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What is a Sprint in Scrum?

One of Scrum’s most notable features is the sprint. A sprint is when the Scrum team works within a short, time-boxed period to finish a predefined set of work. A single sprint generally lasts between two weeks to one month. The work to be done can be a portion of a large project or a specific feature. Sprints allow teams to deliver high-value work more frequently.

If you download the official Scrum guide, you will see the different elements related to sprints, such as ‘Ready’, ‘Done’, ‘Testing’, and ‘Releases’. What do they mean and why do we use them? Let’s explore these questions further.

What is a Sprint in Scrum?

One of Scrum’s most notable features is the sprint. A sprint is when the Scrum team works within a short, time-boxed period to finish a predefined set of work. A single sprint generally lasts between two weeks to one month. The work to be done can be a portion of a large project or a specific feature. Sprints allow teams to deliver high-value work more frequently.

Fun fact: ‘Sprint’ is a Scrum-specific term. Other forms of Agile use the more generic term ‘iteration’ to indicate a time-boxed period of development.

Sprints in the Scrum Framework

Let’s revisit the Scrum framework to see how the sprint fits into the Scrum framework:

Graphic shows the overview of the Scrum framework. The process starts with the "Product backlog" to "Sprint planning meeting" to "Sprint backlog" to "Daily scrum" with 1 scrum team to "Demo/sprint review" to either "Increment" or back to "Product backlog". From "Increment" it then goes to "Sprint retrospective (retro)" then back to "Sprint planning meeting".Click to enlarge

Each sprint is tied together with four ceremonies. These ceremonies empower the team and drive Agile development.

The ceremonies are:

  • Sprint planning: This kick-off meeting with the whole Scrum team starts every sprint. The team collaboratively plans what can be delivered, estimates the effort involved, and ensures alignment.
  • Daily Scrum: The daily Scrum, also known as the daily stand-up, is a quick check-in on how the work is progressing. The goal here is surfacing blockers or risks to completing the work set out for the sprint.
  • Sprint review: This is a showcase or demo of the work, and it is an opportunity for the team to celebrate their accomplishments, share what was built, and get immediate feedback from project stakeholders.
  • Sprint retrospective: This is a key part of continuous improvement. The team shares what worked and what didn’t at the end of an iteration to find creative solutions and identify any changes that need to be implemented for the next sprint. In this article, Max Rehkopf shares some helpful do’s and don’ts for working in sprints.

Read: What are sprints? [1]

What do ‘Ready’ and ‘Done’ Mean in a Scrum?

To ensure there is no misunderstanding on what the requirements and expectations are, it’s important that the team and stakeholders are aligned on what constitutes ‘Ready’ and ‘Done’. If this is not clearly defined from the outset, the team may end up either having to work beyond the sprint to meet the expectations of stakeholders or may have gone ‘too deep’ beyond what was expected to be delivered.

The definitions of these terms are decided collaboratively by the team during sprint planning.

Graphic shows process map of what it means to have a task ready, how the task travels through a sprint and when it is deemed as done. There are three icons. Icon 1: Ready, Product backlog. Icon 2: Sprint. Icon 3: Done, Product increment. Click to enlarge

A product being ready refers to qualities that a user story or item should have in order to be ready to be worked on. In order for a user story or item to be ready, it needs to be clear, feasible, actionable and, importantly, everyone must have a shared understanding of it. Take note, the definition of ready can be updated through sprint retrospectives.

On the other hand, the definition of a product being done describes the qualities that a user story or item should have in order to be considered done. Take note that the task should be granular enough so that ‘Done’ becomes obvious.

What are ‘Testing’ and ‘Releasing’?

The elements of ‘Testing’ and ‘Releasing’ are used to understand how the product will be delivered, the complexities involved, and the day-to-day responsibilities in the delivery of a product.

  • Testing is the test of the product delivered from the perspective of the customer or end-user. The main goal is to assess how effectively the product meets the needs of the customer. Depending on the type of product being delivered, the type of testing done will vary, but the key purpose is to determine whether the end-product or its features deliver value to the customer and that their requirements have been met. Once the testing is complete, it’s time to release.
  • Releasing a version is the culmination of your team’s hard work. Releases in a Scrum enable us to answer questions like When will we be done? or Which features can I get by the end of the year?

Releases can be planned through a Release plan. Release plans will allow for setting goals, objectives, and priorities; discussing trade-off options; thinking through the project scope as a team; identifying dependencies; and measuring performance benchmarks.

Think about it

Imagine you are the product owner, and at the end of a sprint, the development team delivers an iteration that doesn’t meet the ‘Done’ criteria. What do you think is the best way to handle a delay in delivery? How might you learn from this experience for the next sprint?

References

1. Rehkopf M. What are sprints? [Internet]. Atlassian; 2020. Available from: https://www.atlassian.com/agile/scrum/sprints

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