Identify The Features
The product owner, who is serving as the voice of the customer, proposes the highest priority features. The scrum team is responsible for getting clarification, pushing back on features, and proposing features or work that should be accomplished. Features should be prioritized based on their overall business value. It's important to note that working on tech debt can often provide down stream business value by enabling new feature work.
Prioritize and Estimate
Once the scrum team has identified the features to work on in the sprint, the team should then pull all of the stories associated with that feature into the sprint backlog. The product owner and scrum team should negotiate the priority of the stories. Once the priority of the stories has been determined the team needs to estimate the level of effort for each individual story.
One typical way of estimating stories during planning is to pick a story that does not have a lot of ambiguity which represents a medium (tee-shirt sized) amount of work. The team then assigns that story a point value (the middle value of their pointing system). The team then moves on to point the rest of the stories based on them being either more effort or less effort than the original story. Stories that are more effort are assigned a higher point value while stories with lower effort are assigned a lower point value.
Determine What Stories Make It Into The Sprint
Just because the product owner or scrum team has identified a feature (and it's related stories and bugs) as high priority doesn't mean that the team can actually complete that feature in a sprint. The team needs a way to estimate the amount of work that can be accomplished by the team during the sprint. This is typically done through velocity tracking.
Velocity in agile is typically determined by the amount of points the team was able to accomplish in the previous sprint. Historical sprints aren't to be taken into account as each sprint the teams goal is to get better and better as estimating the level of effort for story work.
The sprint backlog should only contain enough stories to meet the teams velocity. Choosing to few story points means that the team will likely have to poach more work (which hasn't been vetted) from the product backlog. Choosing too many story points means the team is not likely to finish all the work in the given sprint, setting the team up for failure from the start.
At first the teams velocity will be all over the place as they work out their estimation techniques. But over time the team should start to settle in to a consistent velocity. It's important to be aware that there are several common practices that can negatively affect a teams velocity. It's important for the sprint team to guard against these in order to accurately gauge their velocity sprint over sprint.
Under or over estimating the level of effort of a story
Often this is the result of ambiguity that is not resolved priority to planning. If the team doesn't have enough information to accurately gauge the level of effort for a particular story the product owner and scrum master should first work to resolve the ambiguities before a feature or story is considered for a sprint. This is an example of a valid reason for the sprint team to push back on a particular feature or story.
Unplanned sprint work or re-prioritization of the sprint deliverables mid-sprint
This is an Agile no-no and should be avoided at all costs. In Agile our sprint duration is typically short enough that when new work comes up we can prioritize it at the next sprint planning meeting. If new high priority work or re-prioritization mid-sprint is truely unavoidable the best way to make sure it doesn't impact the overall sprint deliverables is for the whole team to understand what the lowest priority work is and have that work drop out of the sprint.
Unaccounted for absence
People are going to take vacation, get sick, or be off for a holiday. It's difficult to account for sick time but it is very easy to account for holiday's and vacation time. Make sure in your sprint planning you understand how many days during the sprint people know they will be out and reduce that sprints velocity accordingly.
Other regular duties
Many software organizations use the DevOps model where the developer is on-call for the software and services they own. Not accounting for this type of work can have a negative impact on planning as the sprint team will sign-up for more work than they can actually accomplish.
Break The Stories down into tasks
Once the sprint backlog has been determined the team should break the stories down into smaller more granular tasks. This allows for more story work to be done in parallel. The team can swarm on a story together ensuring that the highest priority work is done first.
Once the tasks are identified the team is ready to start the sprint!
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