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What is the most common mistake in Sprint Planning?

Avoiding the Biggest Sprint Planning Mistake

I’m often asked about the most common mistakes in sprint planning. 

It’s crucial to navigate sprint planning and to understand where we often go wrong.  🤔

I’ve had many interactions with teams about the nuances of sprint planning, so I’d like to shed light on the most common mistake I’ve witnessed.

Let’s dive straight into it. 📊

The Core Purpose

So, what’s the heart of the matter here?

First and foremost, sprint planning’s purpose is to plan the Sprint.  🎯 

It sounds reductive, right?

We’re going into it with an ordered and well-understood product backlog, with an idea of the sprint goal based on our product goal.

It’s more than likely we already have a hunch about the Sprint goal since it aligns with our product goal, which was probably discussed in the recent review with stakeholders.

The Big Mistake

A glaring error many teams make?  

There are many stumbling blocks, but not having an ordered, understood product backlog when stepping into sprint planning.

Teams often take on work because they’re told to, not because they genuinely grasp it.  If your team is doing planning poker during sprint planning, you’re missing the mark.

That’s too late.   🚫 

If your team encounters something they’ve never seen before in sprint planning, the alarm bells should ring! ⏰

Refinement – The Cornerstone

Refinement precedes sprint planning and its role is crucial.

It’s where we gain a thorough understanding of the work, push off any estimations or sizing, and when you arrive at sprint planning, you should be planning the Sprint and not the tasks that should have been sorted beforehand.

By the time we enter sprint planning, our purpose should be laser-focused on planning the Sprint and not wading through details we should have ironed out.

Handling Surprises

Surprises aren’t always pleasant, right?

Sure, there are times when unexpected feedback comes during the Sprint review.  And yes, it might elongate your Sprint planning.  But, if every Sprint feels like a bolt from the blue, something’s amiss. 🎭 

Aim to minimise surprises – while some products inherently have more, it’s about managing and rolling with them to maximise team effectiveness and value delivery.

If “every Sprint is a surprise,” that’s a warning sign.  🚫 

Although some products might have an inherent nature of springing surprises, our goal should always be “to minimise the chance of surprise.”

Avoid the Overwhelm

A common pitfall?  Overburdening is a common mistake in Sprint planning.

Taking on too much in a Sprint results in insufficient time for refinement, making the next sprint planning session feel unprepared.

And what happens if teams can’t meet their Sprint goals consistently?

Morale dips.  Remember, happy, successful teams craft exceptional products and sad, unhappy teams, not so much.

Set the Right Tone and Purpose

Sprint planning always sets the course for your Sprint – so, why we’re doing it, what we’ll achieve, and how.   🎯

If you enter Sprint planning without answers, you’re already on the back foot.  And in the face of unprecedented challenges, like a sudden surge in users as with Microsoft Teams during lockdown, be prepared to pivot, refine, and adjust your approach.  🚀 

Final Thoughts

Sprint planning is about planning what’s next.

Prioritise refinement, ensure your team understands tasks robustly, and manage surprises efficiently.  ✨ 

To learn more about Sprint planning and more, check out my Agile and Scrum courses.

Let’s elevate our planning game together! 🚀


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