What is an Agile Sprint: Definition and How to Execute

To understand a Sprint, what it is, and how it works, it’s important first of all to understand the concept of Agile and Scrum. At its simplest, Agile is a set of values and principles designed to make software development projects more efficient – What is Agile?

Scrum is an Agile project management framework that organizes projects in iterations called Sprints. This iterative approach allows Scrum to produce work and test it quickly – What is Scrum?

This article aims to offer an Agile Sprint definition, an exploration of Agile Sprint processes, and a look at how it works.

What are Sprints?

A Sprint is an iteration of an Agile project. In other words, it is common for project teams to break Agile projects into short, repeatable phases. These phases typically last between one and four weeks. Each Sprint has a specific, measurable outcome. They should produce a draft, prototype, or workable version of the final deliverable. 

Project teams plan one sprint at a time. They then adapt future Sprints based on the outcome of the previous one. Teams should plan the number and length of Sprints in a given project at the beginning of that project.  The number and length of sprints in your project should be determined at the beginning.

Scrum Sprints are associated with Agile so often that many people think they’re the same thing, thus calling them Agile Sprints. In fact, Agile itself defines no Sprints, as it is only a set of values for the team to follow.

The term Sprint comes from the Scrum application of Agile values. Here, they are used to plan and complete iterations of work. So, to continue, we will drop the term Agile Sprints and simply call them Sprints.

How to plan and execute an (Agile) Sprint

Planning

To plan an upcoming Sprint, you start with a Sprint planning meeting. This is a collaborative meeting where team members should work together. The outcome of a planning meeting is to answer two key questions:

  1. What work can we complete during this Sprint?
  2. How will we complete that work?

Choosing what to work on is the responsibility of the Product Owner, Scrum Master, and development team. The Product Owner discusses the desired Sprint objective and which backlog items need to be done to achieve that objective. The team then creates a plan for how they will build those backlog items. 

Executing

During the Sprint, the team has daily Scrum meetings called standups. These are daily check-ins during which the team discusses their progress. These standups are there to uncover challenges or obstacles that threaten the team’s ability to deliver the Spring objective. 

Reviewing

When the Sprint is done and the team has hopefully achieved their objective, they should demonstrate what they have done. They do this with a Sprint review. The review is when your team presents the Sprint outcome to various internal stakeholders. 

After this, the team does a Sprint retrospective. This is where the team identifies areas for improvement during the next Sprint. The retrospective completes what’s known as the Sprint cycle, and the team is now ready to start their next cycle.

Do’s and don’ts

There are several best practices and things best avoided if you want your Agile Sprints to work effectively, including:

Do:

  • Ensure your team understands the Sprint objective and how success will be measured. This keeps everyone aligned and towards a common goal.
  • Make sure your backlog’s priorities and dependencies are in order, and manage them as you go.  
  • Ensure that you account for team meetings and annual leave, and the impact these could have on your Sprint’s velocity. 
  • Use the sprint planning meeting to flesh out details of the work that needs doing. Team members should sketch out tasks for all stories and bugs in the Sprint.
  • Ensure that someone captures your plan in your project management tool, like Teamhood. This is an example of how a Sprint plan could look in Teamhood:
agile sprint

Here are the key don’ts that you need to avoid during a Sprint:

Don’t:

  • Pull in too many stories, overestimate velocity, or pull in tasks that you won’t be able to complete in the Sprint. 
  • Forget about quality. Budget time for QA and non-feature work, like bugs and engineering health.
  • Let the team have a fuzzy view of the Sprint. Make sure they understand all the goals and as much of the detail as possible so they know where they’re headed. 
  • Take on too much unknown or high-risk work. Break down large stories and leave some of that work for the next Sprint.
  • Ignore concerns from your team around velocity, low-certainty work, or inaccurate time estimates. Your team has a good idea of what’s achievable, so you should certainly listen to their concerns, and may need to adapt your Sprint to match.

Once you know and fully understand how Sprints work, you can use a tool like Teamhood to automate the process. Here are examples of the most common ways you can do that:

  • Use each task board row to visualize a different Sprint and easily track what has been done.
  • When your previous Sprint finishes, review the work and move unfinished items to the next Sprint.
  • Set recurring items to appear at a required rate and ease your Sprint planning efforts.
agile sprint

Find out more about Sprints, Scrum, and Agile

We hope you found this introduction to Sprint helpful. If you want to find out more about the topic, check out our Agile Resources library

Alternatively, create a free Scrum board in Teamhood and start tracking your progress in under 5 minutes: 

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