What is sprint planning really for?

Planning is something you think you’ll move away from when you start Scrum, but there is no escape, you still have to do it, its just less painful and more accurate. But what do we really get out of it?

Estimates: By estimating in points and applying a velocity we can get a reasonably accurate idea of how long something will really take. Over the last few years our estimates appear to have been more often than not bang on the money. It’s still comes as a bit of a shock to me after years of missing targets. Estimates don’t get work done but they do help product owners prioritize what gets done.

Elaboration: Forcing us to estimate requires some clarification on what really needs to be done. Stories at this stage can be a bit vague so we need to start considering what this will really entail. We drill the business owner and that at least gets them thinking. The key to this is knowing when to stop, you don’t want a waterfall type spec just the beginnings of a conversation

Collaboration: Since the whole team commits to an estimate, the whole team needs to think about it. With planning poker when one estimate differs wildly from the others it is usually indicates the others are missing a major piece of the puzzle. It’s a chance for the whole team to put forward their ideas and gives us some indication of who might want to pick up the story. Done well this collaboration helps bond the team.

The key to successful sprint planning is not to take it too seriously, it’s a time for the team to share ideas, the output, estimates, have a limited value so enjoy and get the most out of the process you can. A painful planning session doesn’t bode well for a successful sprint. A positive one benefits everyone.

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