How to conduct productive sprint planning meetings for product managers "Product people - Product managers, product designers, UX designers, UX researchers, Business analysts, developers, makers & entrepreneurs July 07 2022 False Agile, Guest Post, Sprint, Mind the Product Mind the Product Ltd 1035 How to conduct productive sprint planning meetings for product managers Product Management 4.14

How to conduct productive sprint planning meetings for product managers

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Keeping your sprint planning meetings productive isn’t just about the meetings themselves. Preparation beforehand and acting on the results of the meeting afterwards are also crucial. Let’s look at the three crucial elements of impactful sprint planning meetings.

Before the meeting

Before a sprint planning meeting, product managers should already have communicated with the client and interested stakeholders, so that they know how the sprint fits within overarching project goals.

From this process, managers will be able to put together a meeting agenda with a preliminary list of sprint objectives. Whether it’s planning a new project, resolving bank account matters, or identifying business blockers, objectives should be clearly defined.

These preliminary objectives are often modified during the course of the meeting. One of the key reasons sprint planning meetings are organized is to ensure that goals are a) understood by the sprint team and b) achievable given the planned resources and timeframe of the sprint.

This potential for modification of objectives during meetings, though, doesn’t detract from the importance of developing them. Quite the opposite, in fact. By preparing objectives in advance, the beginning of any sprint planning meeting can focus on your goals and how to get there.

During the meeting

Every meeting will be different, as every sprint is different. You won’t need to discuss the same things if you’re developing call center cloud solutions as if you’re working on a new AR application. There are, though, some key things to keep in mind to ensure your planning meetings are always impactful:

Focus on goals first and backlog second

Start your sprint planning meeting with the overarching objectives you developed during the preparation stage. That way, you can ensure the goals your entire team must reach stay top of mind. Otherwise, it’s easy to get lost in the granular detail of task order, individual responsibilities, and the like.

You should then be able to define your sprint goals. These need to be as clear as possible. The definitions should include how you will tell whether an objective has been met.

As the product manager, of course, it is still your responsibility to present the particular backlog items and tasks that you think the sprint should deal with.

The vital thing is to frame the discussion of your product backlog in terms of overall objectives. That way, your planning meeting is best placed to find the most impactful and productive ways to meet those objectives.

Speaking of which.

Listen to your team and be flexible

Sprint planning meetings shouldn’t be a place for you to dictate terms. They’re about generating the best plan for an upcoming sprint, and for that you need diverse expertise and input.

Say your meeting regards planning a sprint related to contact center technology development.

Perhaps you’re looking to develop an automated dialer to be included in the software.

Prior to the meeting, you might believe that the main challenges of the sprint will revolve around designing the user interface and back-end integration with the rest of the project modules.

During the meeting, however, engineers may make the case that one of the biggest challenges of building an auto-dialer for the project is achieving ISO certification. In dialog with the product owner and other stakeholders (who might not even know what is ISO certification), you may then decide that the sprint needs to be extended or another planned to deal with certification as a separate issue.

Maintaining the flexibility to make such adjustments on the fly ensures your planning meetings can be as impactful as possible. Sprints, after all, as part of the Agile philosophy, are all about agility—the clue’s in the name.

Gauge capacity and set target velocity

The meeting should include a discussion of how much work each team member can contribute to the sprint. Understanding capacity (often estimated capacity) helps you to also set the target velocity for the sprint.

You should negotiate the target with the sprint members. If this is a team’s first sprint, team input and their estimations of capacity are all you have to go on. If it’s not, you can also adapt target velocity based upon the velocity of previous sprints.

Make sure your sprint planning meetings encourage transparency and trust. Participants must know that estimations of capacity can be genuine and realistic. They mustn’t think they need to impress colleagues or managers by claiming they can do more than they actually can. That’s what will lead to actual work completed falling well short of the target velocity for the sprint.

Extra tip: Considerations for remote meetings

Nowadays, a sprint planning meeting is just as likely to take place virtually via video conference as in a physical location.

For remote meetings, ensure everyone is prepared with the correct remote setup.

While remote meetings can be extremely valuable, they also have drawbacks. One of these is difficulty in maintaining visibility in a remote work setting. Keep this in mind when running remote planning meetings. Make sure all team members are able to contribute, and feel comfortable doing so.

After the meeting

After the meeting, your priority is to compile a summary of the meeting that covers the key decisions made, a timeframe for implementation, and details for initiating pre-sprint preparations.

The easiest and most effective way to share this information is with a post-meeting summary email. Ask people to respond confirming their agreement with the plans. This confirmation will ensure a smooth start to the sprint. If some people fail to respond to the initial email, send a follow up email.

