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What is sprint planning?

Last updated

22 March 2023

Reviewed by

Jen Lee

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Sprint planning is the initial meeting that takes place at the start of a sprint. During this meeting, the product and development team work together to establish their priorities and determine which goals must be met within a specific timeframe to meet customer needs

The primary objective is to ensure that team members clearly understand the scope of work and agree on what is considered the highest priority, what has value, and what is realistically achievable. This helps to eliminate any ambiguity and ensures that everyone is on the same page with regard to the sprint cycle expectations and what will be demonstrated at the end.

To begin, the team will review a prioritized set of product backlog tasks based on platform, customer, or business goals and determine which tasks should be addressed during the sprint. Next, the team will carefully review each task and ask questions to clarify any uncertainties. They will also confirm the previously established definitions of "ready" and "done" to ensure they meet the criteria of the product owner, stakeholders, and customers, if necessary.

What happens at sprint planning?

The product owner, product manager, scrum master, and development team, with any technical leads, will agree on a key sprint goal and, with backlog items, match the goals to achieve them.

Why is sprint planning important?

Sprint planning brings clarity and awareness to the sprint's goal, helping everyone set realistic expectations for what can be achieved.

What are the five ceremonies within a sprint?

Each sprint encompasses five steps that are important to current and future sprints.

Depending on the product team makeup, some roles may be covered or achieved by others as the soft planning skills in the sprint can be uniquely divided between each product team and company stage.

Sprint planning

Product managers, product owners, and scrum masters with developers and technical leads review the backlog and collectively decide which items should be prioritized for the sprint to accomplish a core business or customer goal within a set period. 

Daily scrum

The scrum master, product manager, and development team meet at the beginning of each day for a daily stand-up. In this very short ceremony, they answer, what did they do yesterday? What will they do today? And do they have any roadblocks? 

By increasing the frequency of community and using daily standups, the team can centralize their efforts and update progress, discuss roadblocks, and make adjustments accordingly. In addition, they may include other scrum meetings to review progress and keep track of whether they are behind, on track, or ahead of their goals.

Sprint review

The team will determine whether they addressed each backlog item and accomplished the goal. They also can outline to stakeholders any finished product ready to ship to users.

Sprint retrospective

This differs from the review in that the team looks back at the processes involved in the sprint, what the team learned, and what lessons it can take into future sprints.

Backlog refinement

The team can review backlog items or tickets to determine what should be prioritized next in upcoming sprints based on business priority.

Who does it?

The key players in a sprint planning ceremony include the product owner, scrum master, and the development team, and they each play a role. Sometimes, key stakeholders may be included in the meeting if they can provide specific input into the process or speak to the significance of a business goal the company is reaching to achieve.

In the agile framework, the product owner comes to the ceremony with an updated, prioritized product backlog that allows the team to determine a specific goal for the upcoming sprint. In smaller teams, this is often played out by the product manager, who collaborates with stakeholders on the business priorities that must be accomplished first.

The scrum master role is focused on facilitating the ceremony, making sure that everyone has had a chance to raise questions for clarity, and ensuring the session ends within the time box.

The development team approves a realistic plan based on the programming requirements and sprint length. It also allows them to ask technical questions or request additional information if there is insufficient context or the details are unclear so they can execute them.

Key aspects of sprint planning

To prevent information overload and being bombarded with too many details, the sprint plan should address three key aspects of the scrum and agile methodology. These include the following:

Focus on the outcomes, not the work

Before starting a sprint, it's important to set specific goals that all stakeholders agree upon. The product owner or manager should communicate these goals to the development team to ensure everyone is aligned and taking action toward the same objectives.

A prioritized backlog allows the product and development team to quickly determine which backlog items will reach the goal. Once the goal is defined, the technicalities of how the goal will be reached become the responsibility of the lead engineers and development team. They do this during daily scrum meetings, where the scrum master tracks progress, identifies roadblocks, and ensures that sprint goals are achievable.

Developing an estimation

Making an estimation about how long tasks or the scope of work will take to achieve a goal is an important aspect of sprint planning. Some have referred to this as a commitment, but scrum never uses the term commitment in its training. They have understood that estimation better defines what key parties can determine during sprint planning. 

By reviewing past sprints and current progress, the scrum master, product, and development team can estimate the next tasks required to meet the sprint goal from their backlog items.

Determining capacity

Although there may be varying perspectives within the team, it is ultimately the development team's responsibility to establish the scope of work. While the product team and scrum masters may believe they have the authority to dictate capacity, the development team is better positioned to do so because they have a closer understanding of potential issues and solutions. This includes their problem-solving skills, burnout rate, and familiarity with recurring technical issues or roadblocks that may arise and cause delays when introducing new tasks.

This also means the development team must prove they can deliver sprint goals and be effective in making adjustments during the daily scrum to ensure they reach the objective. Having a well-prioritized backlog also allows the development team to keep moving forward if they reach the sprint goal early. This way, they can use the remainder of the sprint to address the next highest-priority backlog items.

What is the backlog?

The backlog encompasses tasks or tickets that are required technically to improve an existing platform. These tasks generally focus on improving the user experience or multiplying the software or service value.

