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7 Common Sprint Planning Mistakes You Should Avoid

Sprint Planning is a crucial part of Scrum-based product development. So, it is important to know what are the common mistakes around it and their remedies.
April 27 · 6 min read
Learn how to avoid planning mistakes

Sprint Planning is one of the crucial events in the Agile world that is meant to set the team's direction for the upcoming Sprint. However, it is also one of the most underappreciated Scrum events owing to the problems and errors it can lead to.

As per the Scrum guide, the team should cover the below 3 points in the Sprint Planning meeting:

  • What makes the Sprint valuable?
  • How much work can be done in this Sprint?
  • How the work will be done?

During a Sprint Planning session, the team carries out estimation based on 4 focused elements, which include:

  • Dimension
  • Knowledge
  • Complexity
  • Uncertainty

Although Sprint Planning is vital for setting the direction of the Sprint and keeping the team focused, it also gives a hostage sense because members cannot leave the session unless/until everything is estimated. Moreover, despite carrying out effective Sprint Planning, the Sprint often end up with many unresolvable challenges or incomplete and low-quality works. In fact, it is common to see Sprint not going as planned or some estimated tasks aren't getting completed timely. But the question is that are such issues avoidable?

Yes, Scrum teams can avoid incomplete Sprints if they avoid doing mistakes in the Sprint Planning session. Sprint Planning is the foundation for efficient Sprint, but doing mistakes in it leads to complications afterward. Therefore, this article tries to discuss 7 common Sprint Planning mistakes that you should avoid.

7 Common Sprint Planning Mistakes

Let's take a close look at what are the common Sprint Planning mistakes that most Scrum teams do intentionally or unintentionally:

1. Planning Without Sprint Goal

Setting goals is compulsory to remain committed and focused. The same implies while conducting the Sprint Planning session. Often Product Owner does not come prepared with the key product backlog items that are targeted to be Sprint backlog and also does not dictate what is the main Sprint goal. So, what happens is that the team starts discussing the tasks to be completed in the Sprint without knowing what value they are targeting to achieve after the end of the Sprint. Besides that, sometimes the Sprint goal is even narrated at the end of the session.

The Sprint goal is meant to promote teamwork and focus. It should be presented at the beginning of the Sprint Planning session so that the team remains aware of where all this discussion is headed. With the Sprint Goal in might, the team can better decide how much work it can take up in this Sprint and how it can achieve the main goal.

2. Committing to Work Without Clarification

Another mistake Scrum teams do is that they make the commitment of work in Sprint planning session without a proper discussion around that work. For example, the Product Owner says to the team that he is being pressured by the Director of Support to add a virtual assistance feature in the customer support section by the end of this Sprint. The team might respond to his call and agrees to do it in this Sprint without asking for more clarification. However, when the team members actually start working on that feature, they might face many unsolvable hurdles, delays, or low-quality work.

Therefore, team members should not be quick in committing to any work without doing a proper discussion around it. Moreover, if you are spending hours in the Sprint Planning meeting, then why not spend a few more minutes and clear your views around all the tasks before committing to them.

3. No Changes During Sprint

There is no such thing as a "Perfect Sprint Plan". It is almost impossible to fulfill all the checkboxes decided in Sprint Planning when you actually begin working on them. Unexpected hurdles, unresolvable bugs, sudden change demands, and similar other challenges can pop up suddenly. Therefore, teams should not be dragged towards the "no change policy". Otherwise, the unachievable commitment will increase stress and result in low-quality deliveries.

Scrum encourages iterative deliveries. So, if the team has committed more work or the current work demands more time, Sprint should be open to changes. The team should be comfortable presenting the case to the Scrum Master and Product Owner, and they should facilitate the team as much as they could.

4. More Focus on Velocity

Another mistake Scrum teams make is that they focus more on velocity instead of quality. For example, if a team managed to complete 10 user stories in the previous Sprint, it will now target to complete more than 10 user stories. However, not all tasks are of the same complexity level. Some can be done in less time, but some do require proper time and effort.

Therefore, Scrum teams should avoid the mistake of focusing on velocity more than quality. They should first understand what are the targeted tasks to accomplish, understand their complexity level, and then decide on their velocity.

5. In-Detail Sprint Planning

There is another concept that how detailed a Sprint Planning session is, the more accurate results it will generate. But it is not that true. Since there is no such thing as an ideal Sprint plan, so spending hours researching and estimating seems highly unproductive. Moreover, during the Sprint Planning meeting, the team has minimal information about the tasks.

So, emphasis should not be on detailed Sprint Planning sessions, but it should be on flexibility in changing Sprint objectives as the team gets more experienced with the lined-up tasks.

6. Plan More Work and Deadline Panic

Although this mistake is highlighted in the above points, it does require a separate focus. It is common among teams to plan and commit to more work than their actual capabilities. They don't project the hidden challenges and commit to more work. However, when they experience hurdles, errors, or other hectic issues along with approaching deadlines, then the real panic begins.

Therefore, the focus should be to accept only the work the team is confident to complete easily within the allotted Sprint length. But even if the team still fails to deliver, then it should extend the work in the next Sprint session instead of panicking and delivering low-quality work.

7. Hesitant to Plan Important Features

Every product has some key features that demand time and effort from the team. However, developing such features also brings fear of failure to the team. Therefore, it is seen that teams are often seen hesitant in accepting to work on important features because the members fear the hidden complications associated with them.

It is ok to be hesitant, but accepting to develop important features, in the beginning, has its benefits too. For example, if you show commitment to important features during early Sprints, you will have more time to complete them. You might fail to deliver them in 1-2 Sprints, but eventually, you will succeed. Afterward, you will have more time to enhance the quality and work on other features to elevate the overall capability of the product.

Wrapping Up – How to Make Sprint Planning Effective and Short?

As narrated above, Sprint Planning is a crucial part of Scrum-based product development. Without effective Sprint Planning, the Sprint cannot deliver the expected quality deliveries, while the productivity of the team also remains a concern. Therefore, an effective and short Sprint Planning session is a key to enhancing the team outcome and main objectives of Sprint. From this perspective, the following are some of the practices that can make Sprint Planning effective and short:

  • Start the Sprint Planning session with a clear narration of the Sprint goal.
  • The Product Owner should come up with the planned backlog items that are meant to be focused on in this Sprint.
  • Team members should be encouraged to take as much time as they need to understand and discuss tasks before committing to them. In fact, the team can even use Planning Poker or Async Poker estimation techniques to set better team estimates of the tasks.
  • The Sprint approach should be flexible so that the members can plan the tasks as per their understanding. However, all the efforts should still target to accomplish the Sprint goal.
  • The Sprint should be open to changes and Scrum Master and Product Owner should assist the development team as much as they could.
  • During a Sprint Planning meeting, the focus should be to clear the requirements with the team, instead of asking them to do thorough research and discussion that can go on for hours.
  • The focus should not be to make all team members busy, as it can lead to congestion.
  • Make it easy for the team to fail.

Other than the above-listed practices, the Scrum teams should also learn from their past mistakes and try to improve their Sprint Planning skills to make it short, effective, and efficient with every passing Sprint.

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