What is Sprint Cycle?
Sprint cycle is a special term commonly used in software development to describe timeboxed iterations through which a team creates and delivers a specific piece of work. Sprint cycle can last between two to four weeks. These shorter timeboxed iterations make it easier for development teams to understand and break down larger, more complex projects into smaller, manageable pieces.
On top of that, Sprint cycles facilitate the creation of high-quality products. This approach breaks down larger projects into smaller pieces that can be tested more robustly. The pieces are built upon each other in successive sprints until the final product is delivered.
Also, compared to traditional techniques where an entire product is built to completion, then rolled out, Sprint cycles have proved more cost-effective. The approach allows the product owner and the development teams to forecast the project’s cost more accurately. Regular testing on each piece also makes it easier for the team to identify and fix issues earlier before they get too expensive.
Moreover, sprint cycles boost agility or flexibility. For example, let’s say you’re rebuilding an application for a client to increase downloads. During testing, you notice that the user experience could be improved by introducing or eliminating a certain feature. Adapting to this new information will be easier when utilizing agile sprint cycles compared to traditional techniques.
With all that said, sprint cycles can only be beneficial if they are managed correctly.
6 Ways to Effectively Manage Sprint Cycles
Now that you know what exactly sprint cycles are, let’s take a look at six tips on how to manage a sprint cycle effectively:
1. Involve the entire team
You should know that the above methodologies are usually made up of teams with various roles. For example, Scrum frameworks have teams with three distinct roles.
- Product owner – The product owner functions as the CEO in a sprint cycle. They provide the product backlog items consisting of sprint goals, deliverables, and user stories. User stories are the smallest units of work that describe what the product’s users want or expect.
- Scrum master – The Scrum master helps the development team achieve the set deliverables of each sprint cycle. They can do that by eliminating distractions or roadblocks, for example. They also ensure product owners and the development team are in alignment.
- Development team – The development team provides the technical skills needed to deliver the sprint cycle’s goals. These are the researchers, designers, developers, testers, etc. It’s worth pointing out that the delivery team is accountable for all deliverables of each sprint cycle. They take responsibility for any issues or errors on the product.
As you can see, a single sprint cycle can involve multiple people with different roles. Also, some of these people may not be based in the same company. For example, the product owner could be a separate party representing the stakeholder.
Therefore, to ensure each sprint cycle achieves its goals, you must identify and involve every person engaged in the project. First, you’ll need to involve every member in creating the backlog. The product owner will provide the list of deliverables, but the development team must also be aware of that list. Not only that, but they should agree with the list.
You’ll also need to involve all the necessary members in the different sprint meetings. From the initial planning meeting to the daily standup meetings and sprint review meetings—every meeting should be taken seriously. Guide your team through these meetings to ensure everyone is working towards achieving the set goals.
That brings us to the next point.
2. Plan your sprint meeting
Each sprint cycle should have at least five types of meetings. These are the backlog refinement, sprint planning, daily standup, sprint review, and sprint retrospective meetings.
These meetings play a pivotal role in ensuring the success of the sprint cycle and the entire project. Here is a quick breakdown of the five types of sprint meetings:
- Backlog refinement meeting – The product owner lays out the items and priorities of the sprint cycle in this meeting.
- Sprint planning meeting – During this meeting, the development team will discuss the items to be handled in the upcoming sprint cycle with the product owner. They will also arrange the items in order of priority. The meeting should end in an agreement between the product owner and the development team regarding the expected deliverables.
- Daily-standup meeting – As the name suggests, these meetings happen every day. Every team member is expected to say what they did the previous day and what they hope to accomplish in the coming day. They may also point out any bottlenecks experienced. These meetings need to be as brief as possible.
- Sprint review meeting – The team presents the item to the product owner during this meeting. The hope is that the product owner will be satisfied with the results, allowing the team to move forward with the next sprint. It’s also during the sprint review meeting that team members review the just-concluded sprint cycle. They also start preparations for the next sprint cycle. This meeting is usually attended by the product owner, scrum master, development team, and stakeholders.
- Sprint retrospective meeting – The team analyzes the previous sprint cycle’s process and workflows, pointing out areas that need improvement. Start-stop-continue is a popular approach used in these meetings. The members will say what they’d love to start doing, stop doing, and continue doing. This ultimately improves the workflows and overall efficiency of future sprint cycles. Note that stakeholders do not attend the sprint retrospective meeting. Only the product owner, scrum master, and the development team attend these meetings.
Planning sprint meetings in advance is vital in helping the team get the most out of them. It’s also important to keep these meetings short. They shouldn’t take more than 15 minutes unless they absolutely have to. This is particularly important for daily standup meetings. In fact, it’s advisable to literally hold the meeting as a stand-up to ensure it doesn’t run on.
Plan the sprint meeting’s agenda in advance and stick to it throughout the meeting. It’s also advisable to have these meetings face-to-face or via video conference if you have remote teams. This improves communication. Also, bring along a board to help the entire team visualize and keep track of the progress. This should serve the same purpose as the board used to visualize or build a product roadmap.
You can also use a digital scrum board tool. These software solutions can be very helpful in managing the progress of your sprint cycles. They can easily help you visualize the “To Do,” “In Progress,” and “Done” tasks of each user story. Moreover, they support collaboration between all team members. For example, different members of the development team can communicate with each other regarding a particular story more conveniently through the board.
Scrum boards aside, you should plan your sprint meetings at the same time and enforce a strict start & stop time policy. Agree on this policy with your team beforehand, though.
3. Define deliverables
To measure the success of a sprint cycle, the product owner and the development team will agree on certain milestones or deliverables at the beginning of the cycle. Everyone involved in the project must be aware of these deliverables. One easy way to achieve that is by having all the necessary stakeholders attend the first two sprint meetings discussed above.
