Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Choosing a sprint length

In interview discussions with candidates I've heard about many different flavours of Scrum, though most teams seem to settle for 2 week sprint durations I've heard of anything up to 10 week sprints (which probably stretches the definition a bit). So how do you choose an ideal sprint length for your project. Firstly, I'd say going beyond 3 weeks probably means you're not going to reap the benefits of the iterative nature of agile - more than three weeks and the danger of gold plating and reverting to incremental development will be strong.

So what factors should you consider when choosing a sprint length?
  1. If the requirements are expected to evolve rapidly from sprint to sprint once the business has had a chance to review progress then choose a shorter sprint - i.e. be more agile
  2. If you think it will be a struggle to groom requirements to have them ready for a sprint choose a shorter sprint duration so you only need one or two weeks of work ready at any one time
  3. If the team is in-experienced with scrum choose a shorter length to gain more frequent practice in the process
  4.  Larger projects may benefit from using a longer sprint length, especially if the majority of requirements are well known
  5. If you think getting committment from the product owner is going to be a problem then the choice of sprint length won't fix this, but I'd suggest choosing a shorter length is probably wise. That way they have shorter but more regular meetings to attend, and you can re-engage with them on a more regular basis.
Ideally the sprint duration should not change during the project – e.g. going from a 2 week sprint for the first few then changing to 3 weeks. Changing the sprint length distorts some of the metrics like sprint velocity and product burndown charts that then require more care to interpret.

Also up for debate is when to start / stop sprints. We've migrated to having sprint boundaries mid week so that lessons learned from reviews and retrospectives are at the forefront of our minds during sprint planning held on the same day or next morning rather than after the weekend has passed.

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