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How to Determine the Ideal Sprint Length in Scrum?

How To Determine The Ideal Sprint Length In Scrum 1, Project Management Blog
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Sprints are the soul of Scrum methodology within agile project management. The whole concept revolves around the fact that risks are minimized, requirements are filtered and clarified, product roadmap shaped, and business-driving outcomes are delivered at the end of each sprint.

In other terms, a product increment helps perform specific and desired business functions.

However, Scrum Masters, Product Owners, Stakeholders, and Scrum Teams always have a challenge in defining the ideal sprint length.

Scrum guidelines state that Sprint lengths shouldn’t exceed 4 weeks and it is ideal to have 2-week sprints.

Now, to understand why exactly sprints should be within 2-4 weeks maximum, let us look at the basic approach behind the scrum project management approach.

Contents

Understanding Agile Scrum

Understanding Agile Scrum with Orangescrum

Get More Done With Orangescrum, Project Management Blog

 

Development teams globally have been practicing incremental product releases for over a decade now and more vigorously in the last few years.

The reason is, it offers a holistic view of the product roadmap and the journey ahead.

From a strategic and business standpoint – stakeholders have frequent and inexpensive opportunities to improvise the product before committing significant resources (time, budget, and teams).

So, considering you ran a 2-week sprint and the outcomes weren’t as expected or don’t prove to be business worthy, your cost exposure is of just those 2 weeks.

But, any such decision can only be taken at a very later stage in the waterfall model which makes adaptability a huge challenge, and course correction is too time and cost-intensive.

On the other hand, agile scrum project management is all about adaptability.

I would go as far as to state that agile offers adaptability at all levels of the organization.

  • Stakeholder
  • Business strategy
  • Product roadmap or vision
  • Development team (read execution)

In simple terms, whether it is about initiating, planning, executing, or monitoring. You have ample scope for improvisation and course correction just at the right time with minimum risks and cost exposure.

And primarily the reason why agile project management is the default preferred methodology of the marketing, product, engineering, and development teams.

What is Sprint and Sprint Length?

Scrum deploys some of the most mature time-tested guidelines. And one of them is time-boxing your development cycle.

Enters, Sprint!

As it suggests, Sprint is about getting things done swiftly within a short period of time.

The whole concept of the sprint is to identify User stories that the scrum team would work on and complete within a specific sprint duration. Typically known as the sprint length.

We all know that Sprints can be 1, 2, 3, or 4 weeks long at the max. Anything beyond 4 weeks is never agile scrum project management.

Sprint Elements, Project Management Blog

(Image Source: https://www.visual-paradigm.com/scrum/what-is-scrum/)

Sprint Length

Sprint length is the defined interval within which the team delivers an incremental workable solution that meets the definition of done and therefore acceptable to the customer. In a developer’s words – “ready to ship or release to the customer”.

Shorter Sprints

The shorter the sprint the more agile is the workflow. There are multiple benefits to a shorter sprint length i.e. two-week sprint. These benefits increase if the sprint length is reduced to a one-week sprint. In many organizations, a one-week sprint is recommended as the ideal sprint length.

Top Benefits of a Shorter Sprint Length

  • There are fewer interruptions as team members are less likely to get any workload because the next sprint is close which suggests that the ‘urgent’ work is done in a timely fashion.
  • There is little multitasking involved and fewer tasks in WIP status because there are little to few tasks left when working on a one-week sprint.
  • The task duration and task estimates are more accurate as there are few mid-sprint surprises for the team to work on.

Disadvantages of a Shorter Sprint Length

  • The team will have more frequent sprint planning meetings.
  • Team leaders and developers have to be a bit more ‘on top of things to manage any variations of tasks and task estimates.
  • Short sprints can be difficult to maintain in the long run.

Longer Sprints

A sprint cycle longer than 4 weeks is technically not a sprint. There are many reasons why teams would sometimes opt for a longer sprint duration usually because some of the team members may not have matured in their agile adoption.

Below mentioned are a few reasons why some team members could have longer sprints:

  • Lack of experience in story writing, estimation, and sizing.
  • Difficulty communicating between distributed teams.
  • The inexperience in test-driven development and other relevant engineering practices.
  • Teams who conduct sprints as mini-waterfall projects.
  • Lack of prioritization due to inexperienced product owners.
  • Product owners tamper with the sprint backlog during an ongoing sprint.

Disadvantages of Longer Sprints

  • Reduced feedback
  • Difficulty in responding to change
  • Stakeholders need faster product development
  • Task bottlenecks that buildup at the end of the sprint

How Long Should A Sprint Last Infographic, Project Management Blog

(Image source: https://bigpicture.one/agile-sprint-length/)

Why So Much Confusion Around the “right sprint length”?

There has been a lot of furor on adopting the right sprint length. And there are no perfect answers.

