How to Define An Ideal Sprint Length

How to Define An Ideal Sprint Length

Sprints are the soul of Scrum methodology within agile project management. The whole concept revolves around the fact where risks are minimized, requirements are filtered and clarified, product roadmap shaped and business driving outcomes are delivered at the end of each sprint.

In another terms, a product increment that helps perform specific and desired business function.

However, Scrum Masters, Product Owners, Stakeholders and Scrum Teams always have a challenge in defining the ideal sprint length.

Scrum guidelines state that Sprint lengths shouldn’t exceed 4 weeks and it is ideal to have 2 week sprints.

Now, to understand why exactly sprints should be within 2-4 weeks maximum, let us look at the basic approach behind the scrum project management approach.

Understanding Agile Scrum

Development teams globally have been practicing incremental product releases for over a decade now and more vigorously in the last few years.

The reason is, it offers a holistic view of the product roadmap and the journey ahead.

From a strategic and business standpoint – stakeholders have frequent and inexpensive opportunities to improvise the product before committing significant resources (time, budget and teams).

So, considering you ran a 2 week sprint and the outcomes wasn’t as expected or doesn’t prove to be business worthy, your cost exposure is of just those 2 weeks.

But in the traditional waterfall model, any such decision can only be taken at a very later stage which makes adaptability a huge challenge and course correction is too time and cost intensive.

On the other hand, agile scrum project management is all about adaptability.

I would go as far to state that agile offers adaptability at all levels of the organization.

  • Stakeholder
  • Business strategy
  • Product roadmap or vision
  • Development team (read execution)

In plain terms, whether it is about initiating, planning, executing or monitoring. You have ample scope for improvisation and course correction just at the right time with minimum risks and cost exposure.

And primarily the reason why agile project management is the default preferred methodology of the marketing, product, engineering and development teams.

What is Sprint and Sprint Length?

Scrum deploys some of the most matured time tested guidelines. And one of them is time-boxing your development cycle.

Enters, Sprint!

As the name suggests Sprint is about getting things done swiftly within a short period of time.

The whole concept of sprint is to identify User stories that the scrum team would work on and complete within a specific sprint duration. Typically known as the sprint length.

We all know that Sprints can be of 1, 2, 3 or 4 weeks long at the max. Anything beyond 4 weeks is never agile scrum project management.

Sprint Length is the defined interval within which the team delivers an incremental workable solution that meets the definition of done and therefore acceptable to the customer. In a developer’s words – “ready to ship or release to the customer”.

Why so much confusion around the “right sprint length”?

There has been a lot of furore on adopting the right sprint length. And there are no perfect answers.

As with all things, working with what works best for the project or the scrum team should be accounted to define the sprint length.

The project complexity, agile maturity of the team, company and stakeholders as well as customer priorities play a role in defining the sprint length.

Smart and matures scrum teams always go after the 2week Sprint Length.

It is considered to be the ideal sprint length!

But then, you should identify what works best for the team. 4 or more than 4 weeks for one sprint is never advisable.

Remember the main objective behind adopting the agile scrum project management:

  • Minimizing risk
  • Greater stakeholder engagement
  • Clarity around the definition of done or acceptance criteria
  • Reducing efforts and cost exposure
  • Polishing the product roadmap
  • Identifying the root cause of issues promptly that delay or lead to product/project failure

All of the above 6 points have strategic and tactical benefits associated and confirm as why you should have 2-3weeks as your sprint length at all times.

  • 2week cycles create and maintain a sense of urgency within the scrum team.
  • Backlog refinement improves to ensure stories are broken down enough to be covered within 2 weeks.
  • Clarity of the product backlog ensures robust sprint planning thus pre-emptively addressing facts that might cause delay or derail the product itself.
  • Customer and product owners are well-engaged.
  • Customer feedback and reviews are prompt leading to all round clarity of the product vision.
  • Scrum Teams gain better understanding of the user stories and customer requirements.
  • If sprint lengths are of 4 weeks then chances of the teams losing focus or wandering away is higher.
  • Issues may be skirted to not address until absolutely required which is the exact opposite of agile scrum.
  • Also if you vary the sprint length with every other sprint, then the team isn’t disciplined or self-organized enough.
  • Random occurrences are ok, but ideally your Sprint Length must remain same.
  • Sprint review and retrospectives are far more meaningful when you have 2 week sprints.
  • Scope creep can be prevented with shorter sprints.
  • Scrum team’s performance becomes consistent with a predictable sprint velocity which sets the tone for the project end date.
  • The key here is, there is improved certainty around the project’s completion on time and with quality.

Concluding Words

Defining the sprint length is entirely the team’s prerogative. But 2 important scrum project management guidelines must be followed

  • Never change an active sprint
  • Follow a fixed sprint length

Why are these guidelines crucial to having a matured agile project management practice?

  1. Have a highly self-organized team.
  2. Uncertainties are reduced.

We do not live in a perfect world. Product features that matter today will be considered a tech debt tomorrow.

Plus there is the universal scenario of requirements not being clear.

And lastly, competition and business priorities must be taken into consideration too.

It may seem like agile is kind of rationing your project execution. Practically, it ensures greater control of the project at multi-levels. Customers, scrum masters, scrum team they all know

  • What must be done
  • Why and how
  • When

Thus, you minimize friction, and collaborate seamlessly towards a common goal.

Adaptability becomes easier across the board leading to faster agile maturity of your organization!

How agile are your teams today? Start today, with Orangescrum an all in one agile project management tool that allows you to

  • Plan your agile projects
  • Create, manage and prioritize your backlog
  • Run parallel sprints
  • Measure team velocity
  • Monitor sprint progress with burn down and sprint reports

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