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How to run a sprint planning meeting: 13 steps for leaders and product managers
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How to run a sprint planning meeting: 13 steps for leaders and product managers

Discover all about how to lead a successful sprint planning meeting and get your teams and products aligned.

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Sprint planning comes in many forms—and for Agile advocates like Google, it often leads to innovative products and solutions. Take, for example, the Google Assistant. 

The development of Google Assistant involved a series of iterative sprints. Each sprint allowed the team to prototype features, test them with users, gather feedback, and refine the product. This process enabled rapid experimentation and learning, leading to the creation of a highly sophisticated AI assistant.

Google’s sprint planning process helped them prioritize features, manage tasks, and set realistic deadlines, ensuring that the team remained focused on delivering the most value to the users. Product teams at Google recognize the importance of having good meetings and keeping work moving between sessions. 

Sprint planning meetings are valuable to keep people aligned and productive, but you need to stay focused before, during, and after the meeting to keep projects moving forward. That’s why you need to know how to run stellar sprint planning meetings and build better products, fast.

In this article, you'll learn the steps to running effective sprint planning meetings, including what you can do before, during, and after the meeting. You'll also learn how Switchboard saves everyone time by letting you do more in and out of the sprint planning process. 

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What makes a successful sprint planning meeting? 

Successful sprint planning meetings set the tone and direction of the entire sprint. By the end of the sprint planning meeting, your team should commit to a sprint goal and the set of backlog items they believe they can deliver. This ensures that the workload is realistic and achievable and that everyone can work at a similar pace to keep the project on track. 

According to former product manager Matthew Goldman, managing member at Totavi, "The point of good planning is to identify what you can reasonably get done, not overstuff the sprint." 

We take a look at how you can do this, next. 

How to lead a strong sprint planning meeting

"The point of Agile is having a process and sticking to it almost as much as the process itself," says Goldman. This means, regardless if you're following Agile methodology by the book or adapting Agile principles to suit your company's needs, it's crucial to have a single process and fully commit to that version.

Here's what you need to do before, during, and after sprint planning to get more done in sprints and keep work moving forward.

Before the meeting

The scrum master, along with the product owner and the development team, have critical roles to play when preparing for the meeting. For example, everyone needs to have a clear understanding of what the team aims to achieve in the upcoming sprint. This includes both the overall goal of the sprint and specific objectives tied to product development. Here's how. 

Refine the product backlog 

The product owner should work with stakeholders to clarify any backlog requirements and ensure user stories are well understood. Then, they need to prioritize the backlog items based on their value to the business, the cost of delay, and dependencies among items. They do this by examining the backlog items to:

  • Identify and address dependencies
  • Create test cases
  • List acceptance criteria 
  • Provide descriptions

This makes sure the team has a clear understanding of the context for each item.

The product owner also needs to make sure that any items in the backlog that could be considered for the sprint (features, functionalities, bugs, feedback, etc.,) meet the team’s definition of "ready." 

Measure user stories

Once the product owner ensures user stories are well-defined and clear, the development team can estimate their effort and complexity. Teams can do this collectively using techniques such as “Planning Poker,” where all team members contribute their perspectives to reach a consensus on the effort required for each user story.

Remember: User stories should be the right size, not too big or too small: "It's better to under-commit than overcommit," says Goldman. 

Pro tip: Create a Switchboard room for Planning Poker and make it easy to vote on a user story or task. Simply upload your Planning Poker cards, which typically include a sequence of numbers that represent the complexity of tasks or story points. Then, have each estimator select a card representing their estimate of the effort required. Easily review, update, and prioritize user stories based on their value, urgency, and dependencies in an interactive canvas everyone can access—and lead more successful sprint planning meetings.

Measure the team's velocity 

The scrum master often takes the lead in tracking and calculating the team's velocity. They facilitate the process by collecting data on completed work from each sprint and making sure it's accurately recorded.

They use this historical data to make informed decisions about how much work the team can take on in the upcoming sprint, which helps when setting sprint goals and deadlines. 

