Sprint Length: How Long Should They Be?
Maybe you are already working in sprints or wanting to get started. Either way, you might be asking what is the ideal length for your team’s sprints. While there is no one size fits all answer when determining how long each of your sprints should be, there is a question you can ask to determine the longest your sprint length should be. Ask yourself, “What is the longest our stakeholders can go without changes in priority?” As you pause to ask that question, the answer may be very revealing.
In other words, if you constantly find yourself mid-sprint, on a two-week sprint, needing to stop and re-plan or make a significant adjustment based on changing priorities, then why are you wasting time planning for two-week sprints?
At Platinum Edge we generally recommend one week sprints. In this blog post, we will discuss why we find this to be the perfect length and when longer sprints should be considered. We will also explore how different length sprints may affect efficiency and other issues associated with iterative product development.
Sprints and why they are important
To lay some groundwork, let’s review what a sprint is and why teams would be working in them. A sprint is essentially a short, fixed-length iteration for doing work aimed at achieving a specific goal. Sprints last no more than one month (usually 1-2 weeks), and they are a crucial component of adaptive and agile development methods. Sprint length should be consistent from sprint to sprint so that scrum teams get into a development rhythm, focus and consistent feedback loop.
The idea behind sprints is to break a larger project into smaller, manageable pieces that can be tackled one at a time. This approach allows teams to stay focused, prioritize tasks, and adapt to changes as they arise. By setting concrete goals and working through them in short sprints, teams can course correct quickly, stay on track and deliver higher-quality products more efficiently. Overall, sprints are an invaluable tool for modern product innovators looking to boost productivity and drive success.
Various sprint lengths and their advantages
When scrum was new several decades ago, one month was a really short time to focus, develop and deliver. But time only gets faster. Today, most scrum teams opt for a shorter sprint length of 1-2 weeks. Shorter sprints have the advantage of providing more frequent feedback and allow for quicker course correction. In some cases, longer sprint lengths may be necessary when working with limited resources or in domains where the lead time to accomplish a task and see results is slower, like in some manufacturing environments. However, technologies like 3D printing help remove these constraints, and we rarely see the need for longer sprints. Regardless of the sprint length, it’s crucial to establish clear goals and expectations beforehand and for the team to continuously communicate so that everyone stays in sync and is moving towards the sprint goal.
How we recommend running one week sprints
At Platinum Edge, we typically recommend, and see best results, from one week sprints that start Monday morning and end Friday afternoon. When sprints span a weekend, teams are tempted to work the weekend, either to get ahead or to make up for lost time. Either way, when they work one weekend, they should expect to work every weekend from then on. They set for themselves a false watermark of what the team can do in the sprint. Moving forward, no one will expect less from the team. If anything, they’ll only expect more.The natural biorhythm of a Monday through Friday work week aligns well with the sprint cycle.
We recommend sprint planning first thing on Monday morning, leaving time for the team to get started on that sprint’s user stories the same day. The sprint review and sprint retrospective are then completed at the end of the day on Friday, allowing the team to step into the weekend without thinking about work again until sprint planning on Monday.
This approach allows teams to set realistic goals for the week and stay accountable. Additionally, the shorter time frame helps teams to stay focused and prioritize tasks efficiently, allowing them to adjust according to changes in customer needs or market trends. If scrum teams work in one-month sprints, they have twelve opportunities in a year to inspect and adapt. If they work in two-week sprints, they get 26 opportunities a year to inspect and adapt. And if they work in one-week sprints, they get 52 opportunities a year to inspect and adapt. Our experience has shown that this iterative approach promotes better communication, boosts team morale, and ultimately improves product quality.
Tips for successfully running one week sprints
One of the most critical elements for successful one week sprints is a steady velocity throughout the week. This means an effective scrum master ensures that each team member has the necessary resources to complete their tasks and is free of any impediments that might slow them down. Remember, an impediment that blocks someone for one day is taking up 20% of their sprint. Additionally, it is vital to make sure that your team is not overwhelmed by the tasks they are assigned and the length of time they have to complete it. By keeping these key factors top of mind, you can help your team achieve their sprint goals in a productive and efficient manner.
The benefits of shorter sprints
When it comes to productivity and team morale, short sprints can work wonders. Not only do they help team members stay focused on specific tasks, but they also create a healthy sense of urgency that motivates individuals to avoid distractions. With short sprints, team members can break down larger projects into smaller, more manageable chunks, which can help reduce feelings of being overwhelmed and anxiety. Additionally, these sprints provide the perfect opportunity for team members to collaborate and share ideas, fostering a sense of unity and teamwork. Overall, incorporating short sprints can help boost productivity while also improving the overall atmosphere and morale of your team.
But wait, won’t shorter sprints just result in more time in meetings?
Although with shorter sprints you will have more frequent meetings, the percentage of time spent in meetings actually decreases. This isn’t as much mathematical as it is empirical–we see scrum teams decrease the percentage of time spent in meetings as a result of shortening sprints.
Remember, scrum events like sprint planning and sprint review scale according to sprint length.
For instance, the Scrum Guide states that scrum teams may spend up to a full day in sprint planning for a one month sprint. And let’s be honest, we’ll all be mentally spent by lunch time. Plus, the likelihood that we get to the end of the day and say, “We still need more time!” is high. But for a two-week sprint, we would expect to spend up to a half-day in sprint planning, and we rarely see scrum teams running two-week sprints needing that much time. And for a one-week sprint, scrum teams are in and out quickly, having a smaller scope and complexity to wrap their heads around. So, you actually get a higher percentage of time back for development with shorter sprints. We see this benefit all the time as scrum teams transition to shorter sprints.
In summary, sprints are powerful for keeping projects on track, fostering communication and collaboration among team members, and bringing structure and discipline to the development process. The length of sprints can range anywhere from 1-4 weeks. At Platinum Edge, we typically recommend one week sprints for optimal productivity and team morale. With the right preparation and scheduling, one week sprints offer numerous benefits such as maintaining focus on specific goals, optimizing agility in response to changes, and improving transparency across teams. With this information in mind, take a close look at your organization and consider what is the ideal cycle time for your team’s sprints.