Sprint planning is simple on paper, but gets more complicated in real life, especially when you’re not in the same room
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If you’ve worked in or close to teams building software, you’re already familiar with Sprint Planning meetings. Starting with the Scrum Methodology, the practice of planning out 1-2 weeks cycles or “sprints” of work is spreading to all types of teams. Once a sprint is done, it’s time to review what happened, reassess the priorities, and plan out the next sprint.
Typically a manager or a rotating team member will pull up the backlog in a tool like Jira, or Linear. Then they’ll screen share or pass off control for each engineer to screen share their tasks when it’s their turn. Everyone takes turns looking at the status of tickets they've been working on and committing to what they're going to pick up for the coming sprint.
Although Sprint Planning meetings have become standard practice, each team puts their own spin on it.
At first glance our sprint planning meetings at Switchboard look like they do anywhere else. Our typical agenda looks something like this:
So how can you get more done in the meeting itself?
We asked some of our team to share what they’ve observed at Switchboard versus at other companies.
Here’s a quick before and after snapshot:
Switchboard’s VP of Engineering, Engineering Leads, and Growth PM share a bit more about why Switchboard rocks for Sprint Planning.
Head of Engineering Benefits
Meet Daniel Shteremberg, VP Engineering who used to run our sprint planning meetings
Daniel: My favorite part about running sprint planning on Switchboard is that the agenda, multiple Linear instances, security issues dashboard, and action items are all in the room already.
Yes, you still need to prep for the meeting. But instead of pulling up tabs, and passing around screen share control, the prep is the valuable work of deciding what we should try to pull in.
The sprint planning sessions are naturally more collaborative here, too. It’s not one person carrying the whole meeting.
Usually one person primarily drives, but other team members seamlessly take control of different elements in the room. While the primary person keeps driving forward, someone else will help with creating a ticket, writing a comment, looking up an issue, etc, all within the same canvas. Everyone has full visibility into what’s going on. It happens right within the room, but it’s not distracting or derailing the meeting. Quick access to this information helps us make prioritization decisions on the spot.
The whole “Wait, let me just pause the meeting to go do this thing!” is just not something we have to do anymore.
Engineering Lead Benefits
Van: I always keep two browsers open in the room. One filtered to bugs and the other with any security related issues so they are front and center.
My list of things to ask about stays in the room too so I can add to it as questions pop up throughout the week.
Since the team is spread out I keep a browser open to Team Time Zone so we know where everyone is in their day.
I’m responsible for keeping my meetings on track, but I agree with Daniel, they feel like more of a team effort at Switchboard. People add what they need to the room to explain what’s in their way and can get themselves unblocked without stopping the flow of the meeting. Getting those quick things resolved means there’s fewer small and easily forgettable followup tasks coming out of the session.
Lordique: Using Switchboard for Sprint Planning also enables interesting cross-team collaboration between the meetings. There have been times where I update process-related items–like tweaking the agenda to add a section for reviewing security issues with SLAs–for both the platform and product sprint planning rooms, since they're both easily accessible/findable. It’s a small thing, but being able to update agendas in the context of the meeting room feels more intuitive than searching for it.
Product Manager Benefits
Meet Hudson Arnold, Product Lead - Growth (and newest member of the team!)
As a product manager at Optimizely & Dropbox before joining Switchboard, I've been through plenty of Sprint Planning meetings. My role in the meeting is to provide any missing context, help with any last minute prioritization decisions, and to confirm that I see who's working on what.
Sprint planning is simple on paper, but gets more complicated in real life.
Who's on call this week? Who's on PTO? Whose work is blocked, by what? Priorities shift in response to an upcoming release. Tickets aren’t well documented or a new team member isn’t following the right process.
In these situations, the team can get stuck and 'punt' on figuring out what they need to do outside the meeting. Work slows down, management may get nervous, and people get stressed.
Often the issue is simply that information isn't easily accessible in the meeting.
In Switchboard, the sprint planning room is already set up, so it's always ready for the next meeting. The 'invisible busy work' of getting all the right resources together, notes, tickets, and managing awkward screenshare transitions is just magically waved away.
The team sorts through challenges really quickly without disrupting the flow of a meeting. Dashboards, engineering tickets, project specs, and agendas are already in the room. Other tools like schedules and customer emails are added on the fly.
Last week we adjusted priorities mid-meeting and created a new label to flag changes needed heading into a marketing release. This was made possible because we had cross-tool visibility into what other teams needed.
Otherwise the team would have assigned someone to check with marketing after the meeting and kept on planning. Then they’d have to choose between missing the marketing deadline or re-planning the entire sprint.
Why we can’t imagine going back to sprint planning using just video conferencing
As a remote company building software in a quickly evolving space, effective Sprint Planning is key to keeping our teams aligned.
- Having key tools always ready saves prep time for the Leads.
- Everyone contributing during the meeting makes for faster decisions and less follow up.
- Keeping everything accessible throughout the week also makes it easier to reference later and add ideas anytime so nothing falls through the cracks.
We’re always looking to learn and improve. What are some of the best practices you’ve seen in sprint planning meetings? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org