Gauge team capacity 

Underestimating team capacity can be a big reason why sprints fail. To get a better understanding of what's possible in the upcoming sprint, the scrum master needs to consider all relevant factors, such as holidays, planned absences, and team members' individual capacities. 

The scrum master also plays a critical role in identifying and removing any obstacles that might affect the team’s capacity, making sure the team can focus on their commitments. 

Share the sprint planning meeting agenda

Now that work estimates and the product backlog are ready, the product owner clearly states what the sprint aims to achieve and lists the specific backlog items up for discussion.

It's important to provide a detailed agenda in advance, including time allocations for each section of the meeting, to ensure all necessary topics are covered. Make sure to encourage team members to review the agenda and backlog items before the meeting, so they come prepared to discuss and make decisions.

Pro tip: Add your sprint planning meeting agenda to a Switchboard project room and skip coordinating across teams, departments, and time zones. Get input from stakeholders before the meeting so you can cover all the bases. This makes your meeting more productive and prepares you better for the upcoming sprint. 
Collaboration tools open in a Switchboard room
Switchboard lets you do more during and between meetings—setting you up for a more successful sprint planning session.

During the meeting

The level of preparation you bring to your sprint planning meetings will impact the actual sprint planning duration. That said, you’re likely to need at least an hour to answer everyone's questions and go over the following points: 

Review upcoming priorities

Start by discussing and clarifying the product owner's priorities for the upcoming sprint. It's crucial to make sure everyone has a shared understanding of which tasks are most critical and why they are important. This helps guide the team’s focus and efforts towards tasks that offer the most value.

"The product manager has to know how to very succinctly describe what's going on. For example, what are the development tasks that we're trying to focus on?" says Goldman. 

Measure sprint roadmap progress

Once priorities are set, assess how the team is progressing toward overall project goals and milestones. This review should align with the longer-term product roadmap and any strategic objectives. 

If you're using Switchboard, you can add your product roadmap and pull up your project management tool or sprint planning tools like Linear in your project room. This gives the whole team better visibility into all aspects of the sprint. This can help maintain alignment and focus, and can also inform adjustments to the roadmap if necessary. 

Switchboard room with Linear and in-room chat
Switchboard makes it easy to track progress during sprint planning—async and in real time.

Choose sprint backlog issues to focus on

Next, the development team will need to collaboratively decide which user stories from the refined product backlog items will be included in the sprint backlog for the upcoming iteration. Remember: It's important to prioritize items that deliver the most significant value to the end-user first.

It helps to break down larger backlog items into smaller, manageable tasks that can be completed within the sprint. This step might reveal additional work or dependencies not initially considered. If breaking down items leads to significant changes in their estimated effort, re-evaluate the selection to ensure it still fits within the team’s capacity. One thing to keep in mind is: "If you can't get through all the tickets you're discussing, then you're not prepping the sprint properly, either," says Goldman. 

Define sprint goals

With the sprint backlog items selected, define clear and concise sprint goals that summarize what the team aims to achieve with this set of work. These goals should be specific, measurable, and aligned with the broader project or product goals. 

For example, a development team at an ecommerce startup might make reducing the checkout process steps by 50 percent their primary sprint goal. They can then measure success by tracking the user experience and conversion rates—and keep iterating until they reach their goal. 

Get everyone on the same page

Encourage open communication and make sure all team members have a shared understanding of the sprint goals, priorities, and tasks. This is the time to dig into any questions or concerns, and make sure you're in a position to adapt to change

This is where it helps to have a scrum master that's quick to redirect conversations that go off-topic, because if you keep extending the sprint planning meeting, "that just means they have more time to waste," says Goldman. 

After the meeting

Actions taken after sprint planning can significantly influence the team's efficiency and focus, contributing to the achievement of your sprint goals. Here's how to effectively transition from planning to execution:

Give everyone access to sprint planning materials

Make sure all sprint planning materials, including the refined product backlog, the finalized sprint backlog, and any other relevant documents, are accessible to every team member. Maintaining transparency about the tasks and expectations for the sprint helps make sure everyone can refer back to the plan as needed, during team meetings or on their own time.

