Project Management

13 minute read

Understanding the Importance of Sprint Planning in Agile Project Management

Joseph Mapue

Joseph Mapue

Sprint Planning is an essential aspect of Agile Project Management that helps teams align their efforts. It also ensures they are moving in the right direction toward completing a project. In this method, teams work in short, incremental cycles called Sprints, each with specific goals and deliverables.

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What is sprint planning?

Sprint planning refers to the brainstorming event that launches a fast-paced, iterative work process called a sprint. During a sprint planning session, participants define the expected output of the upcoming sprint and how the team will deliver said output. Sprint planning provides guidance and clarity on how component tasks relevant to the predicted outcome might be specified, delegated, and prioritized.

By understanding the importance of Sprint Planning, teams can improve their overall efficiency and effectiveness, leading to successful project outcomes. For teams that follow Agile frameworks such as Scrum or Kanban, a section or increment of work usually starts at Sprint Planning. Some Agile teams use the alternative term "iteration planning" when referring to the same event. It's worth exploring for its scope to make work more efficient – 70% of agile organizations say that agile helps them achieve a faster time to market. 

Elements of sprint planning

The critical purpose of sprint planning is for the entire team to reach a consensus on how much work the development team can reasonably or realistically achieve by the end of the sprint. As a rule of thumb, teams often spend two hours of sprint planning for every week of the sprint, although this standard is flexible.

GoSkills Sprint planning in Agile Project Management


Everyone on the agile team attends sprint planning. In Scrum, this includes the Scrum Master, the Product Owner, and the Development Team. During the event, the team discusses and agrees on the expected work for the coming sprint, defining the Sprint Goal. 

GoSkills Sprint planning in Agile Project Management

The primary functions of each participant are as follows: 

  • Scrum Master: Facilitates the meeting.
  • Product Owner: Presents the objective/goal of the sprint based on and defines the acceptance criteria (i.e., standards of satisfaction) for the upcoming work.  
  • Development Team: Collaborates with the Product Owner on how best to execute all relevant tasks that comprise the upcoming work. The team specifies these tasks and the effort and time required to complete them. Generally, the development team also has the weightiest insight into how much high-priority work can realistically be achieved by the end of the upcoming sprint. 

GoSkills Sprint planning in Agile Project Management


Sprint goal

The main output of a sprint planning session is the Sprint Goal. The product owner defines the initial state of this output and outlines the Product Backlog Items that comprise it. However, everyone on the team participates in discussing, iterating, and finalizing the sprint goal and its component tasks. The development team has the final say on how much work related to the goal can reasonably be accomplished by the end of the sprint. This specific amount of work/effort primarily depends on the team's development pace or work velocity.

Sprint backlog

In addition to the sprint goal, agile teams also create and finalize a Sprint Backlog. This is a subset of the product backlog that is used by the team only for the stretch of the upcoming sprint. Sprint Backlog Items (SBI) are selected, detailed, and committed to by the entire team for completion by the end of the sprint. The team breaks down each sprint backlog item (often expressed or represented as a user story) into component tasks, which are then weighted by priority and assigned to team members.

Sprint plan

Some teams opt to additionally generate a simple written document called a Sprint Plan. The sprint plan specifies the agreed upon (i.e., the final) sprint goal and provides a detailed description of the sprint backlog items. 

Serving as a roadmap for the team to follow during the sprint, the sprint plan:

1) helps clarify the objective of the sprint
2) keeps everyone focused by specifying and assigning only tasks that matter to the sprint
3) and shields the team from additional work requests that often tend to sap sprint momentum or success.

Finally, the team can use the sprint plan as a post-mortem document to help improve their performance in succeeding sprints.   


The main inputs that fuel sprint planning are the product backlog, current work constraints, the initial sprint goal, and the team's capacity/velocity.

Product backlog

This is the list of project/product features required by the customer and used by the team to select which specific features to complete every sprint. Product Backlog Items (PBI) are specific features that have been organized by the product owner in order of priority. Each item on the product backlog represents an elemental task or a single unit of work. From the product backlog, the team creates a subset list (called a Sprint Backlog) which contains the highest-priority items that can realistically be completed at the end of the upcoming sprint.  

Initial sprint goal

This is the development objective for the upcoming sprint as identified by the product owner based on its business value, impact on overall product development, or importance to the customer. During sprint planning, this initial objective undergoes minimal to substantial iteration as other participants (especially the development team) share their concerns and insights.

Team capability and velocity

The team should have a realistic understanding of its work capacity. This entails an honest assessment of each member's skill set, experience, and historical performance. In addition, the availability of team members and how fast each individual completes tasks satisfactorily (work velocity) determine the team's capacity for the upcoming sprint. In turn, these factors help the team fine-tune the initial sprint goal into one that is more reasonable, realistic, and achievable. When combined, a team's capability and velocity can be used to calculate the estimated total number of hours the team can work on the sprint backlog items. This estimated work period should include some buffer time against unexpected delays.

GoSkills Sprint planning in Agile Project Management

Work constraints

These are process, business, or technical limitations that affect how fast, how well, and how efficiently the team can accomplish the sprint goal. 


Sprint planning is a recurring event that precedes every sprint, whereby the team commits to a sprint goal and the timely delivery of component tasks associated with it.

Prior to the event

The product owner should have ranked items in the product backlog in order of priority. Moreover, the relevant user stories and acceptance criteria for every high-priority item should also have been defined. When these have been accomplished, and all participants are present, the Scrum Master can start and facilitate the sprint planning session and delegate tasks as needed.

