0515131837Sprint planning is an important step in the process of delivering work in efficient and effective manner.  Unfortunately sprint planning is not always done well. When it is not done well it can yield less than wonderful results.  Four common problems are:

  1. Planning sessions are tedious.  Planning sessions where the team is struggling to understand the unit of work either due to lack of knowledge (including lack of acceptance criteria) tend to take forever . . . and ever . . . and ever.  Trying to develop the perfect plan and estimate will generally cause the same time dilation effect. Effective and efficient planning sessions are the outcome of units of work being groomed and prioritized and being understood or quickly explainable by the team. It is also important that the process is paced correctly and time boxed, which is the responsibility of the Scrum Master.  The session can always end early if you are done.
  2. Only part of the team participates in planning. As mentioned before, sprint planning is a team event – a whole team event. Letting individuals plan their own activities, breaking into subgroups and then planning, letting remote team members not participate or any combination of the later is a problem. Any of those scenarios will have negative consequences for the team, ranging from knowledge hoarding and holding onto specialties, to lack of esprit de corps. This “this is mine and that is yours” mindset for units of work will end in planning gaps.  Scrum Masters or coaches need to exert all of their influence to ensure the team plans as a team, and in a broader sense, that the team gels so that it does not act like a group of individuals.
  3. Planning sessions lose focus. I recently observed a sprint planning session that veered off track as team members began debating the merits of using Salesforce.com as platform versus another cloud provider. It was fun, BUT not relevant. Teams lose focus because of a lack of preparation.  A backlog that is not prioritized or groomed or a sprint without a goal can let the attention of the team wander.
  4. Roosters in the hen house! Roosters are outsiders that participate in sprint planning and provide unwanted, unneeded and distracting advice to the team.  Sprint planning is a team activity. Planning should represent the needs of the product owner and the skills and capabilities of the team.  Teams that are brow beaten by outsiders into taking more work than they can accomplish or into doing work that does not represent the needs of the product owner will lead to ineffective planning session due to lack of team knowledge or worse, a lack of motivation.

When team members begin to look forward to sprint planning with as much anticipation as a root canal, something has gone wrong.  One of the most serious and easily fixed problems is lack of preparation. Lack of preparation has many consequences, none of which are good.  The hardest issue to deal with is the presence of ‘roosters’ in sprint planning, usually because the ‘rooster’ often has enough positional power to make it difficult to run them off.  The Scrum Master needs to shoulder the responsibility for helping the team to recognize and rectify all of these potential problems.  Scrum Masters and coaches of the world facilitate the process, make sure the team you belong to is prepared, stays focused and if absolutely necessary, meets in an undisclosed location.