ProductivityThe What, Why, and How of a Perfect Sprint Planning

Avya Chaudhary · 2023-03-07

This year, Agile will enter its 22nd year of inception. While devs have internalized the benefits agile brings on the table, most teams often struggle with the methodology. And it is team sprints that bear the brunt of failed agile transformations. 

Sprint planning might seem a simple management task, however, if engineering teams are not careful, they can easily distort development velocity and lead to misplaced project priorities. In this post, let's talk about the basics of sprint planning, why sprint planning is a sacred business, and not just another team meeting, the common pitfalls, and best practices to conduct sprint planning with integrity. 

What is Sprint Planning?

Sprint planning is similar to creating a timeline-driven work roadmap. The process is a culmination of tasks needed to be accomplished within a given timeframe. Usually, sprints begin with devs reviewing their engineering backlog, prioritizing user stories and creating upcoming sprint tasks. The team then estimates durations (biweekly, weekly, fortnightly) for each task based on complexity and potential impediments. Once curated, the timelines and project tasks serve as a north-star for teams for next sprint plans.

Sprint helps teams stay organized by mapping out project expectations, and identifying what needs to be done, in given deadlines and assignees. Moreover, sprint speeds up the software development process by accurately delivering user-requested features in the shortest possible time. 

Initially, teams used sprint planning to be on top of project delivery, or produce tangible, measurable results. However, sprints are much more than just checklists. They are a data-driven way to ensure a team is constantly making progress, or moving forward. That’s why planning is the most crucial phase of sprints- it helps to get priorities straight. Without the planning stage, conducting project delivery is like assembling electronics without reading the manual. It is definitely possible, but a lot more harder, and full of chaos. 

The ‘Not so Secret’ Ingredients of a Perfect Sprint Plan  

A lot of data, team insights, and personalization goes into creating a sprint plan. Here are the common elements omnipresent across all team sprints: 

  • Sprint goal: Measurable, quantifiable, and achievable- the three terms that define a sprint goal. For example- your next goal could be about delivering ten product features, revamping the website, or bringing down incident rate by Y%.  
  • Define sprint tasks:  List of tasks needed to be performed for achieving your sprint goal. It’s better to reverse engineer your work process, and create a timeline spanning daily, weekly, and mid-sprint. 
  • Enrolling team members in sprint tasks: The next step is the hardest- ensuring all members have a sustainable workload per sprint. Most sprints fail because either the team members are overburdened with the last sprint task, or don’t have enough productive time to code, or focus on key priorities. Hatica’s maker time metrics helps you to map available hours per dev so engineering managers can distribute sprint tasks by optimizing developer workload. 
Maker time dashboard by Hatica
  • Sprint backlog: List of all the tasks with their priority levels set to be completed in the current sprint.

Common Sprint Planning Pitfalls Every Remote Engineering Team Faces

For most engineers, sprint planning feels like a forced job, as if they are held hostage for hours over something intangible. The sprint planning meetings, irrespective of being a high priority task, is often neglected by devs. The reasons vary across teams. Most planning calls are scheduled weekly and take hours to fix nitty-gritties, even overshadowing developer’s core work hours. 

Another cause behind failed sprints is limited visibility, absence of right data and insights. Teams with poor visibility often experience delivery delays, and put sprints at risk. The issue further ripples into ineffective sprint retrospectives as managers with limited insights into dev whereabouts cannot optimize workflow challenges, no matter how hard they try. So, what is the right way to conduct sprint planning? Using an engineering analytics platform is a way out, for starters. 

Using Engineering Analytics For Your Upcoming Sprint Planning

An engineering analytics platform helps engineering teams to achieve their sprint benchmarks using data-driven insights. With all collated data and visibility in place, it becomes easier for teams to know why their previous sprint failed, and future steps to evolve in their sprint game. 

Hatica’s project delivery overview was created to resolve all sprint-related challenges for engineering managers and team leads. Hatica integrates with all your digital toolstack- from VCS, to Jira, GitLab, and CI/CD pipeline tools to collate data. Once the sprint tasks and story points are fed into the dashboard, Hatica helps teams visualize sprint over sprint trends, delivery velocity, and effort breakdown, from issues to story points. With strong visibility into developer tasks and sprint delivery, managers can minimize sprint risks and even stop sprint overflow way before the first red flag occurs. 

