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Capacity Planning for Agile Teams During the Holidays: A Practical Guide

During the holiday season, Agile teams often face the challenge of planning sprints with fluctuating team availability. During this time, it's crucial to adjust expectations and sprint capacity accordingly to maintain productivity without overburdening the team. How do you handle days when the company will be closed? Or how do you account for most of the team being out on vacation? In this article, we'll explore an effective approach to capacity planning during holidays, complete with practical examples. 


Understanding Capacity Planning 

Capacity planning in Agile involves estimating the amount of work a team can handle in a sprint. This estimation is based on the team's velocity (average amount of work completed in past sprints) and any variations in team availability. Capacity planning is a short exercise that should be done at the start of the Sprint. This usually happens during Sprint planning to allow for the most up-to-date information about the team’s availability. 


Why Adjust for Holidays? 

Holidays typically mean reduced working days and team members taking time off. Ignoring these factors can lead to unrealistic sprint goals, causing stress and potentially impacting product quality. Teams, however, struggle with the notion of a shorter Sprint because, for example, a company holiday might fall on the day of their Sprint Review. Thus, it’s important to understand the team’s availability and the company’s schedule in order to plan for a successful Sprint.  


When faced with the dilemma of whether to shorten or extend a sprint when a holiday falls on the last or first day of your Sprint cadence, it's important to weigh the impact on your team's workflow and future sprints. While some teams might be inclined to extend the sprint to make up for the lost day, opting to shorten the sprint can often be a more pragmatic approach. Here's why: 

Shortening the Sprint: Advantages 

  1. Predictability and Consistency: Keeping sprints at a consistent length ensures predictability, an essential aspect of Agile planning. This consistency aids in better long-term planning and avoids the disruption of future sprint schedules. 

  1. Maintaining Team Morale: Shortening a sprint in recognition of a holiday respects team members' time for rest and rejuvenation. This consideration can enhance team morale and prevent burnout. 

  1. Focus on Prioritization: A shorter sprint encourages the team to focus on prioritizing the most crucial tasks. This laser focus can lead to more efficient work and better quality outcomes. 

Addressing Concerns About Velocity 

The primary concern with shortening a sprint is its perceived negative impact on the team's velocity. However, velocity is a relative measure, not an absolute one. It's important to remember that velocity is meant to be a guide for future sprint planning, not a fixed target. 


When you shorten a sprint due to a holiday, it's natural for the velocity to decrease because the team is working for fewer days. This doesn't necessarily indicate reduced efficiency or productivity; it's simply an adjustment for the available time. 


Capacity planning involves recalibrating the amount of work the team can realistically complete in the reduced time. Here's a step-by-step guide to effectively perform this capacity adjustment. We’ll use relative point estimation for this example: 


Step-by-Step Approach 

  1. Analyze Past Performance: Start by looking at your team's velocity over the past few sprints. For instance, if your team completed 45, 55, and 35 points in the last three sprints, the average velocity is (45 + 55 + 35) / 3 = 45 points. 

  1. Adjust for Availability: Calculate the proportional availability of your team for the upcoming sprint. For example, if you have a team of 7 developers and 2 developers are away for 2 days each in a 10-day Sprint, the availability is (70 days – 4 days) / 70 = 94.3%. If there is a company-wide holiday, you would simply subtract an additional 7 days for all 7 developers being out. 

  1. Calculate Adjusted Capacity: Multiply the average velocity by the availability percentage. Using our example, the adjusted capacity is 45 points × 94.3% ≈ 42 points. 

Example in Practice  


Let's consider a real-world scenario: 

  • Team Composition: 5 developers (excluding the Scrum Master and Product Owner for velocity calculation). 

  • Holiday Season Impact: Two developers plan to take 3 days off each in a 2-week (10 working day) sprint. 

  • Past Sprints' Velocity: 50, 60, and 40 points 

  • Average Velocity: (50 + 60 + 40) / 3 = 50 points. 

  • Adjust for Developer Availability

  • Total available developer days in a standard sprint: 5 developers × 10 days = 50 developer-days. 

  • Loss due to holidays: 2 developers × 3 days = 6 developer-days. 

  • Adjusted availability: (50 - 6) / 50 = 44 / 50 = 88%. 

  • Calculate Adjusted Capacity

  • Adjusted capacity = 50 points × 88% ≈ 44 points. 

In this scenario, with the revised calculation considering only the developers, a sprint capacity of approximately 44 points is more accurate, considering the reduced availability due to the holiday season. This approach provides a realistic target for the team, factoring in the specific roles that contribute to the sprint's development work. 


Key Considerations 

  • Context Matters: Each team is unique. Adjust the formula based on your team's specific situation and dynamics. 

  • Communication is Key: Ensure transparent communication about capacity adjustments with all stakeholders. 

  • Flexibility: Be prepared to adjust plans as needed. The holiday season can be unpredictable. 

  • The Scrum Master and the Product Owner Role Specialty Roles: The Scrum Master and Product Owner are crucial in guiding and supporting a Scrum team, but unlike developers, they do not complete tasks that contribute to sprint velocity, focusing instead on coaching and product strategy. Thus, although it can be argued that their temporary absence can negatively impact the team’s velocity, their roles are not included in this specific metric. 



Effective sprint planning requires a nuanced understanding of team dynamics and the distinct roles within a Scrum team. By focusing on the direct contributions of developers in velocity calculations, teams can set realistic and achievable goals, ensuring productivity without overburdening team members. This approach underscores the importance of every role in the team, each contributing uniquely to the project's success. As we navigate these sprints during the festive season, let's remember to balance our professional commitments with the joy and relaxation that the holidays bring. Happy holidays to everyone! May this season bring you all a well-deserved break, joyous moments, and a fresh perspective as we prepare for the sprints ahead! 🎉

1 Comment

Dec 23, 2023

If the team’s velocity the past three sprints was 35, 55, and 45, perhaps the team also had varying capacity the past three sprints. Maybe the 35 points aligned with Thanksgiving and 55 was at full capacity?

When adjusting the average velocity based on expected capacity, you might consider whether the historical velocity should be adjusted for capacity too?

Otherwise you might be setting a lower capacity-adjusted velocity than the math suggests which might result in the team slowing down. Of course, over the holiday, slowing down might be welcomed by all.


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