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  • by Krzysztof Sowa
  • 10/09/2019

Everything you need to know about Sprints in project management

The agile methodologies of project management, and especially the Scrum framework, has become the cornerstone of modern software development. Are you wondering about the value of the Scrum Sprints in project management? This article is for you.

Everything you need to know about Sprints in project management

Let’s start with the basics. Scrum is an agile framework designed to help the teamwork together. It fosters team self-organizations, encourages teams to learn from experience, and reflect on what works and what doesn’t to continuously improve their process.

While Scrum is mostly used by software development teams, its principles can be applied to all kinds of teamwork. That’s why Scrum is so popular today. As a useful project management framework, Scrum describes a system of roles, events, artifacts, and rules that work together to help teams organize and manage their work. A critical part of Scrum are Sprints. Read on to find out everything you need to know about sprints.

The role of the Sprints in project management

What are Sprints?

Teams that follow the Scrum framework build products in a series of iterations that break down large and complicated projects into more manageable, bite-sized pieces. These iterations are Sprints.

A Sprint is a short, time-boxed period during which a Scrum Team works to complete the set amount of work. Sprints are at the core of Scrum, and by getting them right, companies can help agile teams ship high-quality software, faster and more frequently. Most importantly, working in Sprints gives teams more flexibility and allows easier (and less costly) adaptation to change.

The idea of Sprints is closely aligned to the principles that make up the agile methodology, laid out in the Agile Manifesto. Sprints help teams apply agile principles such as “delivering working software frequently” and “responding to change over following a plan.” Moreover, values such as transparency and adaptation that are central to the idea of Sprints are complementary to the agile methodology.

What happens during a Sprint?

Now that you know what a Sprint is let’s have a closer look at what happens within each Sprint carried out by the Scrum Team. Here’s the typical process of a Sprints in project management:

At the start of the Sprint

Every Sprint starts with a special meeting called the Sprint Planning. During this meeting, the software development team and the Product Owner plan the next sprint in detail. They decide which Product Backlog Items from the Product Backlog will be processed during the Sprint. These Backlog Items are moved to the actual Sprint Backlog. It’s the Product Owner’s responsibility to choose the Backlog Items for each Sprint. The Development Team is free to decide how it’s going to meet these requirements.

During the sprint

Daily Scrum is the most important activity during a Sprint. The Daily Scrum meeting usually lasts no longer than 15 minutes. It always takes place in the same location and at the same time, to avoid confusion. Who’s in charge of the Daily Scrum? This time, it’s not the Product Owner, but the Scrum Master. The Product Owner plays an important role in all other activities, but the Daily Scrum is about something else than developing the product. It’s about how the development team works together. That’s why the daily meeting focuses on discussing what has been done so far and will be done next. The idea is that the team members share any potential roadblocks or problems with each other to streamline the working progress. 

At the end of the Sprint

During a Sprint, the team works on all the tasks that have been added to the Sprint Backlog. When the Sprint is at the endline the team comes together for the Sprint Review meeting. At this meeting, the team demonstrates the product increment to the Product Owner, as well as other relevant stakeholders (for example, the client). The Product Owner’s job at this point is making sure that all the requirements from the Sprint Backlog have been fulfilled. Those who aren’t will land in the Product Backlog again and wait to be picked up by the team during one of the following sprints.

After the Sprint Review meeting, the team assembles one more time for the Sprint Retrospective meeting. It’s the last meeting conducted in the Sprint to improve how the team works together. That’s why instead of focusing on the product, it concentrates on the team and its needs. The idea behind these meetings is reflecting on how things went during the Sprint and how the team could improve its work. The goal of a Scrum Team is to improve the quality of collaboration constantly.

When one Sprint ends, another one starts just after that. 😉

How long is a sprint?

Most of the time, Scrum Teams set their Sprint length to two weeks. But this value isn’t a given. Depending on your project specificity, team capabilities, and many other factors, it might make sense to set a longer or shorter sprint time.

Here are a few tips to help you work out an optimal sprint time for your team:

  • Don’t go over a month, as per the Scrum Guide. If you do, it’s no longer a Sprint.
  • Remember that the idea of Sprints is getting feedback early. Shorter Sprints ensure that your team gets feedback faster and proceeds in line with the agile principles. Also, a shorter Sprint gives a team more opportunities to improve how it works continually.
  • Treat each Sprint as an independent project. The purpose of each Sprint is to deliver Increments of potentially releasable functionality.
  • High-performing teams do well with shorter Sprints because they come with more pressure.
  • Observe how your team works and adjust the Sprint length to their style:
  • If your team can’t finish all the tasks set for a Sprint, reconsider your Sprint Backlog or make the Sprint longer. Or make the Sprint shorter – they’re easier to forecast!
  • Is your team done with the work well before the Sprint ends? Add more Product Backlog Items to the next Sprint or consider shortening the Sprint length.
  • Does your team start out working at a relaxed pace only to cram at the end of the Sprint? Make your Sprint shorter; it will force your team to work at a more even pace.

Sprint tips: Do’s

  • Develop a well-refined backlog where all dependencies and priorities are in order. Proper backlog management is critical to the success of your product.
  • Make sure that your team understands the Sprint Goal and how it’s going to be measured. That’s how you keep all team members aligned towards the same objective.
  • Avoid including work where you’re not able to get the dependencies done – for example, work from another team or legal sign-off.
  • Pay attention to your Sprint velocity metric and make sure it reflects things like team meetings or sick leaves.
  • Use a project management tool to capture and track information about key decisions. You’ll make following it easier for everyone involved in the project and boost the team transparency.

Sprint tips: Don’ts

  • Avoid adding too many Product Backlog Items that you know your team will have a hard time completing within one Sprint. Don’t set your team up for failure.
  • Always remember about technical or quality debt. Make sure to count in the time for QA and work like fixing bugs.
  • Don’t leave the work to be completed in the Sprint undefined or ambiguous. Your team needs to be moving in one direction, not just moving fast.
  • Avoid taking on a large amount of high-risk or unknown work. Don’t be afraid to break large stories down. Leave some of the remaining work for the next Sprint.
  • Never ignore the concerns coming from the team. Your team members might be saying important things about your velocity or workload, don’t miss out on their insights.

Key takeaway

Building a product in a series of successful Sprints is the dream of every agile Development Team. Organizing Sprints is easier than it seems – but only as long as you stick to the critical do’s and don’ts of the process, perform all the Scrum ceremonies and set the right length for your Sprints.

Are you looking for an experienced Scrum team to jump-start your project? We can help you soar to the next level of productivity and build a successful software product.

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Krzysztof Sowa

Technical Project Manager in Concise Software with a developer background, especially in mobile apps (Google Certified Associate Android Developer) and automotive systems. Scrum lover, certificated PSM I, PSPO I & AgilePM, who loves sharing their knowledge with IT communities (e.g. GDG). Husband, father and passionate photographer @ The Owls Photography.

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