Effective Sprint Planning

Ken Schwaber mentioned in his famous book //Agile Project Management with Scrum//, that (for a 30 day Sprint) the Sprint Planning meeting is time-boxed to 8 hours and consists of two segments that are time-boxed to 4 hours each. The first segment is for selecting Product Backlog; the second segment is for preparing a Sprint Backlog.
In our experience, spending a whole day (8 hours) for Sprint Planning meetings is a bit too long, and makes those meetings too boring and unfocused. Typically our Scrum projects will setup shorter Sprints between 2 weeks to 3, our feeling is that even spending 4 hours in Sprint Planning for those 2-3 week Sprints is still too heavy, especially when we need to gather people from different locations at different time zones, people are tired up by discussing detailed questions, and even after those detailed discussions sometimes they’re still not comfortable to make commitments.
Then the question comes out, how can we make our Sprint Planning meetings more effective while at the same time we still get the output we expect?
In order to answer this question we should firstly make it clear that what the purposes are for our Sprint Planning meetings. I like what Mike Corn’s defined in his famous book //Agile Estimating and Planning// for a good planning:
  • It’s focused more on the planning than the plan
  • It encourages change
  • It results in plans that are easily changed
  • It’s spread throughout the project
The Perficient Multi-shoring Agile methodology defines that after the Sprint planning the team should get the below output, which I believe matches well to Mike’s definition:
  • Learn what the User Stories we’re going to deliver are.
  • Estimate how “big” they are.
  • Establish basis for tracking and controlling changes.
With the question how our teams do the Spring Planning to work out those outputs I did a survey among 11 Perficient GDC projects that are either delivered or on-going, to summarize the typical roles which are involved in the planning meetings, and the activities we usually do. Below is the survey result:


It’s great to see from the survey that although our Scrum projects are not perfectly ideal, we’re still able to have those three Scrum roles allocated to appropriate people, which means the most important criteria to make sure our Sprint Planning meetings successful are met. But we’re still having many items on our list when doing Spring Planning. How can we better plan for these tasks to make our meetings shorter? Ken mentioned the planning meeting should contain two segments