reprioritize, add new details, remove items, and adjust estimates as the product moves through evaluation and iteration stages. The backlog sets the stage for each sprint and for the product or software overall, so it’s important that scrum teams have an up-to-date backlog so both parties know what’s in the queue and what the capacity of the developers are.
Set realistic sprint goals
With an up-to-date product backlog, the team should agree on a clearly defined goal, the sprint backlog, and the expected outcome for the sprint. To help decide what is realistic within the sprint, you might refer to a user journey flow diagrams or high-level UML diagrams to visualize how the new feature should function and interact with your existing system, from checkout processes to account setups.
It is difficult, if not impossible, to anticipate an entire product’s worth of potential issues, especially if you were to publish multiple iterations at once. Working and planning in sprints, supported by system visuals, allows you to narrow your focus on particular features and factor in additional time that might be needed, unique to a particular sprint or feature. For example, you might need extra QA time or more developer hands on deck.
Whatever it might be, setting realistic goals allows you to work small in order to mitigate big and time-consuming issues later on.
Work, collaborate, repeat
Once you know what to work on, you can create a timeline or a swimlane process map in Lucidchart to delineate responsibilities and communicate sprint deadlines. You should track progress to keep teams and stakeholders up to date. You can even build your own visual burndown chart that documents everything left to do in a sprint to keep teams in the know and on track to cross the finish line.
When you’ve completed a sprint, you can easily debrief directly on your diagrams by noting what worked or didn’t, providing feedback or suggestions moving into the next sprint.
When it comes to sprints, establish clear expectations from the start but have the flexibility to adapt and accommodate to new priorities or goals as needed. Accomplish your goals with customizable templates and process charts to sprint your way to success.
Know your process and your path—try Lucidchart free today.