GoSkills Sprint planning in Agile Project Management

During the meeting

The product owner and the development team deliberate over which items should (and could) be included in the Sprint Backlog. While the product owner can propose the initial priority list (Product Backlog Items), the development team helps break down the PBIs into manageable tasks. They can also raise issues and reject, add, or replace some items based on the amount of work they can realistically exert during the sprint.

The sprint backlog is just a subset of the product backlog. The product owner and development team collaborate to finalize which high-priority items from the product backlog to include in the sprint backlog.

In a nutshell, sprint planning typically follows the following process:

  1. The scrum master initiates and welcomes everyone to the meeting.
  2. The product owner presents the sprint objective (i.e., the initial state of the Sprint Goal) based on factors such as business value and development impact. The sprint goal encapsulates the highest-priority feature requests included in the current Product Backlog. 
  3. The development team helps fine-tune the sprint goal/sprint backlog by raising concerns, clarifying dependencies, pushing back against unreasonable expectations, and breaking product backlog items into smaller/more manageable tasks. Finally, the team also provides time estimates for each task and assigns these tasks to relevant owners. 
  4. Everyone deliberates, agrees on, and commits to the final version of the sprint goal, including the detailed task assignments, completion dates, and expected deliverables by the end of the sprint. 
  5. Where applicable, the product owner auto-generates a Sprint Plan document to be used as a roadmap for the upcoming sprint. Otherwise, a visual representation of the sprint backlog can be used by the team to track progress. 
  6. The scrum master recaps the sprint planning meeting. 

Sprint planning structure

A sprint typically lasts from two weeks to one month. For every week of the sprint, the team may allocate up to two hours of sprint planning. This helps the team clarify objectives, recalibrate task details, refresh focus, and keep everyone motivated. 

GoSkills Sprint planning in Agile Project Management

The sprint planning meeting has four main agenda

1) Finalize the sprint goal
2) Create a sprint backlog
3) Assign sprint backlog items (SBI) to relevant owners
4) Make everyone commit to completing the assigned tasks by the end of the sprint period

Generally, filling up the details of the sprint backlog and assigning SBIs to owners take up the largest chunk of the sprint planning meeting. However, the first part should be allocated for refining and finalizing the Sprint Goal. Regardless, the meeting should be structured in a way whereby the following issues and questions get fully clarified and/or addressed by the end of the session:

  1. What is the objective for the upcoming sprint?
  2. What is the most effective and efficient way to achieve this objective?
  3. Which PBIs directly contribute to the objective?
  4. What are the dependencies among these PBIs?
  5. What is the best way to delegate tasks in the sprint backlog?
  6. Which team members are qualified and available for the upcoming sprint?  
  7. How much will it take in work hours to complete individual SBIs and achieve the overall objective?

GoSkills Sprint planning in Agile Project Management

Benefits of sprint planning

The rationale for sprint planning is rock-solid, making it pretty much indispensable in agile teams. Sprint planning lends a strong framework and a clear direction for the required work ahead. It enables the team to start a new sprint with a strong commitment to a common goal as well as a clear understanding of how the goal would be achieved.

Teams use spring planning to:

  • Keep everyone focused on the objective of the sprint.
  • Simplify and delegate the component tasks required to achieve the sprint objective. 
  • Establish task ownership and accountability. 
  • Sustain team drive and motivation. 
  • Shield the team from distractions and additional work requests that dampen momentum or lead to burnout. 
  • Deliver acceptable business outcomes to customers and stakeholders. 
  • Create an environment for shared success. 
  • Improve individual and team performance over time. 

Sprint planning is best for agile teams or ones that use time-boxed iterations in their product development or project management process. 

GoSkills Sprint planning in Agile Project Management

Negative impact/pitfalls

Not every team might benefit from sprint planning. Moreover, sprint planning might be executed the wrong way. One common pitfall is the allocation of excessive time for sprint planning, especially when the team is building the details of the sprint backlog. At its core, the agile philosophy grants the highest premium on actual work delivered. Teams undermine this mantra when they spend too much time and resources on mere planning.    

A poorly built product backlog also dilutes the efficiency of sprint planning. When the team spends an inordinate amount of effort to identify and refine product backlog items, sprint planning becomes more of a burden instead of a tool.   

How to prepare for sprint planning

While everyone on the team has something to contribute, much of sprint planning success depends on the product owner. For one thing, the product owner typically manages the product backlog and provides the initial iteration of the sprint goal. When either of these fundamental inputs is overly flawed, the process bogs down significantly. 

GoSkills Sprint planning in Agile Project Management

Hence, the product owner should practice discipline and diligence in keeping the product backlog as transparent, updated, and accurate as possible. As needed, the entire team should help the product owner continually refine the product backlog over time.

To wrap up

In conclusion, sprint planning is a crucial step in Agile Project Management that helps teams plan, organize and execute their tasks effectively. It enables teams to prioritize their work, allocate resources, and make informed decisions that support the overall success of the project.

By embracing the principles of sprint planning, teams can continuously improve their processes, adapt to changes and achieve their goals. Whether you are a seasoned project manager or new to Agile methodology, understanding the importance of Sprint Planning is a must-have skill in today's fast-paced and ever-changing business environment.

You can also help your team by getting up to speed on the best management tactics to make your next project successful.

Check out our free webinar to learn more about our top agile tips. You can level up your skills with our general project management course and our agile-specific project management course.

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Joseph Mapue

Joseph Mapue

Joseph Mapue wears his writer's hat wherever he goes, crafting top-notch content on business, technology, creativity, and innovation. He is also a dreamer, builder, father, and gamer.