The delivery dashboard is a natural progression from manual sprint velocity calculations or burndown charts. While the conventional planning tools help teams keep a track of ‘objectives’ and ‘goals’ of sprints, they often lack insights about how the tasks are achieved, or why some of them are still in the backlog. For example- a team that planned to complete 50 story points this sprint might be lagging by 30 points mid-sprint. A burndown chart can only help in visualizing the complete vs incomplete tasks, but cannot go into qualitative depth. 

Now, teams can exactly know where they are failing, and what needs to be done- the week might be bug heavy, or devs encountered unplanned work not part of the original sprint plan. All these inferences can only be derived when teams have a 360 degree visibility into each sprint step.  Knowing the nuances of sprints, it becomes natural for managers to improve planning accuracy per sprint, and deliver engineering work before time.

When coupled with the sprint performance dashboard, it becomes easier for teams to conduct data-driven sprint retrospectives. The dashboard presents data from the last four sprints so teams can get to the bottom of project impediments. From incorporating developmental metrics like cycle time, and code churn, to developer well-being, and maker time, the performance dashboard brings all moving parts of a project at one place- devs work trends, SDLC flow, project status, and percentage of unplanned work. And that’s how engineering teams achieve the ‘pace’ of continuous improvement in real time.  

Once your current sprint falls back on track, the delivery dashboard also helps you to figure out the next obvious step: how to accelerate my project velocity. A healthy sprint planning goes a long way in determining the effectiveness of a team’s development process. Teams with tight-hold over sprint planning have well-ordered SDLCs and optimized developer workflows- an inevitable trait  of any successful dev team.

Dos and Dont's For a Trouble-free Sprint Meeting

Although, the list is fairly personalized, and all teams face different sprint challenges, here are the common, evergreen pitfalls across the spectrum: 

No Feedback, or Receiving Conflicting Feedback

Sprint retros are a team’s safe space for open feedback, or sometimes teammates hold back comments to avoid conflicts; however, on the contrary, these conversations might sometimes create misunderstandings amongst team members and threaten team cohesion. 

Ignoring Sprint Risks 

Sprint health can speak volumes, if teams are closely listening. Surveying teams mid-sprint is a quick idea to gauge your team health and overview project delivery closely. Sometimes, even the most trivial issues can harm your sprint velocity, if not resolved in the initial periods. If your team is only debugging in the first three days of current sprints, and hasn’t yet started working on story points- it’s a risk most managers would not want to avoid. Solution? Keep a stock of your dev’s work items through the Hatica activity log, sprint over sprint, and that’s how you can get to the bottom of all throughput challenges. 

Unrealistic Deadlines

Deadlines are essential for keeping projects on track; however, sometimes sprint becomes all about chasing ‘definite’ story points over actually delivering value. It’s a common hitch across engineering teams, and mostly originates from the ‘we can figure it out’ approach of devs. The idea here is to gauge developer velocity beforehand, and then plan work items by keeping customer delivery expectations and team capacity on the same page. 

What’s Next: Conducting Sprints the ‘Right’ Way 

Engineering teams should always remember that sprints are a sacred business. Once a sprint planning meeting has defined scope of work, there should be no middle sprint shiftings. It takes time to get sprint planning right, but teams have to set benchmarks somewhere. 

Simplifying sprint planning goes a long way- most devs turn blind eyes to sprints because of an overly chaotic process, changes mid-sprint, and unplanned work that no one in the team has figured out. A healthy sprint is a win-win for everyone across the business cycle: right from customers, to CTO, CEOs, engineering managers and individual contributors. 

Ensure perfect sprint planning with Hatica! Request a demo today→

Subscribe to Hatica's blog

Get bi-weekly emails with the latest from Hatica's blog

Share this article:
Table of Contents
  • What is Sprint Planning?
  • The ‘Not so Secret’ Ingredients of a Perfect Sprint Plan  
  • Common Sprint Planning Pitfalls Every Remote Engineering Team Faces
  • Using Engineering Analytics For Your Upcoming Sprint Planning
  • Dos and Dont's For a Trouble-free Sprint Meeting
  • What’s Next: Conducting Sprints the ‘Right’ Way