Teams new to scrum face lots of decisions – one critical decision for teams to perform efficiently is determining sprint length. Every team's needs are different, and there's rarely a one-size-fits-all approach to planning the length and organization of your sprint.
What is Scrum? How long should sprints be?
What is Scrum? Scrum is an Agile framework that gives teams guidelines on how to complete their work. It contains sets of roles, ceremonies, and considerations for how your work is completed.
An Agile sprint is a concept in scrum that represents a time box, i.e., a short amount of time the team has committed to complete the work. And how long is a sprint in Agile? Sprints in scrum can be as long as you want; however, it's most common for sprint length to be between 1 and 4 weeks. Teams running Scrum sprints need to decide what makes sense for them.
We often see that team's first instincts lean toward the extreme: Either 1-week sprints or 4-weeks sprints. While there are arguments for the varying lengths of sprints in scrum, here are some standard variables that you and your team should consider.
Sprint Planning for Planned vs. Unplanned Work
Before sprint planning begins, it's essential to define what you want to accomplish during that sprint. Instead of using overarching strategic objectives to guide your team, sprint goals should be smaller, more attainable chunks of work that can be completed in a shorter timeframe.
If you are an Agile Scrum team with high variability in your work, longer sprints may give you the necessary buffer to complete the job. If you've got a 1-week sprint (with 1 of your 5 days already dedicated to ceremonies), even one or two random pieces of work can prevent your team from completing the work in the committed scope.
On the other hand, if the team has unplanned work with a lower level of urgency, Scrum sprint lengths that are shorter allow you to include the work in your Scrum sprint planning within a shorter period.
As far as how to best manage work, Jira is a great tool to help teams achieve this. Here's a guide on starting, managing, and completing a sprint using Jira.
Time Dedicated to Scrum Ceremonies
How much time per week should sprint planning to be spent in scrum, retrospectives, backlog grooming, and demos? Shorter sprints mean more time is spent in these meetings. This becomes even more essential if you do not have dedicated roles (scrum master, product owner).
What we see in 1-week sprints is that teams can lose a full day (twenty percent of the sprint!) of each sprint to demos, retros, and planning. So the shorter your Agile sprints are in scrum, the more often you're having these ceremonies.
Size and Scope of Tasks
Is your work small enough to be completed in the sprint length? For example, if you are often not completing work in 1 sprint, a longer sprint in scrum may make sense (or you may just need to work on improving properly sizing your tasks).
How often do I want to see and evaluate completed work? Is it acceptable to go 4 weeks without demonstrating the work that's being done? Do you need to know every week? Sprint length determines how often you see sprint demos and complete sprint retrospectives.
Inspection and Adaptation
There's no one-size-fits-all answer to optimal Scrum sprint length, and iteration is the key to scrum - so don't worry if your first choice doesn't work for your team. That's what your retrospectives are for, after all!
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