21 Tips on Choosing a Sprint Length

Many teams that I work with choose their Sprint length without too much thought.  Often enough, that’s okay and it works out.  But, in some cases, it helps to think clearly and deeply about what length of Sprint to choose.  Here are 21 tips on choosing a Sprint length.

  1. Don’t ever go longer than 4 weeks… if you do, by definition it’s not a Sprint anymore.
  2. Scrum is about fast feedback – shorter Sprints mean faster feedback.
  3. Scrum is about continuous improvement – shorter Sprints give a team more opportunities to improve.
  4. High-performance teams need pressure to form – shorter Sprints provide pressure.
  5. Each Sprint is, ideally, an independent project – longer Sprints may make it easier to get a potentially shippable product increment truly done every Sprint.
  6. “False” Sprints such as “Sprint 0″ or “Release Sprints” may feel necessary if your Sprint is too short – try to avoid the need for false Sprints.
  7. If you have lots of interruptions that are disrupting your Sprint plans, shorten your Sprints to match the average frequency of interruptions… and then just put them on the backlog.
  8. If you feel like you team starts out by working at a leisurely pace at the start of a Sprint and then “cramming” at the end of the Sprint, then shorter Sprints will force the team to work at a more even pace.
  9. Don’t lengthen your Sprint to fit the “size” of your Product Backlog Items… instead, get better at doing “splitting” to make the items smaller.
  10. Small failures are better than large failures, shorter Sprints help.
  11. If you are using Agile Engineering practices such as TDD, you should probably be able to do Sprints that are 1 week in length or less.
  12. 2-Week-long Sprints are most common for IT and software product development.
  13. Most Scrum trainers and coaches recommend Sprints to be 1 or 2 weeks long.
  14. Teams go through the stages of team development (forming, storming, norming and performing) in fewer Sprints if the Sprints are shorter.  E.g. 5 Sprints if they’re 1 week long, but 20 Sprints if they’re 4 weeks long.
  15. If your team has trouble finishing all the work they plan for a Sprint, make the Sprint shorter.
  16. Every Sprint should be the same length for a given team so don’t let your Sprints get longer just to “get everything done”.
  17. Experiment with extremely short Sprints to see what is possible: 1-day long, for example.
  18. If you are doing a project with a fixed release date/end date, then make sure you have at least 6 Sprints to allow for sufficient feedback cycles.  More is generally better which means shorter Sprints.
  19. If you are working on a product, consider Sprints that allow you to release minor updates more frequently than your main competitors.
  20. Sprints need to be long enough that Sprint Planning, Review and Retrospective can be meaningful.  A 1-day Sprint would allow a maximum of 24 minutes for Sprint Planning, 12 minutes for Review and Retrospective each.
  21. When a team is new, shorter Sprints help the team learn its capacity faster.

Author’s Note: this is one of those articles where I thought of the title first and then worked to make the article meet the promise of the title.  It was tough to think of 21 different ways to look at Sprint length.  If you have any suggestions for items to add, please let me know in the comments (and feel free to link to articles you have written on the topic). – Mishkin.

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The Rules of Scrum: I volunteer for a new task from the Sprint backlog as soon as I complete a task

Every Scrum Team Member should be working on tasks in the Sprint Backlog.  Generally speaking, this should be one task at a time with little or no work done on work that is not on the Sprint Backlog.  The visibility of the Sprint Backlog is an important part of Transparency within the Scrum Team.  As well, doing one task at a time helps with Focus, another of Scrum’s values.  If team members follow this rule, then the work of the Sprint is done in a reliable way.  When team members take on multiple tasks simultaneously or when they take long breaks to do non-Sprint Backlog work, then the team’s focus is substantially diminished and overall productivity suffers.

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The Rules of Scrum: I am a full-time member of that team (no non-Team Member duties)

Scrum is team-focused. Fixation on optimum (individual people) resource utilization is a major obstacles for effective Scrum implementation. Doing Scrum right and deriving the benefits of team-focus that it has to offer requires full-time dedicated membership of all team members. A Scrum team should be delivering the highest value product of an organization. Having team members assigned to other projects at the same time means that the focus on delivering the highest value is being disrupted. Furthermore, a Scrum team needs to be able to establish and maintain a constant velocity from Sprint to Sprint. This is impossible to do if team members are being shared with other projects and/or teams.  Also, there is tremendous waste associated with task switching that is eliminated by this single rule. The hang-ups of resource utilization need to be left behind if an organization is to mature into one that is Scrum team-focused.

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The Rules of Scrum: I work with only one Scrum team

All Scrum team members must be committed 100% to the Sprint goal of their team. If people are trying to be on more than one team, then they are not able to be fully committed to the goal of either team. This means that neither team can be fully committed to the deliverables of their Sprint Plans. Failure to commit to the Sprint goal results in failure to deliver and a failed Sprint. When people are working on more than one Scrum team, the teams are being set up to fail at Scrum. This rule is often counter-intuitive to traditional project management, which tends to be obsessed with resource utilization. The problem with managed resource utilization that this rule of Scrum solves is the complete lack of commitment that it forces onto the people doing the work. Scrum creates a sense of ownership of the delivery of the whole product in each and every team member when they are allowed to work with one Team.

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