Sprint Planning 101: How to Plan Great Sprints


Ask a dozen people what agile is and you’ll get a dozen different answers. But it’s best defined by scrum as a model. Scrum is a way to manage a project within an agile framework and is made up of three roles: product owner, scrum master and team.

The product owner is focused on the business side of the project, the scrum master is the expert, who acts like a coach. The team is self-directed and works as they see fit to meet the goals of the product owner.

If you’re interested in the nuts and bolts of scrum, check our our guide. For this post, we’re going to take a deep dive into one of the events in the scrum framework, sprint planning.

What Is a Sprint?

In order to provide some regularity and minimize the need for meetings, scrum is broken down into events. One of these events is the sprint. A sprint is an iteration in the development cycle of a project, and is one of the fundamental principles of agile project management methodologies.

The sprint is defined by a small amount of planned work that the team has to complete and ready for review. Sprint comes from an agile framework for projects and is usually associated with scrum. However, sprint also fits into the technique of kanban with its continuous delivery concept. Scrumban will also deploy sprints.

As in the dictionary meaning of the word, sprint is like a short race. It defines a duration usually no more than two to four weeks. The target of a sprint is decided on between the product owner and the team, which is called a “sprint goal.” The work comes from a sprint backlog, which is a list of tasks to be completed. Backlogs are often housed on boards or task lists for easy maintenance. Teams work collaboratively to complete the sprint and have it ready for review. But the sprint cannot start until there has been a sprint plan.

Project management software makes it easy to collect your task into a back log and then execute work in sprints. ProjectManager has customizable kanban boards so you can organize your sprints and collaborate as a team. Create tags, set priorities and assign work to people based on their skill sets. Once the work begins, you can track progress, workload, budgets and more with our real-time dashboard. Plan better sprints with a 30-day free trial of ProjectManager.

Kanban board for sprint planning
ProjectManager has five different views for completing work, including the kanban. Learn more.

How to Make a Good Sprint Plan

The sprint plan is another event in the scrum framework of an agile project. It starts with the team deciding which items in its backlog to work on during the sprint. This is the sprint goal that is a collaborative decision between the team and the product owner.

Sprint planning usually involves everyone on the team. There’s the product owner who helps with prioritizing the backlog and suggests which items should be part of the sprint goal. The team comes in to determine what is a feasible number of tasks for the backlog to work on during the sprint.

Also, involved in the sprint planning is the scrum master. The scrum master is an expert in the scrum framework for agile projects. They act as a facilitator for the sprint plan to make sure it’s effective, the appropriate backlog items are being addressed and that there’s agreement among the parties involved. There are three main phases for sprint planning.

Related: Free Sprint Plan Template

1. Designing

The design of a sprint is usually just a one-time event, though it can be tweaked moving forward to improve the process. Unless the design is not working, then, of course, you’d have to return to the drawing board.

The parts of the design phase of a sprint plan begin with a sprint planning meeting. This is where business initiatives are measured and the sprint backlog is created. Another meeting will breakdown that backlog into tasks, which finalizes the backlog.

There will be daily scrum meetings. These are check-ins to update the progress of the sprint. Tasks are further prioritized at this time and assigned based on reviewing the burndown chart, which graphically shows how fast a team is working.

Also, throughout the sprint, there is something called backlog grooming. This is when the product owner and team will review and refine the backlog based on how much progress they’re making.

Once the sprint is finished, there’s a sprint review meeting. Here the results of the completed sprint will be analyzed against the project objectives from the planning meeting. There is also a sprint retrospective meeting that looks at the processes and tools used during the sprint and how they can be improved for the next one.

These designs are focused on creating a realistic schedule and milestones that the team needs to hit. The design should be agreed upon by all members of the project team. The design is the structure that will determine the length of the project, so it must meet with the approved scope, cost and time of the project.

2. Estimate Sprint Velocity

Before the sprint, the product owner will determine its velocity. That is, how much work should be done within the sprint. This decision is based on the schedule of the team and their capacity.

This estimate is created at the start of every sprint. While there might be an urge to do so during the design stage, it’s better to wait. There are valuable insights that come after each sprint that should be applied to the next one.

What the estimation’s goal is to develop a new sprint velocity for each sprint. This should reflect the objectives of that sprint, efficiencies that we’re learned from the previous one and what can be realistically done with the current resources. There are also many tools available now to help maximize the number of objectives met during each spring, from test automation tools to CI/CD solutions.

3. Allocation of Sprint Work

This is where the scrum master comes in handy. Because of their expertise, they can work closely with the team to meet the requirements given by the product owner. Together, the scrum master and the team allocate the work of the sprint.

But the team is working relatively independently, which is one of the principles of an agile framework. The idea of self-directed teams is fundamental to working scrum, and they’re in charge of managing the sprint to the sprint goal.

This is done by assigning those most skilled at the tasks to executing them. The right people are used, and the team gains a greater sense of accountability for the work. They’re empowered by the autonomy.

The Difference Between a Successful Sprint and a Failed One

Telling if your sprint is successful is fairly simple. Has it met its goal? The sprint goal is decided upon before starting the sprint by the product owner and the team. If that criteria has been met, the sprint is successful. It means you’re going through the backlog at an acceptable rate.

In contrast, if the team is not able to complete everything on the backlog that had been set up as the sprint goal, then that sprint has failed. The fact that sprints are quick and they are constantly evolving is to avoid ending up with a product at the end of your project that no one wants. This would be a failure, too.

Success is measured by sprint reviews, which ensure that the project is moving in the right direction. If the key stakeholders and end-users are dissatisfied, if the deliverables don’t meet their expectations, this is a failure. If nothing is learned at the end of a sprint, it can also be considered a failure. After all, it’s all about experimenting and the empirical process.

ProjectManager Helps with Sprint Planning

ProjectManager is a flexible project management software. When it comes to planning your next sprint, you can use our sprint planning templates to get you started on the right foot. The template is designed for dev teams. You can easily move tasks out of the backlog and into development on the board view.

Once you have your board, teams can customize columns and collaborate on cards. They can add their own to-do lists and comment with other team members. We have unlimited file storage, so add as many documents and images as you like. They’re all attached at the task level, so no more endless searches for the important paperwork. Also, @ the product owner or scrum master, who’ll be notified by email, and bring them into the conversation.

Our task list view is a great tool for backlogs. You can manage that backlog by filtering the data by the due date, owner, project, etc. Tasks can also be tagged to make them easier to find. ProjectManager is cloud-based, so any status update on tasks is immediately reflected in the software, creating greater transparency.

Finally, there’s our real-time dashboard. It tracks the project across a number of metrics, including tasks, progress and variance. This is another feature that will help with dealing with stakeholders and presenting them with project updates.

ProjectManager’s dashboard view, which shows six key metrics on a project

ProjectManager.com is a cloud-based project management software that is ideal for whatever methodology you’re working in. We have the tools to help managers plan, monitor and report on their project. Teams get a collaborative platform that gives them the autonomy to work in self-directed groups and boost productivity. Try ProjectManager.com today with this free 30-day trial.