The agile framework of managing projects is relatively new—it began in the 1990s as a reaction to the rigid, traditional waterfall approach to project management, and was codified in 2001 with the publication of the Manifesto for Agile Software Development.

Briefly stated, agile practices work by using self-organizing, cross-functional teams that collaborate with customers or end users of the product. Agile differs from traditional planning methods because it’s iterative, willing to pivot as needed, and adaptive in its planning. Agile, like the name suggests, is flexible, open to change and is continuously seeking ways to improve.

What Is an Agile Sprint?

Agile sprints are a way to manage a project within an agile framework. An agile sprint relies on three roles:

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

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, which is an iteration in the development cycle of a project. In other words, a sprint is a small chunk of planned work that the team must complete and present for review.

Related: Sprint Planning Template

As the word would imply, an agile sprint is like a short race. They typically take place in a time period of 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.

While sprints come from an agile framework and are usually associated with scrum, it also fits into the technique of kanban with its continuous delivery concept. Scrumban will also deploy sprints.

A screenshot of a kanban board in ProjectManager

ProjectManager has online agile tools like kanban boards for executing sprints—learn more.

Key Terms for Understanding Agile Sprints

There are a number of different tools that are helpful for managing an agile sprint, but these are the ones most often used:

Burndown Chart

The burndown chart is a graph that shows how much work is left to be done and how much time is left to do it. Proper usage allows you to estimate when the work will be done on the backlog. Most importantly, your burndown chart can act as a red flag if things aren’t going well and you’re falling behind schedule.

Burnup Chart

A burnup chart is a companion to the burndown chart. It can be used to track the amount of work that has been completed, as well as showing the total work of the project or sprint. Again, this is used to track the team’s progress and help them manage scope and avoid scope creep. It’s another easy-to-read chart that helps with transparency.

User Story

A user story is an agile project management tool used to collect a description of a software feature from the end-users’ point of view. It’s useful because—after all—the end-user is the one for whom the product is designed, and agile project management is all about serving the client.

The user story also describes the user. It’s not only what they want, but why they want it. This leads to a simpler description of product requirements. There are also epic stories, which are larger user stories to get the big picture. They will get broken down into more manageable user stories.

Story Points

Story points are used to determine how difficult it will be to implement the user story. It is represented as a number that tells the team the level of difficulty involved. It helps with figuring out what the workload will be and avoids wasting time on trying to make too precise an estimate.

Story Mapping

Story mapping is a collaborative process that helps the team create the product backlog. It’s called a map because it is used to capture the customer on a journey they take with the product being worked on. Therefore, it begins with a goal that is then broken down into user stories. This is all to increase the value to customers.

How to Plan an Agile Sprint

The sprint plan starts with the team deciding which items in the backlog to work on during the sprint. This is the sprint goal, and it is a collaborative decision between the team and the product owner.

Sprint planning involves everyone on the team. The product owner helps prioritize the backlog and typically suggests which items should be part of the sprint goal. The team comes in to determine the feasible number of backlog tasks to tackle during the sprint.

Of course, the scrum master is heavily involved in the sprint planning. 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.

Phases of Sprint Planning

There are three main phases for sprint planning.

1. Designing

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

The design phase of a sprint plan begins with a sprint planning meeting. This is where business initiatives are measured and the sprint backlog is created. Another second meeting will break down 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 shows how fast the 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.

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.

The goal of estimation 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 sprint, 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 autonomy.

What is Agile Software?

Agile software is made to support working in an agile framework. It’s designed to be used for whatever agile method is preferred, such as scrum, kanban, scrumban or even a hybrid of agile and more traditional methodologies.

Project management training video (fv6k7qmtoc)

Any agile software has to be flexible to respond quickly to changes as they occur in the project. They also help connect teams and foster collaboration.

Kanban boards are an agile software feature that visualizes the workflow for teams, giving them space to collect their product backlog and plan sprints. Burndown charts are another feature that are unique to agile software and often are represented by real-time dashboards.

Microsoft Project is one of the most commonly used project management software, but it has major drawbacks that make ProjectManager a better fit for agile projects.

