A good way to understand what a Sprint is, is to look at it like a timebox, which is to say it is a point of time between A and B. This could be a 50-minute meeting break, a two-hour meeting, or it could even refer to a Monday to Friday working week. What is important is that it boxes the time in which point A meets point B. In the case of Scrum itself, a Sprint is a timebox of approximately one month, whereby all work is performed to deliver an Increment. 

In a Sprint, the Increment is an actionable and usable step towards the Product Goal. In a Sprint, there can be multiple Increments as long as each completed Increment compliments the next Increment. Defining the Product Goal and what Increments are to be included in a given Sprint is typically a conversation between the Product Owner, the Developers, and the Scrum Master facilitating the Sprint.

The average length of a Sprint can vary depending on the conversation and agreements made between the interested parties of the Scrum Team. For example sometimes it can be shorter than a month, and sometimes a little over a month. It really all depends on the work efficiency of the team and what they have identified along the way. Because in essence, Scrum and Agile ways of working are not linear, it is iterative, meaning that instead of a linear top-down approach to Project Management, it rather adopts a more flexible and bottom-up approach. This means that teams can adjust operations to comply with consumer demand, new findings, identified risks and product reviews. 

Finding the middle ground and compromising with your team in accordance to their capabilities is therefore paramount. Because if you are going to be working together for two years but are already burned out after three Sprints, it will be necessary to reevaluate how things are done and find a way of working that works for the team as a whole and yet doesn’t compromise the quality of the product. 

In response to this issue, my recommendation to everyone is to pick a number that you believe is going to work for you for at least three to four Sprints. I say three to four Sprints as a minimum because I have found that teams only really get to gauge their environment, their working progress, and what works for them after some Sprints have been completed. And if you find that after the fourth Sprint, things are not really working out the way you intended, then that’s a sign you may need to tweak the length or some other aspects of the Increment to improve the team’s work efficiency. 

How A Sprint Is Different From A Traditional Project 

Unlike a Sprint, in traditional Project Management we tend to be quite stringent on scope when we are  using projects appropriately for complicated types of work. In these cases we have a clearly defined quality we are striving for and know exactly how much work is needed to get there. However when doing complex work, we do not know much work is needed to get there or if it is even possible let alone valuable; all we have are assumptions. So in this case, the key thing is to always try and get something out the door as quickly as possible to validate any and all of those assumptions. 

Traditional Project Management is also different from the Sprint since instead of putting a tight deadline in place for when everything needs to be done, in Scrum, we study the Sprint Goal; we commit to trying our best and achieving what we set out to do but this does not come with any guarantees. 

But, Doesn’t This Approach Lack Structure?

A comment and question I have often received is whether this way of working lacks structure and my answer to that is yes on the surface level I can understand why to many this seems like an unstructured approach but with closer inspection you’ll see that there is actually a lot more structure than meets the eye. In a Scrum Team we are structurally focused on return on investment and so when doing complex work, we cannot always promise a solution with an exact time frame.

So instead we focus on risk, and repeat methods based on what value they bring. For example if X is not bringing in Y, then we are absolutely fine with removing X from the equation. Nothing is fixed. Or perhaps we see that Y actually brings in greater value than Z, and decide to go with Y instead of X. Arriving at such conclusions can only be accomplished through continual revision, adjustment and slowly releasing Increments along the way. 

What we are concerned about in each Sprint is not just the end goal, but delivering high-quality Increments along the way and ensuring that each step is done in the best way possible. Think of it like this, we cannot build a structure from the top down, we have to build it from the bottom up whereby each piece needs to support the other, if not, the structure collapses altogether. 

Interested to learn more about how to effectively implement and complete a Sprint in your team? 

Get in touch today and let’s work together on your journey to success! 

Pragmatic Shift is a Scrum Training, Agile Consulting, and Agile Coaching consultancy that specialises in delivering Scrum.Org certified scrum courses, and helping organisations increase their business agility and product development success through agile consulting and coaching.

We firmly believe that a shift to agile is a pragmatic shift. A natural evolution from traditional project management and product management. A proven, reliable, and resilient framework for addressing compelling problems and developing complex solutions.

Over a decade’s worth of experience as an agile practitioner, agile consultant, agile coach, and scrum trainer informs our pragmatic approach to change. Agile dogma has no value in the context of product development or organisational change.

Instead, we look to start where you are, work with what you have, and make meaningful interventions that align with the objectives you are trying to achieve.

Progress over perfection.

If this sounds like a pragmatic solution to you, visit the following pages for more information.
Scrum Training: https://pragmaticshift.com/training/
Agile Consulting: Coming Soon!
Agile Coaching: https://www.thescrumcoach.uk

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