The sprint planning meeting is the most extended in the scrum framework, and based on my experience, it is also the most exhausting meeting for most teams. The most challenging 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 doesn’t!
In scrum, we have a fundamental term called timeboxing. A timebox is an agreed-upon and limited box of time used by a person or team to perform a dedicated activity (see here for more information about timeboxing). Everything in scrum is time-boxed, including the scrum planning meeting, so what happens when the meeting time is near the end and the team hasn’t determined the goal or sprint backlog? Do we end the session and continue it next week? Should we extend it? Do we end it?
This scenario repeatedly happens, especially for new scrum teams with neither the maturity nor the experience to conduct an effective sprint-planning meeting. So, what should one do in this scenario? It depends on what you want to achieve, but some standard solutions that I love to use are:
LET THE TEAM LEARN THE HARD WAY
Let’s say that 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. The ritual is that once you recognize that the team will not finish in time, you can address the team and let them know that the meeting ends in 10-15 minutes and let them choose whether to start the sprint with what they have or start all over again the next day (what do you think they will select...?).
EXTEND THE MEETING AND IGNORE THE TIME-BOX
Another option is to ignore the fundamental foundations of agile and extend the meeting while ignoring the meeting timebox. Based on my experience, if you do it once, it may help the team finish the session with a good feeling, but once the team makes it a habit, it's a red flag for a much deeper problem.
During my many years as an agile consultant, I worked with hundreds of agile teams, and one thing that I know for sure is that you cannot let the team drag on the meeting. It usually doesn't help accomplish anything. People are tired and lose their ability to focus. If they fail to do adequate planning during the session, which can go from two to eight hours (depending on the length of the sprint), the chances are that the team won't manage it given the extension.
ANOTHER DAY, ANOTHER CHANCE
Another commonly used option is to re-schedule the meeting for the next day. In my opinion, it's 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 time frame.
Each of the solutions above is valid for specific cases, but to cut it short, no matter what option you use, the team must learn to conduct the sprint-planning meeting effectively, as we expect to see in scrum. Make sure the team understands the importance of timeboxing so they can respect and follow it during day-to-day activities.