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How to Determine Sprint Capacity? | David Tzemach

Updated: Mar 5

One of the main activities of the sprint planning meeting is to determine the team’s availability for the next sprint. One definition I love using with my teams to explain sprint capacity is the amount of effective time each team member can contribute towards the sprint goal.

Availability is determined by the number of working hours of each team member. Usually, the SM asks each team member the number of effective hours they will contribute to the sprint (considering vacations, prior commitments, and anything else that affects their contribution).

Sprint capacity is more than just numbers. It is a baseline for the team to understand the amount of work they can do during a sprint. It can make the difference between an over-commitment and under commitment of work. Both can harm the team.

Common factors to consider

As part of any capacity planning process, the SM should include basic yet important factors, such as:

  • Personal vacations that exclude specific days from the sprint.

  • Holidays that affect the entire team.

  • Meetings not directly related to team commitments (especially technical meetings with other teams).

  • External interruptions to the team (Customer tickets, Escaped Bugs and other obligations).

Methods for capacity planning

There are two main techniques to determine the capacity of your teams. It is up to you to decide which is most suitable for you.

Method 1: Using the capacity equation

The simplest and most effective technique to determine sprint capacity is to calculate the available days of each team member based on their availability to contribute to the sprint. For example:

  • The team has two members (Luis and Dan).

  • The team is using two-week sprints (10 Days).

  • Each team member is expected to contribute 8 hours per day.

As part of the capacity planning process, we ask each one of the team members a simple question: "How many days will you be available to contribute?" Is that good enough? No. Because each team member has a specific set of capabilities, skills, and experience that will affect true productivity. For example:

  • Luis is one of the leading experts in the team and is available for seven days out of 10. Based on previous experience, he will contribute 7 hours out of the expected 8.

  • Dan is a relatively new team member with similar availability to Luis (7 Days out of 10). Based on previous experience, he will contribute only 5 hours out of the expected 8.

A common mistake is to calculate only the available days without really understanding the true contribution of its team members.

Wrong Capacity = (Luis available Days (7) * Expected Hours (8)) + (Dan available Days (7) * Expected Hours (8))
True Capacity = (Luis available Days (7) * Expected Hours (7)) + (Dan available Days (7) * Expected Hours (5))

Method 2: Not calculating capacity

The second approach involves not calculating any capacity of your team. Although it may sound strange, some teams work well using this approach. However, skipping capacity planning is not recommended, but if you want to try it, make sure that:

  • You have an experienced team and team members who have worked together for several sprints (minimum of 6-8 sprints) in the past and have achieved a stable velocity (+/-15%) throughout this time.

  • The team’s overall commitments in the upcoming sprint are similar to previous sprints.

  • The same team members are planning to continue in the next sprint.

  • There is no different and unfamiliar technology platform the team will use.

  • No team member is expected to be pulled out of the team.

  • The committed stories have low uncertainty, and there should not be any surprises that can affect the original estimations.

  • The number of workdays planned in the next sprint is the same as the previous sprints.

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