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How To Determine The Ideal Sprint Duration Or Length? Which Factors Should Be Considered To Benefit

By Expert Author: Mrugesh panchal

There are no specifics as to how long a particular sprint should ideally last in scrum. Scrum is a development methodology, and is required to be implemented in a project to achieve the desired throughput. Moreover, scum is all about adaption and incorporating the changes occurring in the market conditions while the development process is underway. Scrum methodology does not support a “one size fits all” solution – each organization implementing scrum has to decide the variables affecting the product definition, and make an informed decision as to how and when the methodology should be implemented, and in what manner. One of the most important aspects, and also the most debated one, is determining the ideal sprint length. The scrum manifesto suggests that the sprint can range from two weeks up to four weeks, or even a month. The manifesto also suggests that the sprint should not be very long so that it defeats the very purpose of implementing scrum – responding to user feedback and delivering user stories having high business values. Nowadays, most project managers prefer shorter sprints lasting up to two weeks. The duration is long enough for the team to deliver “shippable” functionalities, and is appropriate for the stakeholders to adjudge the business value of the developed stories. Even though shorter sprints result into fewer “done” user stories, they nevertheless provide an opportunity for the product owner and the investors to reevaluate the product increment and prioritize the product backlog which can be critical if the nature of the product developed is highly volatile and subjected extensively to changing market conditions.

It is important to consider various factors before deciding your sprint duration.

The key factors to consider before deciding your sprint duration
The three key factors which are generally considered while determining the sprint duration are explained herein.

The duration of the project
The duration and complexity of the project generally determines the length of the sprint in most cases. While longer projects can typically include more number of sprints, and the sprint duration can be decided to last for more weeks, it is important that the sprint should not extend the four week or one month duration. For example if you have a project that is expected to last for three months and the sprint duration is decided to last for four weeks, the entire project will be completed in just three sprints. It means there will be three sprint review meetings to accept the developed user stories as “done” and the stakeholders will have only three sprint retrospective meetings to view the demo of completed user stories. Such an implementation of scrum does not offer much latitude in prioritizing the user stories or grooming the product backlog as per the changing business values of the user stories. It is true in most cases the business value of the stories does not change so drastically, and even if the backlog grooming sessions are not held on a regular basis, the business value may not be affected to a great extent as far as the release of the product is concerned. The project would still generate a high ROI for the stakeholders. However, the point is stakeholders should have ample opportunities to review the completed user stories, and have sufficient time to review how the stories are developed, and how much the business value of the user stories have changed with time. Officially, the stakeholders can only accept the development during the sprint retrospective meetings. The more the number of retrospectives, the greater the client interaction, and more meaningful the development.

On the other hand, if the project is mostly complex and includes the development of product backlog items which consist of large epics or bloated user stories, short sprints may not offer an opportunity for the development team to create successful user stories. During the sprint review meeting, the product owner may not have enough user stories to accept as “done” since the incomplete user stories may be transferred back to the product backlog for “another go” in the next sprint planning meeting. The duration of the sprint should be long enough for the team to deliver enough numbers of completed stories at the end of the sprint.

The sprint time should be determined such that it is not too short so that user stories cannot be completed at the end of the sprint, and it should not be so long, so that the product owner cannot hold enough number of retrospectives to present the demo and benefit from the self learning process which is typical of scrum.

The customer and the stakeholder group
The stakeholders eventually own the project, as well as the product. They have the final say with anything or everything to do with the project. A lot depends upon what the investor group is like and what kinds of work related pressure it might subject the team to during scrum implementation. It is important to balance the team’s specific needs with those of the customer group. Holding shorter sprints might offer many opportunities for the investors to review the development, and they might welcome the velocity exhibited by the team. However, it might put undue strain and stress upon the development team, and could lead to strained relations or bickering amongst the team. Scrum supports collaboration, and stakeholders should also ideally work as a part of the scrum team by helping the team understand the acceptance criteria when required. The self learning feature of scrum is possible when the team collaborates in a positive manner.

A lot depends upon the culture followed by the customer group and what kind of beliefs they hold. The investors should be open to the team’s needs and problems, and ideally decide the sprint duration keeping in mind the comfort levels of the team while the sprint is underway.

Experience levels of the scrum team
Needless to say, the experience levels of the team can also affect how long the sprint duration should ideally last. The development team consists of trained professionals who are responsible for the development, testing, debugging, and documentation of the user stories. The development team, in addition to the scrum master and the product owner, should also have a fair working knowledge about scrum, the various artifacts and events associated with the Agile scrum framework, and above all have a good understanding about the daily print meetings, or the daily stand ups.

An experienced team is well versed with the scrum process and may be able to handle development in an efficient manner while the sprint is underway. Since the entire process is clear, the team might be able to deliver the user stories even if the sprint duration is less and lasts for a week, or even two weeks.

As long as the team is aware about the significance of the sprint retrospective meetings and burn down charts, it can very well decide the ideal length of the sprint.

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