Why don’t teams plan out the scope of sprints well in advance of Sprint Planning?

The Agile Approach: Deconstructing the Mysteries of Sprint Planning

Hello there, I’m John McFayden, an Agile Coach at Agile Centre UK, and today, I’d like to explore a perplexing question that often baffles many – both Agile novices and seasoned Scrum practitioners.

“Why don’t Scrum teams plan out the contents of their Sprints well in advance?”

It’s a question that has been often asked in the Agile realm, yet it can sometimes be lost in ambiguity. In this piece, I’ll shed some light on this subject surrounding Sprint planning.

But, before we dive into the world of Agile methodologies and unravel this conundrum together, let’s take a closer look at some of the benefits of teams planning out their scope of sprints in advance.

  • Improved Predictability: A clear roadmap streamlines the Agile process.
  • Enhanced Efficiency: Early planning reduces bottlenecks in Sprint execution.
  • Effective Stakeholder Communication: Sets clear expectations and promotes understanding of the Scrum process.
  • Learning Environment: Reflecting on past sprints reinforces Agile Principles of continuous improvement.
  • Proactive Risk Management: Anticipating challenges aligns with the adaptive nature of Agile development.

Sprint Planning Paradox

As an Agile Coach, I’m often asked about the rationale behind Scrum team behaviours, including sprint planning. Questions often centre on the logic behind not planning the scope of Sprints in advance. It delves into Agile development principles and the benefits of flexibility and adaptability. Understanding these concepts unlocks the transformative power of Scrum and Agile practices in project management and product development.

Flexibility Over Foresight

If you were to ask a team to predict their capacity, they might look at their backlog and declare confidently, “We can do 40 points. That’s a Sprint!”

On the surface, this might make sense. However, it’s essential to remember why we adopted the Agile approach in the first place: the ever-changing, volatile nature of our work.

Change, as they say, is the only constant.

Intention vs Commitment

When teams decide the scope of their Sprints well before Sprint planning, they’re essentially projecting their intentions to everyone else. In some organisational cultures, this might be okay, as it’s considered just an intention and not an explicit commitment. However, in many others, it becomes an irrevocable commitment, reducing the team’s flexibility and contradicting the very problem Agile tries to solve.

Rethinking Sprint Planning

Is this the best use of our time today?

Here’s the issue when this question arises. Going into a Sprint planning meeting with all decisions already made means we haven’t genuinely evaluated if the planned tasks are the most valuable for us to undertake now.

The question that should guide our Sprint planning should be, “Is this what the customer needs now – today – now, given all that we’ve learned through our last Sprint review and retrospective?

Remember, in the Agile world, we risk ignoring this learning by setting our sights too early.

Avoiding the Comfort of Traditional Processes

You see, when we start planning ahead too rigidly, we unknowingly slide back into the comfort zone of traditional processes. Suddenly, we’re mapping out the next three months, fixing our plans, and dismissing all the benefits of adapting and learning. As a result, we lose the ability to change our minds based on fresh insights and knowledge.

Staying Agile: Embrace Uncertainty, Harness Learning

So, my advice in a sentence is, ‘Embrace uncertainty and harness learning along the way.’

Have a broad idea of what’s coming up in the next Sprint. Understand it’s the order of the backlog and part of refinement. But, remember, it’s a ‘likely’ plan, not a definite one.

Enter your Sprint planning with the readiness to change your mind, discover new ways of solving problems, and make the most of the ‘now’. This is what the sphere of Agile and Scrum mastery is all about.

In doing this, we ensure that we’re working on the most important things at any given time and satisfying the need as we see it today – not as we saw it yesterday or a month ago.

To summarise, here are some points to bear in mind:

  • Embrace the core Agile philosophy of flexibility and adaptability.
  • Understand the difference between signalling intention and committing.
  • Ask if the planned tasks are the most valuable for us to undertake “today.”
  • Avoid the comfort zone of traditional processes and fixed plans.
  • Enter Sprint planning with an open mind, ready to change based on fresh insights.

As we wrap up this exploration of Agile’s approach to Sprint planning, I invite you to immerse yourself deeper into the world of Agile and Scrum development.

Don’t let Agile principles’ uncertainties deter you from utilising their true potential.

At Agile Centre UK, we offer comprehensive courses that shed light on these principles and help you apply them to optimise your team’s Sprint planning process.

Equip yourself with the necessary skills to navigate the Agile terrain. Join us today and embrace the journey of transformation that Agile promises.

Let’s build more adaptive, efficient, and successful teams together. Sign up now for our courses and empower your team to excel in Agile development.

author avatar
John McFadyen Managing Partner
John McFadyen is an Executive and Enterprise Agile Coach with proven experience working on some of the UK and Europe’s largest, most complex Agile Transformations. As a Certified Scrum Trainer, John brings a wealth of experience as an Agile coach, Agile practitioner and software developer into each of the four core courses he provides. The war stories, the insights into successful Agile transformations and everything he has learned from coaching high-performance Agile teams combine to provide course delegates with a unique, compelling training experience that transforms as much as it empowers.

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