Backlogs fall into these two categories:


When creating new software, companies begin with the minimum viable product (MVP). In this stage, the product team creates a list of must-have features to validate the new software to address a deep challenge with pain points that a significant market sector faces.

To achieve product-market fit (PMF) and successfully navigate through the various stages of a product's life cycle, it's important to identify and target areas with low competition or unmet needs with significant demand. This approach can lead to the platform's growth, profitability, and eventual maturity. It can also help navigate any potential decline stage and return to growth.

Every software development interface and back-end coding has been broken down into steps that were addressed in sprints to reach the business goal and market need. Because agile work must remain flexible, sprints may change as the software is developed and roadblocks arise. Consumer needs change or technical glitches happen, making the sprint active and dynamic to the business priority.


After the software is released for beta testing or public use, the product and development team must establish an iterative model and system to gather user feedback. This can be achieved through various means, such as user research, surveys, or the sales team sharing customer requests. This feedback helps the team gain insights and improve the platform's experience, ultimately enhancing their solution.

The product team must prioritize improvements and incorporate new data inputs from the feedback into the backlog. Deciding what the team should tackle next becomes a regular topic of discussion. It is important to have healthy debates about the most pressing concerns and determine which ones should be prioritized next.

Why is prioritization important?

An updated and prioritized backlog is an important tool in sprint planning, as participants will be able to quickly determine what backlog items need to be addressed to reach the sprint goal. 

Where does sprint planning take place?

Sprint planning ceremonies are usually held virtually via platforms like Zoom and Google Meet or in-person office meetings. This is done to ensure that team members can easily attend the meetings. 

By following the sprint schedule, team members' calendars for the five meetings (sprint planning, scrum ceremonies, review, retrospective, and backlog refinement) are typically set months in advance, making it easier for everyone to plan ahead. For important sprints with key development goals for the business, stakeholders can also plan ahead to attend sprint demonstrations and see what was accomplished.

When does sprint planning take place?

Sprint planning meetings should have a consistent day and time so participants can bake the meeting into their schedules. They should be set for the first day of the workweek so the sprint can begin as soon as the meeting concludes.

A good rule of thumb is for the sprint meeting to be scheduled to last two hours for each week of the sprint. Therefore, a two-week sprint would have a maximum four-hour sprint planning meeting, while a four-week sprint might need an eight-hour session. 

How is sprint planning structured?

A scrum master should lead a two-phase structure to a sprint planning meeting.

Part 1 – Scope

The opening portion of a sprint planning meeting should determine the scope of the sprint. The product owner may come in with a proposed goal for the sprint. This will be assessed by the scrum master and the development team to determine whether that goal is feasible within the timeframe of the sprint. 

The participants must confirm the sprint items that have been previously determined to agree that the selected items are necessary to achieve the goal. Once this is done, they estimate the level of effort required for each task or ticket and assess if there is sufficient capacity to meet those estimations during the sprint.

Part 2 – Plan

After determining the goal and associated tasks, the sprint begins with an official kickoff to initiate the sprint cycle. The development team participates in daily reviews and scrum ceremonies, providing frequent opportunities to identify when they are off course. This allows them to reassess their actions, remove roadblocks, and bring in technical leaders to troubleshoot when necessary. These measures help the team reach solutions more quickly than initially estimated.

How to lead a sprint planning meeting

The scrum master leading a sprint planning meeting should consider an opportunity for an open review and a planning session. This will help ensure that all stakeholders and participants leave the meeting with a sense of satisfaction that the sprint is feasible, aligned with their resources, and will advance the user experience and solution they offer to the market segments. The scrum master also must ensure the meeting stays focused on a specific goal, develops a workable preliminary agenda, and ends on time.

Prep for a sprint planning meeting

Much of the prep for a sprint planning meeting will fall on the product owner to have the backlog updated and prioritized. The scrum master also must maintain tasks in the length of the sprint based on the requested or anticipated goal proposed by the product owner. The scrum master should also review and maintain administrative duties of record keeping from updating previous sprints retrospectives to allow for solid estimations.

Expected benefits

Conducting sprints without sprint planning would be virtually impossible, but sprint planning also provides certain benefits. These include:

  • Team members align from the beginning and work toward the same goal.

  • The sprint begins with realistic expectations based on reviews and retrospectives from previous sprints.

  • The development team confirms the scope of work capacity so they don't leave the meeting overwhelmed.

  • The team has a plan of what needs to be developed by a specific due date, and they have the flexibility to adjust as long as another task is not contingent on theirs.

  • Participants outline potential roadblocks and plan for solutions.

Common pitfalls

Participants in sprints will improve as they develop experience and create more realistic expectations. However, some common pitfalls that can occur, especially in new teams, include the following:

Unrealistic expectations

If the product team or technical leads set high goals and the team agrees but fails to meet the goals sprint after sprint, they will get discouraged and could have distrust in the process. Another opportunity to not miss is if the team doesn't pay attention in retrospectives to understand what has worked and not worked in past sprints so they can improve their skill sets and collaboration.

Lack of context

If team members don't understand how their sprint or goal fits into the big picture, they won't buy in or could be less motivated to deliver on time.

Backlog neglect

If the backlog is not kept updated and prioritized, team members may work on tasks that don't improve customer experience or provide value.

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