It’s particularly important to ensure every member of the development team attends the sprint planning meeting. That should help them identify the sprint deliverables as expected by the product owner. The deliverables should be defined as clearly as possible. Encourage your team members to point out any elements or items that are too vague or unclear. But, it shouldn’t stop there.
Every team member must know their individual roles and responsibilities in achieving the set milestones. This is where daily standup meetings come in handy. Take note of what the members say they did the previous day and want to do in the coming day. Then, ask yourself whether those tasks align with what they should be doing to achieve the deliverables.
4. Use tools for team management
In today’s era of remote teams, team or project management tools have become really important. Even if the entire team is onsite, you’ll still need a project management software. There are various reasons for that.
One, these tools will boost your team’s productivity. They enhance collaboration allowing everyone to work together more efficiently. For example, communication between team members will improve significantly through a tool with excellent instant messaging capability. Your own work of managing the team will also get easier when you can assign tasks and track every member from a single dashboard.
Collaboration tools will also improve transparency. Product owners will be in a position to keep track of the sprint’s progress easily. They’ll be able to see the project’s development every step of the way.
Consider the following factors when searching for a project management tool for your agile team:
- Ease of use – Your team probably has too much on their plate as it is. Therefore, the last thing they need is a tool with a steep learning curve. So, look for a software solution that your team members can adapt to quickly.
- Real-time reporting – Look for a tool that can analyze data and produce insightful reports quickly. This is especially crucial if you’re investing in an all-in-one scrum software. You should be able to pull critical data on the status or project’s progress at a moment’s notice.
- Features – The tool should come with all the features your team needs to get the job done. For example, the tool should have instant messaging capabilities. It also needs an effective task management feature to help you assign specific tasks to every team member. You may also require external sharing capabilities to share information about the project with third parties.
- Cost – Lastly, think about the price of the tool. And no, I don’t mean go for the cheapest option. Look for a software solution that gives you the best value for your money. The good news is there are multiple tools on the market, so you can shop around for the best deal.
In addition to the four factors above, you may also want to consider issues such as industry fit, project type or use case, project size, and the size of your team. Picking a tool that meets all your needs makes it easier for your team to get the job done.
Nifty’s own tool is a suitable example of a software solution that could help you manage your project and team more efficiently. Features like task management, time-tracking, and reporting, can prove useful during agile sprint cycles.
The good news here is that most scrum or sprint cycle tools have free trials. Some even have free forever packages. And yes, the free trials or free-forever plans may come with limited features. However, you’ll get enough time to try out the software solutions and see if they are a good fit for your team or not before investing your money.
5. Update the user stories
User stories are at the core of the workflows in the sprint cycles. Your development team is working to achieve a deliverable to help product users complete a particular task. Therefore, the success of your sprint cycles will ultimately depend on how well the final product has achieved the user story.
If the user story is accepted by the product owner, it is marked as complete and removed. The team will then go back to the backlog for the next user story.
To increase the chances of running successful sprint cycles, make sure the user stories are as well defined as possible. There is zero room for jargon here. The product descriptions or user stories should be explained briefly using the simplest words possible while remaining as accurate as possible. To achieve that, user stories are typically written using the who-what-why criteria.
The “who” describes who wants a particular feature or capability added to a product. The “what” points out the feature or capability they need. The “why” describes the benefit or reason for needing that feature or capability.
The user story is also written from the user’s perspective. That makes it easier for the business commissioning the project and the development team to understand the objective clearly.
Let’s say you are creating a new or updated eCommerce application for a client. The user story, in this case, could be something like “the online shoppers want a product filter function to help them find products quickly.” This user story provides a good explanation of what the product users need from the product. It’s also simple enough for your agile development team to understand what’s expected of them and why.
Therefore, make sure your team works on simple user stories that they understand. The language used should be simple enough to eliminate room for misinterpretations. Development team members are also not supposed to assume anything. If there’s an unclear element, let them inquire directly from the product owner during the backlog refinement meeting.
And if a user story needs to be updated, make sure to consult the necessary stakeholders before they’re implemented.
6. Include inputs from previous sprints
There’s a reason successful agile teams hold sprint retrospective meetings after every sprint cycle. They use these meetings to identify issues from the previous cycle to improve their performance for the next cycle.
So, if you think completing a sprint cycle successfully means your team is okay and doesn’t need a retrospective meeting, think again!
But here is the thing; retrospective meetings are not just about pointing out the roadblocks experienced by your team members. Yes, that’s important, but none of it matters if no one goes to work to ensure the issues identified are resolved.
So, never ignore or cancel sprint retrospective meetings. You shouldn’t let the meetings end with a report that no one will ever look at again. Instead, use these meetings to identify what worked and what didn’t. Use what worked as inspiration and a guideline for developing the strategy for the next sprint cycle and future projects.
Look at what didn’t work and find a way to resolve those issues before the next cycle begins. It should also be a lesson learned to ensure your team does not experience the same issues in future projects.
That’s how to improve the performance of your agile team. Better performance means you’ll deliver better products to your client and their customers. And the best part is this will improve your workflows and the team’s performance for all future projects.
Sprint cycles are critical for the success of agile teams and projects. These cycles will help you deliver quality products with more efficiency. But, you can only achieve that if you manage each cycle correctly. In this article, we shared six techniques on how you can do just that.
Start by involving the entire team in the project. Next, plan your sprint meetings in advance and ensure all the necessary team members are present. Then, define the deliverables clearly and use robust team management tools for enhanced productivity and collaboration. Finally, define the user stories accurately and use the lessons learned from previous sprints to improve the next sprint cycle and future projects.
That’s it. Here’s to better, more successful sprint cycles.