As with all things, working with what works best for the project or the scrum team should be accounted for to define the sprint length.

The project complexity, agile maturity of the team, company, and stakeholders as well as customer priorities play a role in defining the sprint length.

Smart and mature scrum teams always go after the 2-week Sprint Length.

It is considered to be the ideal sprint length!

But then, you should identify what works best for the team. 4 or more 4 weeks for one sprint is never advisable.

Remember the main objective behind adopting the agile scrum project management:

  • Minimizing risk
  • Greater stakeholder engagement
  • Clarity around the definition of done or acceptance criteria
  • Reducing efforts and cost exposure
  • Polishing the product roadmap
  • Identifying the root cause of issues promptly that delay or lead to product/project failure

All of the above 6 points have strategic and tactical benefits associated and confirm why you should have 2-3 weeks as your sprint length at all times.

  • 2-week cycles create and maintain a sense of urgency within the scrum team.
  • Backlog refinement improves to ensure stories are broken down enough to be covered within 2 weeks.
  • Clarity of the product backlog ensures robust sprint planning thus pre-emptively addressing facts that might cause delay or derail the product itself.
  • Well-engaged between Customer and product owners
  • Customer feedback and reviews are promptly leading to all-around clarity of the product vision.
  • Scrum Teams gain a better understanding of the user stories and customer requirements.
  • If sprint lengths are of 4 weeks then the chances of the teams losing focus or wandering away is higher.
  • Issues may be skirted to not address until absolutely required which is the exact opposite of agile scrum.
  • Also if you vary the sprint length with every other sprint, then the team isn’t disciplined or self-organized enough.
  • Random occurrences are ok, but ideally, your Sprint Length must remain the same.
  • Sprint review and retrospectives are far more meaningful when you have 2-week sprints.
  • Shorter sprints help to prevent the scope creep
  • The Scrum team’s performance becomes consistent with a predictable sprint velocity which sets the tone for the project end date.
  • Only improved certainty project’s completion on time and with quality

Top Scrum Events in Each Sprint

Sprint Planning –

Sprint planning is the event that kickstarts the sprint. This is where product owners and developers discuss which product backlog items will be included in the Sprint.

Although the product owner prioritizes the backlogs the developers are encouraged to raise issues and provide suggestions where necessary. The developers then forecast how many PBIs or product backlogs they can deliver in the given sprint.

The ideal goal of sprint planning is to set the sprint goal and sprint backlogs that are realistic and achievable. Learn to effectively plan your sprint using industry best practices.

Daily Scrum –

Daily scrum meeting is conducted every day before commencing work on the backlogs. The goal is to discuss the various aspects of the project tasks such as the tasks completed the day before and the tasks to be done on that day and the tasks to be performed the following day.

Many teams call it the stand-up meeting where the team members keep the event short and to the point. It helps the team members assess the progress of the sprint and drives them to achieve the sprint goal.

Sprint Review –

Sprint review usually takes place at the end of the sprint which allows the scrum team the opportunity to give a demo of the product developed in that sprint. Sprint review involves team members, product owners, and other product managers who are relevant to the project.

Sprint Retrospective –

Sprint retrospective is the final event after the product is developed. Here the Scrum Team reviews the issues faced in the product development process, which helps them improve future sprints.

The whole scrum team along with project leaders, and managers take part in the sprint retrospective to identify, discuss and plan better ways to improve their future sprints.

The Five Scrum Events, Project Management Blog

(Image source: https://turboscrum.com/unlock-the-power-in-the-five-scrum-events/)

Concluding Words

Defining the sprint length is entirely the team’s prerogative. But 2 important scrum project management guidelines must be followed

  • Never change an active sprint
  • Follow a fixed sprint length

Why are these guidelines crucial to having a mature agile project management practice?

  1. Have a highly self-organized team.
  2. Reduced Uncertainties.

Orangescrum provides you the tools to manage your sprint effectively. It lets your team carry out sprint activities with ease and efficiency. Learn how Orangescrum can transform your agile team to make each sprint cycle more productive.

 

We do not live in a perfect world. Product features will be considered a tech debt tomorrow.

Plus there is the universal scenario of requirements not being clear.

And lastly, competition and business priorities must be taken into consideration too.

It may seem like agile is kind of rationing your project execution. Practically, it ensures greater control of the project at multi-levels. Customers, scrum masters, and scrum teams they all know

  • What should be done
  • Why and how
  • When

Thus, you minimize friction and collaborate seamlessly toward a common goal.

Adaptability becomes easier across the board leading to faster agile maturity of your organization!

How agile are your teams today? Start today, with Orangescrum an all-in-one agile project management tool that allows you to

  • Plan your agile projects
  • Create, manage, and prioritize your backlog
  • Run parallel sprints
  • Measure team velocity
  • Monitor sprint progress with burndown and sprint reports

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