I’ve spoken to a number of people recently who have been struggling in their Scrum teams, specifically with planning sessions feeling ineffective and taking up too much of the team’s time.
When planning sessions take too long, there are a few common causes that I have come across, but at the top of the list is that the Sprint Review isn’t covering everything that it should. I’d estimate that around 80-90% of the Scrum teams I come into contact with call the Sprint Review a “demo” which is usually reflective of what their Reviews consist of and where the focus of this session lies.
My own team was struggling with this element until fairly recently, so I have experienced first hand the impact that ineffective Sprint Reviews can have on Sprint Planning.
The Sprint Review is explained fully on page 11 of the Scrum Guide if you wish to re-familiarise yourself fully, but it is specifically this action that I find is typically forgotten:
“The entire group collaborates on what to do next.”
“The result of the Sprint Review is a revised Product Backlog that defines the probable Product Backlog items for the next Sprint. The Product Backlog may also be adjusted overall to meet new opportunities.”
If the Scrum Team and stakeholders aren’t reviewing and revising the product backlog as part of the Sprint Review there is a high probability that the team are entering Sprint Planning without a clear understanding of the Product Backlog Items that are likely to be included in the Sprint. This means that they are coming across the items for the first time when they should be firming up their understanding enough that they can assert with relative confidence the effort and time required to complete the item. Instead, they are wrapping their head around the high level concept before hurriedly making a sizing decision.
Of course, the team should be aware of the backlog prior to the Sprint Review, but teams that aren’t perform the appropriate actions are in all likelihood also not performing adequate Backlog Refinement.
This may mean that you need to make your Sprint Review slightly longer, but the additional focus in this area may well be all that the team requires. Chances are though, that the improvements your planning sessions (and consequently the entire Sprint) will be worth a little bit more time in the Review — remember, transparency and understanding are fundamental parts to your team’s success so don’t be afraid to invest time improving them!