Scrum Rules: The Sprint Planning Meeting Is Time-Boxed

June 3, 2020
6 minute read

Time-boxing is the practice of ending a meeting exactly on time regardless of the state of discussion or the desire of participants. In Scrum, the length of the Sprint Planning Meeting is determined by the length of the Sprint. For example, a one week long Sprint has a Sprint Planning Meeting that is time-boxed to two hours. It is acceptable for the meeting to take less time, but not more. A two week long Sprint has a Sprint Planning Meeting that is time-boxed to four hours. Keeping the Sprint Planning Meeting time-boxed has two beneficial effects: one, the team keeps the overhead dedicated to meetings to a relatively low level, and two, the team learns to do effective planning in a very short period of time.

Until a team learns how to plan in brief and purposeful meetings, they may be prone to excessive pre-planning and will extend their planning activities until all participants feel that an appropriate level of detail is achieved. That habit substantially eats into work time and rarely improves the team’s ability to perform the actual work of their Sprint. Design and implementation decisions are best informed by direct observation of the product in the hands of real users rather than by imaginary/conjectural models or technical/research bias. Strictly time-boxing the event (ensuring that planning discussions do not carry on longer than intended) reduces the risk of making design and implementation decisions based on conjecture.

Sprint Planning meetings, at a high level, are an opportunity for the Scrum Team to consider two questions: what shall be done in the Sprint and how might that goal be achieved?

Tactically, the Sprint Planning meeting involves careful consideration for the topmost items in the Product Backlog, dialogue regarding implementation and design of those items, as well as actionable improvements discussed during Sprint Retrospectives. It is common that a Scrum Team will perform Product Backlog refinement activities during Sprint Planning such as sizing and splitting of PBIs, or prototyping and research regarding functionality expressed by the topmost PBIs, and the scheduling of meetings to ensure appropriate stakeholders, users, and customers are available throughout the Sprint when the team requires their input. In addition to those preparatory activities, the Scrum Team may decompose their Sprint Goal into tasks which are represented on a physical, visible task wall. The task wall represents the Sprint Goal at a granular/tactical level and may be used by the Scrum Team to reflect their activities.

The Scrum Master must help the team follow the time-boxes. There are several ways that the Scrum Master can do this.

  1. The Scrum Master must be hyper-aware of time and have facilitation skills to ensure the time-box is followed. The Scrum Master should use a countdown timer during the meetings and regularly remind the meeting participants of the amount of time remaining for the meeting.
  2. The Scrum Master must prepare for these meetings by reminding everyone about the meeting before it starts, by ensuring that all the necessary materials are ready (e.g. note cards, paper, and whiteboards for diagramming and sketching or appropriate virtual tools like Miro, Mural or Nureva Span), and by reminding participants of the intended purpose of each event.
  3. For the Sprint Planning meeting, in particular, the Scrum Master needs to ensure that the team’s Product Backlog is visible and editable by all Team Members. A physical Product Backlog comprised of note cards is strongly recommended – but if the team has chosen a digital tool then a Scrum Master should evaluate the tool with consideration for these 12 essential features.
  4. The Scrum Master should strongly discourage late arrivals to these meetings. Late arrivals often result in re-hashing topics which have already been covered, and waste time.
  5. The Sprint Planning meetings should occur physically in the team’s space so that all tools, materials, documents, and charts are near at hand. This proximity and convenience of information will ensure that the meeting flows smoothly and with minimal interruption.
  6. And the Scrum Master may have to use aggressive facilitation with individuals who cause meetings to go past their time limit. Individuals who habitually arrive late, dominate discussion, or insist on arguing points that the rest of the team has moved past should be advised in no uncertain terms that such behaviour is damaging the team’s ability to work effectively.

Sprint Planning is time-boxed to a maximum of eight hours for a one-month Sprint. For shorter Sprints, the event is usually shorter. — The Scrum Guide

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Equitable Life of Canada
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