If you go into a sprint planning meeting cold, you know it can turn into a free-for-all, aimless meeting that will last twice as long as it should. After all, if your scrum team has been in place for even a few weeks, your backlog could easily have hundreds of issues in it. Maybe thousands. Going through a backlog this large in a sprint planning, without direction or a plan, can lead to an inefficient meeting that could include some members of the team chasing whims and subjective priorities, while others sit in silence wondering when the team will get around to talking about the tasks they will work on. This is no way to run a meeting.
Our marketing team is an agile team, using scrum to deliver full stack marketing services. We made two small changes, one in our process and another in our Jira Software set up, both of which made an enormous difference on the efficiency of our sprint planning meetings.
Do backlog grooming way more often
One of the best ways to run more efficient sprint planning meetings is to go into each meeting having done most of the work already. The worst thing you can do is go into a sprint planning meeting and just start reviewing the backlog looking for what the team should work on next. According to Dan Radigan, senior enterprise agile coach at Atlassian, your scrum team should hold short backlog grooming meetings a couple of days before sprint planning. These meetings are short, about 30 minutes to accomplish three things:
- Prioritize each work item, with the most important work listed at the top
- Tighten up user stories and tasks that the team can begin to execute on just by reading them
- Update estimates for each work item
Many teams do backlog grooming much less frequently. Quarterly. Maybe monthly. And with a primary goal of cleaning out the backlog of tasks that the team knows they will not work on. Teams should do this, but it is not frequent enough. If you groom more frequently, in small bits before each sprint, you can go into sprint planning with a major head start.
Great tip from Dan.
Start with the big picture: Setup quick filters to narrow down what you are reviewing
Another way to make sprint planning more effective is to, ironically, use the big picture to help focus your team on as few things as possible at a time. Quick filters in Jira Software makes this easy. Quick filters can help you:
- Narrow down what you are viewing on the backlog: From hundreds of issues on the list to a dozen or so.
- Exclude certain major work types (for example, excluding entire projects) that may not be part of your scrum teams work
Quick filters is a feature in Jira that allows you to further filter on your backlog or active sprint to only display certain issues, based on any of the data points in Jira. As you can image, when you review your backlog, you could have hundreds (or more) of issues. Even if you have a well-groomed backlog, it could still be a time consuming process to scroll through these issues in the backlog. Quick filters allow you to narrow down that massive backlog into chunks of related issues to make it easier to decided what to add to your sprint.
It is best described with some examples.
Our marketing team created three types of quick filters on top of our main board:
- One for each line of business
- One to show major projects
- One for each person on the team
We also have a quick filter for "Unassigned issues" that we use to find straggler issues that have been missed in backlog grooming. By the way, this is a standard quick filter that comes configured in Jira Software.
We simply go through each quick filter during our sprint planning meeting, which looks something like this.
What our sprint planning meeting might look like
At the beginning of our sprint planning meeting, we like to focus on the big picture. We ask ourselves (and specifically the product owner, our VP of Marketing), "What are the big things we should be focusing on in this sprint?" As we do this, we click on the quick filter for "Line of Business One." This automatically focuses our team on the big things we need to focus on for that line of business. Our main goal in marketing is to bring in new business by increasing pipeline revenue, and since there are so many ways to do that, it is easy to react and chase any little project that looks exciting. It helps us to focus on important projects when we have the line of business quick filter on the board and go through each of our epics one at a time.
When we are done planning work for that sprint in "line of business one," we click on the next quick filter for "line of business two." And so on.
Here is how we configured our line of business quick filters in Jira Software:
- Project = Line of Business Name
- Resolution = Unresolved
- Order by "Due Date" Ascending
Quite simple actually.
Using these three simple parameters, we can show only all of the issues that are still not completed in a specific line of business and order them on the list by their due date. Due date is one way we prioritize issues on our list.
Back to the meeting. While we are on one of the lines of business quick filters, we further focus our attention by going through each epic, one at a time, and ask ourselves, "What should we deliver for this epic (then that epic, then that epic, etc)?" As we click on each epic, we further narrow dow the number of issues on which we need to make a decision to add to this sprint.
Let's look at an example. We click on an epic called "Run Data Center Migration Webinar." In this epic we may only have a dozen issues. Those issue may look like this:
- Invite the guest speaker
- Create the slides
- Run Facebook ads
- Write the webinar description
- Publish the landing page
- Write the invite emails
- Add blurb to the newsletter
- Send recording to attendees
Now, we are only looking at eight issues, which makes it easy to decide what to add to this sprint. It also makes it easy to discover what issues are missing and what issues we completed but didn't close. Not that we ever make that mistake.
In order to make our sprint planning meetings, more efficient, we started a number of things. First, to do backlog grooming more often. Second, use quick filters on your backlog in JIRA Software to narrow down your issues by project or by issue type or by whatever other data points will help you display only important collections of issues. This will help you focus. Finally, with your quick filter up, go through each epic, one at a time, to further narrow down your issue so you can make faster decisions about what you should add to the next sprint.
How do you make your sprint planning meetings more efficient? Comment below.