If there’s any question that has been debated more than anything else other than “What’s the ideal sprint length? ” then it is “Should it be long or short?” 

There’s a consensus that short sprints work better since agile teams all over the world prefer them. 

For every question, there are a million follow-up questions and that can put you in a confused state of mind. 

Today, we’ve written this blog post to answer your questions and clear doubts you’re bursting with. 

But before we go ahead, let’s do a quick recap of Scrum events.

1. Sprint Planning: The team reviews the backlog and determines the list of requirements that will be marked as a priority in the forthcoming sprint. Sprint Planning addresses three important aspects; Why is this Sprint valuable?, What can be done this Sprint?, and How will the chosen work get done?

2. Sprint: Sprints are fixed lengths lasting one month or less. All things essential to achieve the product goal consisting sprint planning, daily scrum, sprint review, and sprint retrospective take place during sprints.

While the sprint is in progress, special care is taken to not make changes that would compromise the sprint goal and retain the quality. The Product Backlog is refined as needed and the scope is clarified and revised with the Product Owner as needed.

3. Daily Scrum: Daily Scrum is a 15-minute standup meeting facilitated by the Scrum Master, where all developers of the Scrum Team gather to inspect the progress toward the sprint goal and adapt to the sprint backlog adjusting to the upcoming sprints accordingly.

The Daily Scrum is held at the same place and time on the same day as the sprint. If the Scrum Master and Product Owner are actively working on the backlog items, they become developers.

Daily Scrums are effective in improving communications, identifying bottlenecks, paving quick decision-making, and eliminating the need for unnecessary meetings.  

4. Sprint Review and Sprint Retrospective: Sprint Review and Sprint Retrospective are two concluding events of the sprint.

5. Sprint Review: The motive of Sprint Review is to assess the outcome of the Sprint and ascertain future adaptations. The Scrum Team presents their work to the principal stakeholders and developments towards the sprint goal are discussed.

The Scrum Team and the chief stakeholders review the progress and evaluate the subsequent changes. This serves as the base to decide the next action steps. 

A sprint review is a timeboxed event having a duration of four hours for a one-month sprint. The duration is shorter for short sprints.

6. Sprint Retrospective: The Sprint Retrospective is held with the motive of planning methods to improve quality and value.

The Scrum Team inspects the last sprint and its performance in terms of individuals, interactions, processes, tools, and their Definition of Done. 

In Sprint Retrospective, the Scrum Team reviews the sprint and discusses what well and the problems encountered and what was solved, and things that are yet to be solved. 

The Scrum Team makes changes to reflect improvements. The most valuable improvements are added to the Sprint Backlog for the next sprint. 

The Sprint Retrospective concludes the sprint. It is a timeboxed event having a maximum limit of three hours for a one-month sprint. For sprints shorter than a month, the sprint retrospective is shorter. 

You might be interested in reading: Difference Between Sprint Review and Sprint Retrospective

What is Sprint length?

The duration of a sprint is called Sprint length. While there is no fixed rule, the thumb rule is to keep the sprint long enough to produce a releasable increment and short enough to ensure there are more learning cycles and to limit the risk associated with cost and effort in case of scope creep. 

Who determines the Sprint length?

Decisions related to scrum team dynamics are taken by the scrum team so does the decision regarding the sprint length as well. People doing the work should decide how they should manage structure or manage the work. 

The primary factor in choosing the right sprint length is mostly driven by the fact of what an appropriate stimulus-to-response cycle looks like.

Learn to decide the sprint length: Sign Up for the PSM Certification Training today

Outcomes of having a short sprint and long sprint

Here is a table outlining the difference between the consequences of a short sprint and a long sprint-

Short Sprint

Long Sprint

Since, short sprints are for of 1-2 weeks, the problems can be are identified sooner Long sprints usually span 3 weeks to 1  month. This will highly likely lead to change in sprint goals
Fewer complications and chances of increasing costs are few Complications and spiraling costs lead to unpredictability and uncertainty
Time to market is quicker The odds of the sprint getting canceled are on the higher side
Uncertainty is lesser since problems and risks are solved faster Uncertainty starts to build since problems and risks start to resolve slower than usual

 

Reason for teams to run short sprints

Short Sprints are more favorable because it makes teams work towards achieving the sprint goal. Long sprints might seem comfortable but they make the team complacent and laid back.

