When You Miss the Point of Sprint Planning Meetings

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In a recent interview for an upcoming agile book by Sondra Ashmore and Kristin Runyan, they asked me questions regarding several areas of agile development and Scrum. In the last two posts, I explored questions about the product backlog and estimating. This time, I’d like to share my thoughts on sprint planning meetings and the following question:

What are the most common mistakes in a sprint planning meeting?

Undoubtedly, the most common mistake in sprint planning is misunderstanding the purpose of the meeting. There should be two things that come out of a sprint planning meeting:

  1. A sprint goal
  2. A sprint backlog

Because one of the artifacts of sprint planning is a sprint backlog, many teams obsess over getting the sprint backlog perfect. These teams try to identify every last task and put a perfectly precise estimate on each task.









Teams typically do this as a result of pressure from management, especially if they are new to Scrum. They want to perfectly estimate each task because they want to be able to get an accurate estimate to management.

But that's not the goal of the sprint backlog in sprint planning meetings. The goal of sprint planning is to select the right set of product backlog items to work on during the sprint, and to feel that each has been discussed enough that the team is prepared to work on it.

Focusing too much on the tasks and their estimates leads teams to spend too much time in sprint planning. So it’s the ScrumMaster’s role to ensure the sprint planning meeting doesn’t get too far off track from its original purpose. While the tasks and the estimates are necessary in order for the team to understand what it’s committing to, they are tools a team should use to decide which is the right set of product backlog items to select for a sprint.

A Free PDF to Help You Choose the Approach

A Free PDF to Help You Choose the Approach

I’ve created a PDF you can download that will help you decide which approach is best for any story you’re adding detail to. It also includes examples of the two approaches.

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Mike Cohn

About the Author

Mike Cohn specializes in helping companies adopt and improve their use of agile processes and techniques to build extremely high-performance teams. He is the author of User Stories Applied for Agile Software Development, Agile Estimating and Planning, and Succeeding with Agile as well as the Better User Stories video course. Mike is a founding member of the Agile Alliance and Scrum Alliance and can be reached at hello@mountaingoatsoftware.com. If you want to succeed with agile, you can also have Mike email you a short tip each week.

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