Impactful sprint planning meetings every time

A sprint planning meeting should serve to keep your team moving forward productively. Not set expectations that keep them looking over their shoulders, wondering if they can meet them. Focus on goals, encourage input and flexibility, and create a culture of trust and transparency, and your planning meetings will be impactful every time.

There’s more where that came from! Access more great content on team collaboration. 

Keeping your sprint planning meetings productive isn’t just about the meetings themselves. Preparation beforehand and acting on the results of the meeting afterwards are also crucial. Let’s look at the three crucial elements of impactful sprint planning meetings.

Before the meeting

Before a sprint planning meeting, product managers should already have communicated with the client and interested stakeholders, so that they know how the sprint fits within overarching project goals. From this process, managers will be able to put together a meeting agenda with a preliminary list of sprint objectives. Whether it's planning a new project, resolving bank account matters, or identifying business blockers, objectives should be clearly defined. These preliminary objectives are often modified during the course of the meeting. One of the key reasons sprint planning meetings are organized is to ensure that goals are a) understood by the sprint team and b) achievable given the planned resources and timeframe of the sprint. This potential for modification of objectives during meetings, though, doesn’t detract from the importance of developing them. Quite the opposite, in fact. By preparing objectives in advance, the beginning of any sprint planning meeting can focus on your goals and how to get there.

During the meeting

Every meeting will be different, as every sprint is different. You won’t need to discuss the same things if you’re developing call center cloud solutions as if you’re working on a new AR application. There are, though, some key things to keep in mind to ensure your planning meetings are always impactful:

Focus on goals first and backlog second

Start your sprint planning meeting with the overarching objectives you developed during the preparation stage. That way, you can ensure the goals your entire team must reach stay top of mind. Otherwise, it’s easy to get lost in the granular detail of task order, individual responsibilities, and the like. You should then be able to define your sprint goals. These need to be as clear as possible. The definitions should include how you will tell whether an objective has been met. As the product manager, of course, it is still your responsibility to present the particular backlog items and tasks that you think the sprint should deal with. The vital thing is to frame the discussion of your product backlog in terms of overall objectives. That way, your planning meeting is best placed to find the most impactful and productive ways to meet those objectives. Speaking of which.

Listen to your team and be flexible

Sprint planning meetings shouldn’t be a place for you to dictate terms. They’re about generating the best plan for an upcoming sprint, and for that you need diverse expertise and input. Say your meeting regards planning a sprint related to contact center technology development. Perhaps you’re looking to develop an automated dialer to be included in the software. Prior to the meeting, you might believe that the main challenges of the sprint will revolve around designing the user interface and back-end integration with the rest of the project modules. During the meeting, however, engineers may make the case that one of the biggest challenges of building an auto-dialer for the project is achieving ISO certification. In dialog with the product owner and other stakeholders (who might not even know what is ISO certification), you may then decide that the sprint needs to be extended or another planned to deal with certification as a separate issue. Maintaining the flexibility to make such adjustments on the fly ensures your planning meetings can be as impactful as possible. Sprints, after all, as part of the Agile philosophy, are all about agility—the clue’s in the name.

Gauge capacity and set target velocity

The meeting should include a discussion of how much work each team member can contribute to the sprint. Understanding capacity (often estimated capacity) helps you to also set the target velocity for the sprint. You should negotiate the target with the sprint members. If this is a team’s first sprint, team input and their estimations of capacity are all you have to go on. If it’s not, you can also adapt target velocity based upon the velocity of previous sprints. Make sure your sprint planning meetings encourage transparency and trust. Participants must know that estimations of capacity can be genuine and realistic. They mustn’t think they need to impress colleagues or managers by claiming they can do more than they actually can. That’s what will lead to actual work completed falling well short of the target velocity for the sprint.

Extra tip: Considerations for remote meetings

Nowadays, a sprint planning meeting is just as likely to take place virtually via video conference as in a physical location. For remote meetings, ensure everyone is prepared with the correct remote setup. While remote meetings can be extremely valuable, they also have drawbacks. One of these is difficulty in maintaining visibility in a remote work setting. Keep this in mind when running remote planning meetings. Make sure all team members are able to contribute, and feel comfortable doing so.

After the meeting

After the meeting, your priority is to compile a summary of the meeting that covers the key decisions made, a timeframe for implementation, and details for initiating pre-sprint preparations. The easiest and most effective way to share this information is with a post-meeting summary email. Ask people to respond confirming their agreement with the plans. This confirmation will ensure a smooth start to the sprint. If some people fail to respond to the initial email, send a follow up email.

Impactful sprint planning meetings every time

A sprint planning meeting should serve to keep your team moving forward productively. Not set expectations that keep them looking over their shoulders, wondering if they can meet them. Focus on goals, encourage input and flexibility, and create a culture of trust and transparency, and your planning meetings will be impactful every time. There’s more where that came from! Access more great content on team collaboration. 

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