The incidence of scope creep, rising costs and slower pace of sprint are higher in long sprints. Though short sprints seem taxing, the outcomes are often successful. 

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Benefits of running short sprints

The benefits of short sprints are listed below- 

1. Short sprints ensure stability: Regular and continuous time boxed delivery is the heart of the Scrum framework. This is why flexible sprints are forbidden. The main downside to having flexible sprints is the uncertainty of the schedule for team members. 

Short sprints enable team members to work at a sustainable pace. It allows shorter retrospectives and realistic tasks that can be completed on time.

2. Early Feedback: Short sprints reduce the entire feedback loop. The user stories or tasks are available for review in the concluding stages of the sprint. It helps to have more learning cycles (inspect and adapt events) and decreases risk of cost and development effort to a smaller time frame.

Longer sprints may result in unnecessary complexity, changes in market condition may lead your sprint goal becoming invalid making the team deliver something which may no longer make sense to the business. 

3. Client Participation: Short sprints keep the client in the loop about the product development cycle. They are closely involved in product backlog prioritization, requirement gathering, and reviews. 

4. Monitoring velocity is easier: Velocity is an important agile metric. It refers to the amount of work completed towards the end of the sprint. Shorter sprints enable a better definition of done and keep the velocity balanced. When sprint length is long, complexity related to work may arise which may in turn raise the risk and affect your velocity.

5. Sprint planning is easy: Shorter sprints mean fewer user stories to complete compared to longer sprints and teams can exchange feedback with customers quickly. Long sprints can be daunting because they require frequent follow-up meetings, prioritization, defining acceptance criteria, and brainstorming. This leads to too many user stories and umpteen meetings. 

6. Balances Scope creep: Short sprints eliminate the practice of adding new user requirements when the sprint is in progress. The customer might change their mind looking at competitors or the market.

Shorter sprints mean more sprint reviews. This provides the Product Owner with knowledge of the sprint progress.

Tips to help you decide the Sprint Length

1. The main benefit of Scrum is quicker feedback and having a short sprint ensures the same. 

2. Continuous Improvement is a principle of Scrum and short sprints help in fulfilling it 

3. High-performance teams thrive under pressure and what better way than short sprints to ensure the same 

4. If too many interruptions play spoilsport for your sprint, it’s best to switch to a shorter sprint. Add the low priority user stories to the product backlog by considering average interruptions 

5. If your team is slacking off in the beginning and then working to complete the work at the 11th hour, then a short sprint is the best solution. 

6. Short sprints help in failing and learning fast. 

7. If you’re using agile engineering practices like Test-Driven Development (TDD) which reduces the testing during a sprint, then the sprint length will be 1 week or less

8. Teams can easily pass through team development stages if the sprints are shorter 

9. Shorter sprints are easier to estimate. Try this if your team has too much on its plate to handle 

10. Do frequent trial and error and experimenting to determine sprint length for small tasks. For instance, a 1-day sprint. 

11. If you follow a fixed release schedule, then ensure that you have 6 sprints for sufficient feedback cycles. More the sprints, the lesser the sprint length. 

12. Plan small sprints frequently to release minor product updates so that you are one step ahead of your competitors. 

13. A new team needs short sprints to determine its velocity 

Closure

Short sprints have proven to be effective for teams of all sizes. The benefits outweigh the cons. Consider the user stories, team performance, velocity, and other factors before deciding the sprint length. 

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Agilemania

Businesses transform when they realize that the current ways of working can no longer address the fast-changing market dynamics and rising user expectations. Agilemania, a small group of passionate Lean-Agile-DevOps consultants and trainers, is the most trusted brand for digital transformations in South and South-East Asia.