Benefits of Agile Software

The agile software that offers the most benefits will help with planning, workflow, monitoring and reporting on progress for stakeholders. This includes the following:

  • Collaborate in real-time
  • Use kanban boards to plan sprints
  • Manage product backlog
  • Have multiple project views for work flexibility
  • Stay notified by email and in-app alerts
  • Keep on track with customized dashboards
  • Balance workload and boost productivity

Must-Have Features of Agile Software

Agile software tools vary greatly. When looking for one that’s right for you make sure it has these essential features:

Keep Your Teams Connected

The key to a successful sprint is communication. Self-directed teams have to stay in close contact, working together and responding quickly to changes. Having collaborative tools that tag team members and alert them to updates and comments helps they work agile.

Task collaboration on an agile project

Know What’s Happening As It Happens

Agile is all about embracing change and acting quickly when you need to pivot. Having a tool that is cloud-based, with live data, gives you the competitive edge. It also facilitates collaboration by allowing remote teams to work better together.

Data tracking on a dashboard for sprints

Manage Your Backlog and Execute Sprints

Planning sprints with the product owner, team and scrum master on a kanban board allows you to see your product backlog and decide which of those items should be executed in the sprint. Kanban boards can set priority, track progress and you can attach user stories to each task.

Kanban board for sprint planning

Monitor Your Progress Across Several Metrics

Staying updated on the progress of your sprint requires a high-level view that tracks various metrics. Dashboards are designed for this purpose. They collect information from the project and display it in graphs and charts that show costs, time and more.

Deliver faster with agile dashboards

See Your Team’s Logged Hours

Another metric to monitor is how many hours your team is spending as they work on their sprint. Best tool for this is a timesheet feature that automatically logs those hours when the sprint is done. This helps you track progress and streamline payroll.

Track time on timesheets for your development team

Make Personal To-Do Lists

Part of having self-directed teams when managing an agile project’s sprint is giving them the tools they need to work more productively. Having a task list feature means they can collect their own workload and manage it.

Powerful to do list to collaborate on cross-functional work

How to Plan an Agile Sprint in ProjectManager

ProjectManager is a cloud-based tool that organizes your product backlog and helps you manage sprints. Our robust agile software can work agile, waterfall or hybrid, making it one of the most flexible solutions available for all manner of projects and teams. When planning a scrum, just follow these simple steps.

Create a Backlog

Import or add your product backlog to a task list. There are also templates that can help you get started.

Prioritize Tasks

Determine which tasks are most important and use the pulldown menu to set the priority from low or medium to high.

task list for prioritizing work

Assign Tasks Based on Team’s Skills

Use the team section, with it’s list of team members and their profiles, to assign the right person to a task. Attach user stories to give them direction on how to execute the task.

ProjectManager's project planning tools let you assign tasks to your agile project management team

Execute With Kanban Board

See workflow with the kanban board project view. Teams move their task card from column to column as they progress through the production cycle.

ProjectManager's kanban board is the perfect tool for agile project management

Track With Dashboard

The real-time dashboard automatically calculates project health, task progress, time, costs, workload and more. It’s displayed in easy-to-read graphs and charts.

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

Use Comments for Review

Each task can be commented on for team’s when collaborating, but this feature is also good for post-mortems when you want to discuss what worked and what didn’t to improve the process.

ProjectManager's Gantt chart, showing collaboration features which are ideal for agile teams

The Agile Sprint Review

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 Agile planning meeting. There is also a sprint retrospective meeting, which looks at the processes and tools used during the sprint and how they can be improved for the next one.

These reviews are focused on creating a realistic schedule and milestones that the team can hit in the next sprint.

The Difference Between a Successful Sprint and a Failed One

Telling if your sprint is successful is fairly simple. Has it met the goals set at the beginning of the sprint? 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.

Agile Sprints Are Here to Stay

Iterative and incremental approaches to projects have moved out of the software sector and have come to touch almost every industry. The philosophy of agile project management has been built from years of project management experience of what works and what doesn’t.

Obviously, those who prefer to work in an agile environment have embraced the adaptive, iterative and evolutionary approach to working on projects. This ultimate guide to agile project management might bring you into their camp. Even if you don’t adapt this philosophy in its totality, adopting some of its principles may improve your projects.

ProjectManager 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 today with this free 30-day trial.

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