HomeAgileHow to facilitate an efficient Sprint planning

How to facilitate an efficient Sprint planning

My experience with Sprint Plannings

I believe that anyone can facilitate a sprint planning session, but doing it efficiently takes some experience and more importantly – upfront preparation.

For years I have facilitated planning sessions on a weekly basis with various different tech teams starting from web development, native app development, SRE engineers, and even UX designers that had ambitious goals that had to be achieved in very limited timeframes.

I will be honest with you, I’ve had great planning sessions and I had terrible ones… I’ve had sessions where we leave the room (or hangout) with a sense of achievement and a commitment and I’ve had sessions that felt like torture for me and for my team.

The thing that drastically improved the quality of my sprint plannings was a simple, organically developed checklist that I’ve created over time and now keep at the back of my head! I go over it when preparing for new planning sessions.

So why not put this down on a paper (or a blog) and share the insights I’ve acquired and the learnings I’ve made…

I broke it down into 6 steps/topics I would like to cover and elaborate on, hopefully making your next sprint planning session even more efficient:

  1. Practice refinement sessions
  2. Prepare your backlog
  3. Develop a velocity metric
  4. Prepare your issue tracking tool
  5. Facilitate the sprint planning meeting
  6. Follow up after the session

Now lets take a look at each step individually.

Keep your refinement and planning sessions separate

I’ve added this as point number one because this makes the biggest difference for me in the overall quality of the planning sessions.

Don’t want to repeat myself, but I strongly support the idea of splitting refinement session and sprint planning sessions.

You may ask why, and to give you a short answer – I am a strong believer in setting achievable goals for each meeting I and my team attends.

If I would have to put the goals of each meeting on a paper, they would sound something like this:

  • Sprint planning – Based on the latest priorities plan the work for your next iteration and align your team’s objectives with the product / company objectives
  • Sprint refinement – Refine a specific user story, estimate it, discuss a solution, and split it into deliverable and independent chunks

Now for me, these goals seem quite different, therefore approaches I will use and preparations I will take to achieve the meeting goals will be different. This is why I am a supporter of separate planning and refinement sessions.

Prepare your backlog

The backlog is your team’s development item repository, a priority indicator, as well as the primary reference of the work that’s In Progress or yet, has to be done.

That’s some important stuff… Right? Keep your backlog updated! This will ensure the above-mentioned items are correctly communicated throughout different levels in your team and company.

What an up to date backlog looks like will vary by team, company, or the tech stack you are working with, but some of the general guidelines of an up to date backlog would be:

  • The backlog is prioritized (items at the top are of a higher priority than items at the bottom)
  • Items for the next iterations are the right size (they can be done in a single iteration)
  • Requirements are clear for the items that will be taken in the next iterations
  • Upcoming items are estimated using the metric of your choice

Measure your teams delivery using a clear and understandable velocity metric

This might be challenging at first, but I consider this as one of the cornerstones of any project management framework. Measured velocity can answer a thousand questions and the answers can be fact not feeling / experience based.

Agile Velocity metrics might differ and I’ve seen some teams go crazy with this. I’ve heard of a cookie velocity… But in my experience, I’ve always used a Story Point with agile frameworks.

You too can go crazy and use whatever you like as long as the velocity metric is:

  1. Easily understandable
  2. Represents a unit of value, not a unit of effort
  3. Explainable to news members
  4. Can be used in calculations and visualizations like Burnup charts
  5. Can be appropriately used to represent the deliverable scope

What saves you and your team some of the precious time is the knowledge of achievable/deliverable task threshold.

Your team might go in the sprint planning knowing the priorities, but not knowing the exact user story’s or tasks that will be done in the next sprint.

What they will know however is that historically during each iteration on average they achieved “x” velocity, therefore next iteration targets should be similar.

This allows you to be very efficient in discussing how much realistically you can achieve in a single iteration.

Prepare your issue tracking tool

Now, most likely you are using an issue tracking tool. Whether that’s Jira, Monday, Asana, or other, it’s completely up to you or the company you work for!

What is important, that in most cases the iteration / sprint can be managed in your tracking tool, and that means that there are some preparations that can be done upfront.

No one wants to sit in a meeting looking at how the facilitator opens a new sprint, renames it, moves items around as per the latest priorities, etc. There are things that can be done upfront, making your session even more efficient.

It just so happen that in the current company I am using Jira, mostly with the next-gen project. That means that these are the things I can do prior to the sprint planning:

  • Opening a blank sprint, that will be used to move all unfinished tickets from the current one
  • Naming and setting goals for the upcoming sprint
  • Based on the gathered velocity and known priorities, already start shaping the next sprint and figure out a threshold of tasks you want to reach
  • Flag any items that require extra attention, go through the stories, and comments. Make sure there are no open questions, and if there are. Make sure to bring these up

Figure out the actions and level of preparations that you can do upfront! These couple of minutes you will be saving can make a big difference and make the planning meeting feel that much efficient. Especially for your team…

Facilitate your planning meeting

Now the time has finally come to facilitate the sprint planning session! All this preparation you have done will now be put to test in the next 20 – 30 minutes, so it’s important you execute well!

Get there 5 – 10 minutes before the team, prepare your computer and browser windows, make sure connections with meeting room tv work fine, check your WiFi connection.

Before that, there are always steps in booking the planning, but I am sure these will be covered pretty well in most cases:

  • Make sure the calendar invites are sent and are up to date and people that have to participate in the planning are invited
  • If it’s an online meeting, make sure the calendar invite has a link to hangout or other video conference tool
  • If it’s an on-premise meeting, make sure to reserve the meeting room and prepare the board

What’s Next?

Think of a creative way how you can bring some insights and valuable information to the team.

I find that doing a “What’s new in the company”, “Our latest product launches”, or “Update on Company Goals” is a great kick-off for the sprint planning meeting as often your delivery can be tied to a grand company goal or a vision, making it even more valuable in the eyes of the team.

Additionally, the fact that you have the team (PO and the developers), domain or technology experts, as well as business specialists in the room, makes this quick exercise a great ice breaker as often the development team’s communication with the external resources is quite limited.

Now, this is not something I would recommend doing until you are confident in your sprint plannings!

First master the craft of planning your iteration and only then start thinking about addons.

Complete Sprint Planning Checklist

Here is a summary of all steps mentioned, presented in the format of a checklist. Feel free to use it to validate how well have you prepared for the sprint planning session

  • Items that have to be taken in the next sprint are refined:
    • Expected outcomes are defined and clear for the team
    • Items are independent and testable
    • Items are Estimated
    • Items are small enough to be delivered in a single iteration
  • The backlog is prepared and prioritized
    • Items at the top represent the highest priority, the ones at the bottom represents the lowest
  • Velocity is clear:
    • Average iteration velocity is calculated and clear for the team
    • You’ve already validated the current sprint velocity for any anomalies
    • You’ve considered factors that will impact next sprint velocity (holidays, overheads, sick leaves, etc.)
    • You’ve set a personal velocity goal for the next iteration
  • The issue Tracking tool is prepared
    • The team has updated the issue tracking tool and it represents the actual progress
    • The next sprint is opened, some of the high priority stories are added (do not start it yet…)
  • You are ready to facilitate the meeting
    • Calendar invites are sent
    • Meeting rooms or online collaboration tool invites are sent
    • You are ready to share your screen
    • There are no connection issues (With the meeting room TV, issues with WiFi, etc.)

Hope this will help you to consistently facilitate efficient and overall pleasant sprint planning sessions!



Subscribe to our newsletter!

To keep up to date with all the latest articles, ideas and tips for boosting your team's productivity