The Sprint Planning Meeting that Goes on Forever

The sprint planning meeting is the longest in the Scrum framework, and based on my experience, it is also the most exhausting meeting. The most difficult thing about this meeting is that team members often come to it with the mindset that it will take the exact time written in the book… but it never does.

In Scrum, we have time-boxing. A time-box is an agreed and limited time frame used by a person or a team to perform a dedicated activity. Everything in Scrum is time-boxed, including the Scrum planning meeting. So what happens when the meeting is close to the end and the team has not yet determined the goal or sprint backlog? Do we end the meeting and continue next week? Should we extend it? Do we end it?

This scenario often happens, especially for new Scrum teams with neither the maturity nor the experience to conduct an effective sprint-planning meeting. So, what should we do in such a scenario? It depends on what you want to achieve, but some common solutions that I love to implement are described below:

Let the team learn the hard way.

Say you have a team that is unwilling to change their habits and continuously ignores the meeting’s timeframe. In this case, you can cut the meeting at the end of the time-box, which will make the team suffer throughout the entire sprint, and hope they will learn from this bad experience.

Extend the meeting and ignore the time-box

Another option is to ignore the timebox and extend the meeting. Based on my experience, if you do it once, it may help the team finish the meeting with a good feeling, but once the team makes it a habit, it is a red flag for a much deeper problem.

During my many years as an Agile consultant, I have worked with hundreds of Agile teams, and one thing I know for sure is that you cannot let the team drag out the meeting. It usually doesn't accomplish anything. People get tired and lose their focus. If they fail to do effective planning during the meeting, which can go from two to eight hours (depending on the length of the sprint), the chances are that the team will not meet the meeting’s objective.

Another day, another chance.

Another commonly used option is to re-schedule the meeting for the next day. In my opinion, it is the last option that I will use but still an option. If you decide to re-schedule the meeting, you must ensure that it does not become a regular solution for the team. You must perform a deep root-cause analysis (RCA) to understand why the team fails to deliver within the meeting period.

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