A successful Sprint is highly dependent on being able to hold a successful Sprint Planning event. This is an event where the team plans what they will take into the next Sprint as well as how they will deliver the committed items. It involves understanding the Product Backlog items, agreeing on the goal, decomposing the items, and agreeing on which team members will work on specific items at the start of the Sprint. This could be challenging to do in a remote session. It requires significant facilitation and understanding of the event. Below are a few tips to help with a smoother remote Sprint planning meeting:
1- Shorter Sprints, Shorter Sprint Planning - Consider holding short Sprints. A properly planned Sprint is key to meeting your Sprint Goal. The Scrum Guide recommends that a Sprint Planning event be no more than eight hours for a four-week Sprint. This time allocation should be proportional to the length of your Sprint. Therefore, the shorter the Sprint, the shorter the amount of time you will spend as a team in Sprint planning. Holding a two-week Sprint allows you to have no more than 4-hours allocated for your next Sprint planning. This could be an advantage when everyone is dialing into a remote meeting since the focus time could be limited. So, try holding two-weeks Sprints and schedule shorter Sprint planning sessions.
2- Share your Product Backlog - Of course, you’ll need a common view of the Product Backlog to have a successful Sprint Planning session. Tools like Jira are quickly becoming the industry standard for managing Agile team artifacts. Be sure to have your backlog in a digital form and up to date. Make sure that everyone has access to the backlog. A hidden Product Backlog is no good to the team, so make sure to buy enough licenses and that all team members can access it. Finally, ensure that you display the Product Backlog during the Sprint planning session so that it can be edited as needed. This means share the actual tool, not a PowerPoint or Excel version of it.
3- Be “ready” for Sprint Planning - It is important to have a ready Product Backlog before you can hold a successful Sprint Planning event. Having enough Product Backlog items that meet the “ready” state is the responsibility of the Product Owner and could be a laborious activity. The PO may enlist the help of the full team, but the development team may not spend more than 10% of their time on refinement. Therefore, consider scheduling a weekly Product Backlog refinement session so that the full team can collaborate on the activity using timeboxes.
4- Take your time – On average, the industry is practicing two-week Sprints. This calls for a Sprint Planning event that is timeboxed to no more than four-hours long per Sprint. That is a long time to spend in an online meeting. On the other hand, I have observed that many teams tend to spend about one-hour on Sprint Planning. This is too little time to plan a proper Sprint. Working through all the relevant considerations and decomposition normally takes longer than an hour. Too little time planning can result in negative impacts of the team’s performance since they won’t be ready when the Sprints starts. Consider scheduling two-hour Sprint planning sessions instead. These two hours don’t have to be spent proportionally. You can spend less time in the “What” portion of the meeting and more time on the “How”, depending on the need.
5- Keep a timebox – Each Product Backlog discussion should be timeboxed. Depending on your resolution (size of your Product Backlog items) this time may vary. I normally start with 10 minutes that I break up in 2 to 5-minute time boxes per Product Backlog. Consider using a desktop timer to keep track of the items. I prefer the native Windows 10 timer and share via desktop sharing but there are thousands of choices depending on your preference and OS.
You are now armed with key tips to run a successful remote Sprint Planning. Try them and let us know how they work for you. You may have others that you have discovered along the way. Please share them so that we may grow together in this brave new online world.