I’d like to cover one topic that may be a little controversial among managers or agile practitioners: whether planning sprints in advance is acceptable or not in a Scrum project. Should I plan only the Sprint my team will start or should I plan future Sprints?
Being agile is about identifying and reacting to problems as soon as possible. The three pillars of a Scrum project emphasize how to do that by inspecting, adapting and being transparent during the Scrum events. However, there is no Scrum event to go beyond the planning of the current Sprint. This is why the most purist people don’t plan future Sprints.
Even though Scrum guide does not mention this, positive results may be realized when planning more Sprints in advance. These are some benefits of doing that:
- Anticipate problems that require immediate actions
- Increase likelihood of meeting external milestones (i.e. those that do not depend on or cannot be controlled by Scrum team)
- Identify need of hiring new people for the team
However, how can this be done without impacts (or with minimum impacts) in the current sprint, since team members should be focused on developing the scope of the Sprint?
Slightly change Backlog grooming sessions can be a good alternative. During grooming sessions the Scrum team and the Product Owner discuss about the Product Backlog with a clear goal: finish the meeting with an improved Backlog. The definition of “improved backlog” can vary from team to team, but usually attendees focus on detailing more the user stories and their acceptance criteria. However, these sessions can also be used to create sub-tasks, to estimate and to assign them.
With a Backlog with sub-tasks and their estimates, the Scrum Master can distribute Product Backlog items in the future sprints, based on the Product Owner prioritization. Having done that, it is possible to check if some milestones look feasible, if people are over-allocated, which may require hiring new people to meet some dates and features, and so on. In addition to this, having 1:1 meetings between the Scrum Master and each team member, once a Sprint for 30-60 minutes, to review estimations and assignments improve the accuracy of the Backlog. This would require an additional effort for the Scrum Master of about 8 hours / sprint, considering a 8-member team, as well as a total of 8 hours when summing up 1 hour of each member. This can be an important practice to mitigate risks.
Important: What is planned for future sprints is not a commitment. A Scrum team can only commit to a Sprint goal after the Sprint Planning.