CRM Sprint Planning Workshops

Sprint planning workshops are the first event in each sprint of your CRM project. The purpose of the sprint planning workshop is to:

  1. Set a sprint goal to provide a unifying theme to the stories that will be delivered during the upcoming sprint.
  2. To confirm the priority and acceptance criteria of the stories the Product Owner would like the CRM team to work on.
  3. Estimate the size of the stories and determine the tasks required to completed each story.
  4. As a team commit to the stories that will be delivered by the end of the sprint.

Sprint workshops cover a lot of ground. Often too much.

I want you to have highly productive, energising and helpful sprint planning meetings in your CRM projects, so here are some of my CRM sprint planning tips that I hope will help you.

When to schedule sprint planning meetings?

I recommend scheduling sprint planning workshops for two to three hours every other Tuesday afternoon. Wednesday and Thursday work well too. Mondays are often disrupted by public holidays and team members taking a long weekend. Fridays are similarly disrupted. I've found scheduling mid-week sprint planning workshops works best. Run the sprint review meeting for the previous sprint before lunch and the sprint planning workshop for the next sprint after lunch.

If you're delivering consulting services for a client then timesheet and invoice systems hardly ever work well for sprints that finish in the middle of the day and the middle of the week. You might have some extra project accounting work to do. But it's worth it.

Refine stories before sprint planning

Your product backlog should already be in pretty good shape if you've been running storytime workshops during your sprint. Stories near the top of the backlog should already be well defined and well understood by most of the CRM team. All the stories near the top of the backlog should already have acceptance criteria. If you've had most of the CRM team involved in storytime workshops you might even have estimates for a lot of the higher priority stories.

However, if your backlog still looks like as much of a mess as my family's refrigerator then your product owner will have to spend additional time during the sprint planning meeting to add acceptance criteria and explain each story to the team.

Repeatable agenda for sprint planning

Here's my starting agenda for sprint planning meetings. Try this, adapt it to suit your project, and please leave some feedback in the comments about what works or doesn't work on your CRM projects.

  1. Product owner sets the sprint goal
  2. The whole team selects stories that support the goal
  3. Play planning poker
  4. Earmark stories for the sprint
  5. Produce sprint backlog
  6. Play fist of five
  7. Commit to stories for the sprint

Set sprint goals that are easy to communicate to all your stakeholders

In the best sprints, the product owner sets a unifying sprint goal that provides a theme for the sprint's stories. This could be based on a business process or a user role. At American Homes 4 Rent we had several sprints focused on aspects of automating the lease renewal process with sprint goals such as Renter Communications, Lease Document Generation, and Electronically Signed Leases. This provided the CRM team and the property management team with clear expectations and a focus for the next two weeks that was easy to communicate to all the stakeholders at AH4R.

Select the stories that advance CRM towards meeting the sprint goal

Now that you have a clear goal for the sprint, the whole team should identify the stories that will enhance CRM toward meeting that goal. The selected stories don't have to be those at the very top of the backlog. You might select 10 from the top 25 stories because they support your sprint goal. You might select some lower-priority stories just because they are technical precursors to higher-priority stories. The final choice is a joint decision of the whole project team: the Product Owner and CRM team.

Play planning poker to estimate complexity

I highly recommend playing planning poker as a team to estimate the complexity and effort of each story. Planning poker is easy to learn but can be difficult to master. It'll take your team several sessions before you're playing at pace but it delivers far better estimates and team commitment than having one person estimate stories on their own.

Earmark stories for the sprint

Based on your historical velocity check whether all the stories you've earmarked for this sprint can be delivered. If your average velocity for the last three sprints has been 40 points and you've estimated stories totalling between 35 to 45 points then proceed to the sprint backlog, otherwise you might need to include or exclude a couple of stories.

Produce the sprint backlog

I find that the easiest way to produce the sprint backlog is to write a sticky note for each story and arrange them vertically on the wall. Create another sticky note for each task required to complete the story. Short task titles are usually sufficient: Configure asset entity, Write forecast plugin, Install editable grid add-on, Write and execute tests.

Estimate the number of ideal hours' effort for each task. Usually, I'll accept the first estimate given by someone in the team as long as everyone is actively participating. I try and create tasks that each take about two hours. Some are one hour, some are three hours. But two is the default and we estimate more or less from there.

Total the number of ideal hours for each task, roll the effort up to get a total for each story and roll up again to get a total for all stories in the sprint. It should be close to the total number of working hours for the team during the sprint.

Play Fist of Five to gauge the team's ability to commit

Fist of Five is a quick game to determine a team's comfort with a decision. In this case, we play it to ensure everyone's comfortable committing to delivering these stories in this sprint.

Hold your hand behind your back. Arrange to show between one and five fingers then reveal your hand at the same moment as everyone else. If anyone is showing less than three fingers then the team is unable to commit to the earmarked stories and needs to agree on an alternative course of action and play again until everyone's holding a three or higher. The alternative course of action is usually to commit to all the earmarked stories except one and agree to re-introduce it if time permits.

Commit to the stories for this sprint

Once everyone in the team has agreed you can announce your committed stories to the product owner and other stakeholders. Now you can finalise your sprint backlog board and set up your sprint burndown chart and get going. Good luck!