Working in sprints is part of the agile project management methodology. Basically, sprints introduce a way to organize your workload into smaller packages. In other words, instead of having a never-ending list of to-dos directly in your workflow, you have a backlog of tasks, and then the organized sprints with a defined sprint length.
The sprint length is a set period of time, often 14 days, in which the selected tasks have to be implemented. If anything is blocking a task from progressing, and you reach the end of the sprint, the task will either go back into the backlog or move on to the next sprint.
Benefits of working in sprints
Working with sprints is great if you manage more complex projects, and projects that are prone to experience changing demand and requirements over time. It adds an extra level between your Statement of Work (SOW) and the actual implementation. Smaller work chunks mean that it is easier to make changes along the way if anything goes wrong, or if something seems off from the demand of the end customer.
Some examples of companies that can highly benefit from running sprints are, e.g. software development companies, digital agencies, hardware design, and in general product groups that are under continuous development with new trends and needs coming from the customers. But why structuring work in sprints actually helps them get more done?
“It’s not just about speed,” writes John Zeratsky, the best-selling author of Sprint and Make Time. “It’s also about momentum, focus, and confidence.” The companies who use sprints, in Zeratsky’s opinion, see consistent results from the process. Here are some reasons why it happens:
Sprints pull teams from abstract to concrete thinking. Running a sprint on a particular question means breaking the work down to the smallest pieces, which in turn allows you to think about the issue in a more tangible way.
Sprints prompt teams to focus on what’s important. Starting the next sprint is all about building a shared understanding of the challenge. After everyone knows what to work on, teams become laser-focused and spend their time on the right things.
Sprints sharpen the decision-making process. Transparency at all levels is another thing sprints promote in the workplace. As teams start to participate in the decision-making process, they understand how choices are made and where key decisions are coming from.
Sprints incite faster follow-ups. Considering that teams have a fixed time frame to solve the problem, they’ll have to collaborate closely to get work done. Sprints will move everyone away from wandering in thoughts to doing things.
Tim Casasola, a Product Strategist at Sanctuary Computer and a former partner at The Ready, a consultancy that helps Fortune 500 organizations, elaborates on another benefit of working in sprints, saying that sprints help teams expend energy in a maximally effective way.
I think there is something to be said about expending energy in a way that is most effective. I agree that work isn’t about running as fast as you can, but sprints, to me at least, means channeling your energy in a way that is most productive for your work and your own well-being.
So we’ve explained the why, but what’s so specific about the sprint planning process? Usually, a sprint starts with a planning meeting and ends with a retrospective.
Planning the sprints is often done during the so-called sprint planning meeting. Sprint planning is a meeting that leads into the next iteration in a scrum process. The meeting usually takes place at the end of a sprint and should happen to prepare teams for their next sprint. A sprint planning meeting is basically focused on what needs to be done before the next sprint can start. The outcome of the meeting is a sprint backlog, which is used to create an action plan for the product owner.
This meeting is often held in cooperation with the client, or directly with the consumer in mind. The previous sprint is reviewed, tasks are prioritized and then added to the next sprint. Collaborating with the client and consumer during sprint planning ensures that you create the greatest possible value for the end-user while avoiding the risk of missing the actual demand or desire. Download our ebook to have more hits than misses when planning your next sprint:
The actual sprint planning is important because it allows you and your team members to discuss the progress of the project. You can make decisions based upon this, and re-prioritize tasks that may seem too time-intensive or difficult. Without this step, you are forced to rush through the steps of development.
At the end of each sprint, a working demonstration of the newly implemented features is presented to the Product Owner, and perhaps the rest of the team. During the meeting, the team compares the results to the commitment given at the beginning of the sprint. If everything seems to be alright, the sprint is completed.
It is not the official sign off, but it gives a clear picture of the progress made during that sprint. The Product Owner usually starts the meeting by explaining why some of the stories were not implemented or were partially completed. The next step is to show how well the team worked together in the last sprint.
After a couple of sprints or immediately after every sprint, depending on your desire and needs, most businesses will have a retrospective meeting. The retrospective is meant to look back on the previous sprints. What went well, what didn't go as planned, what could be changed to improve, any general questions, and how is the team environment functioning at the moment? Also, if any significant feedback or suggestions have been received this is shared with the team.
This is an opportunity for the development team to examine the completed work and establish a plan for improvement. It might seem like it's not really needed, but this meeting does play a crucial role in the life cycle of a development project. Sprint reviews are an opportunity to add more transparency to what was done during the sprint.
Want to learn more?
We hope this short introduction to sprints, within the Agile with Scrum methodology, has given you some insight and potentially some clearance of what to do. However, mastering sprints takes practice and patience with its concepts that build on top of each other. If you want to learn more, we also have our full guide, looking into applying Agile with Scrum in your project team: