Sunday, November 22, 2009

Planning Time and Sprint Duration

While having lunch with a friend of mine he mentioned that his team had frequently changing priorities and how the team tried having short (1 week) sprints to be able to adapt to business changes. He discussed how the team felt like the overhead of planning for a 1 week sprint was too high, so the team decided to abandon a sprint model. This conversation reminded me that this kind of question comes up a lot, especially with teams transitioning  to agile.

It makes a lot of sense to tune your sprint length to the rate at which requirements change and the rate at which the team can deliver functionality. Adding work as you go makes it difficult to make commitments and to measure progress, and new "high-priority" work can disrupt flow. If your sprints are 4 weeks long, then there is a greater temptation to add work mid-stream. If a sprint is 1 week long, then it's easier for a Product Owner to be comfortable slotting work into the next sprint.

A sprint isn't just the time spent coding. The planning and review are also important. So, what's a good ratio of planning to "coding" time in a short sprint? In a canonical 4 week sprint, such as described in Agile Project Management with Scrum the team spends 1 day on planning, and about 1 day on review and retrospective. This adds up to 2 days out of 20, or 10%. For a one week sprint, this same ratio gives us 1/2 day for review and planning.

Given the overhead of getting people together, and the dynamics of meetings, the calculation probably isn't linear. But I have worked on teams where we could do a reasonable job planning and reviewing in 1/2 day. This seems like reasonable overhead if:
  • The backlog is well defined by the product owners in advance of the planning meeting so that we can quickly estimate.  
  • Daily scrums start on time, stay focused, and fit within the time box that the team expects (typically 15 minutes)
  • The number of features is small enough that it is possible to have a focused review meeting in an hour or so, with 30 minutes allocated to "retrospective" discussions.
  • There is adequate interaction with a product owner during the sprint so that small issues can be resolved quickly and outside of the review.
This is my experience with planning for 1 week sprints. What are your experiences? How long do you spend in planning and reviewing? Is it enough? What are the prerequisites for an effective 1-week sprint? Please comment!

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