Pro tip: With all the people, tools, and apps, you need for sprint planning in one place, it's easier to avoid unproductive meetings. Just hop into your Switchboard room whenever you need an overview of your upcoming sprint, or to dig into the details when it suits you. This saves everyone time searching for files and apps and keeps information silos at bay. 
Sticky notes and Linear in a Switchboard room
Switchboard lets you go over action items, incidents, or issues related to your sprint whenever it makes the most sense—and keeps your project moving forward. 

Focus on project outcomes, not busywork

Emphasize the importance of delivering valuable outcomes rather than getting bogged down in administrative or procedural details. For example, having too many meetings where you talk about work, instead of doing it. 

This means you need to evaluate the necessity of meetings and administrative tasks critically. Keep them to a minimum or cancel the unproductive ones so they don't detract from productive work time. Do as much as possible async so you can save meeting time for tasks you need the group to weigh in on, like discussion, brainstorming, or problem-solving. 

Carve time for meaningful focus work 

Allocate dedicated time for your scrum team to focus on assigned tasks, minimizing disruptions and allowing for concentrated, productive work. Schedule blocks of time where team members can work undisturbed on their tasks. This could be implemented as "no meeting" time slots or dedicated focus days.

It also helps to have a single source of truth, like your Switchboard room, where people know exactly where to go to find what they need, async and in real time. 

Successful sprint planning: Move work forward in–and in between–meetings

Regardless of whether your next sprint leads you to create a disruptive voice assistant like Google, Agile teams need guidance and meticulous planning to get great products out the door. 

We get it: You might already have too many meetings, but that doesn’t mean they're all bad. Sprint planning meetings are beneficial for keeping people aligned and productive, but the entire scrum team needs to stay focused. That’s why you need to know how to run effective sprint planning meetings. This includes what you can do before, during, and after the meeting—so you can build better products, faster.

For example, you can refine the product backlog, define sprint goals, and go over outputs, before the sprint planning meeting. This leaves more time for meaningful collaboration when everyone's meeting in real time to plan the next sprint. 

And, when you use Switchboard as your single source of truth for planning your Agile project, you get all the tools, apps, and team members you need in one place. This means you can always work in context, on your own time and in meetings. 

Build faster with fewer meetings. 
Switchboard rooms let you save and work on anything during meetings or on your own time in one central space. 
Sign up free

Frequently asked questions about sprint planning meetings

What is a sprint planning meeting example? 

This example of a sprint planning meeting involves the Scrum Master, the Product Owner, and the Development Team. The team is working on an ecommerce platform and plans to focus on improving the user checkout experience in the upcoming sprint. They set the sprint planning duration to two hours, for a two-week sprint. 

In this scrum framework, the Product Owner prepares and prioritizes the product backlog, highlighting the user stories related to enhancing the checkout process. The Scrum Master sends out a meeting invite with an agenda, ensuring all necessary tools and documents are accessible for the team. Meanwhile, the development team reviews the prioritized backlog items and comes prepared with any initial questions or comments.

What should be on your sprint planning checklist? 
Here's a checklist you can use to guide you through an effective sprint planning process:

  • Review the product backlog: Start with an overview of the top-priority items in the product backlog for your new sprint. 
  • Select backlog items for the sprint: Decide which backlog items to include in the sprint, based on the sprint goal, priority, and team capacity.
  • Break down tasks and estimate: Break selected items into tasks and estimate them. Adjust the sprint backlog as necessary based on these estimates.
  • Define and refine the sprint goal: Finalize the sprint goal, ensuring it aligns with the selected backlog items and is achievable within the sprint.
  • Commit to the work: Have the team collectively agree on the sprint backlog and commit to the work for the sprint. It's also important to set the team's definition of done, so everyone has a clear understanding of the amount of work.
  • Clarify any doubts: Make sure all questions are answered and that everyone has a clear understanding of the sprint's objectives and their responsibilities.

Stop, collaborate, and listen

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Build faster with fewer meetings.

Switchboard rooms let you save and work on anything during meetings or on your own time in one central space.