What is the best agile sprint cycle length?
Working in a more agile way enables your team and organisation to be more adaptable. It sets you up to sense what your supporters and clients need then responding, learning quickly what works. Some teams find that working in ‘sprints’ helps them with this. Sprints are short – usually 2-4 weeks – cycles of work where the team looks at the outcomes they want to create then collaboratively prioritises and plans the activities they’ll do in this specific timeframe to achieve them. At the end of the 2-4 week cycle they pause and reflect on what they achieved and how they’ve worked together, ready to go again. This is called ‘Scrum’.
We have helped a lot of teams in charities across the UK embed this way of working, with great results, and a question we often get asked is how long these work cycles should be. You might be wondering that too. As you’ll have guessed, it’s not a ‘one size fits all’ situation so here’s some information to help you decide.
How to decide your sprint length
If you’re just starting out with sprints then it’s best to start with a shorter cycle – probably 2 weeks. This way the team will have more frequent opportunities to notice what is working and what isn’t and adapt their ways of working accordingly. Two week sprints will also mean more frequent agile workshops, so the team learns the setup more quickly.
Once you’re up and running with sprints you can try adjusting your sprint length. Start off by asking the team how long it takes them to complete something of value – try adjusting your sprint length to that. Just remember though, if your sprint is longer than one calendar month, it’s unlikely to aid your agility.
When to change your sprint length
- If your team struggles to complete all the work they plan for a sprint, trial making the sprint duration shorter and more focused.
- If your team fails to make meaningful progress on the product in each sprint, try a longer sprint
- If you generate actions at your reflection sessions that don’t get implemented, or if your team find a short iteration time challenging, then try a longer iteration.
- If you’re unsure we recommend erring on the side of a shorter sprint length, here’s why:
- Increase focus and reduces the amount of work that the team is doing that is invisible (like emails and meetings).
- Enable faster feedback and more opportunities to improve.
- Support the team to break down their work into smaller chunks, meaning they are more likely to achieve it and learn what each other is doing.
- Mean that the team spend slightly more time planning and reflecting a little less on delivering the work – but only a little.
- Require you to take extra care to maintain team focus and clarity on priorities.
- Work well if your work involves long lead times are long and hard to define.
- Work well if a lot of your work is ‘business and usual’ or your team has a lot of work in progress at any one time.
- Mean that the team spend slightly less time planning and reflecting overall- but this difference is marginal.
Over to you…
You’re now ready to adjust your sprint length!
We recommend that you do this collaboratively as a team. When you set or adjust your sprint length, make sure you do this as an experiment with clear success measures agreed upfront. And remember that consistency and predictability are important so don’t change sprint length too often. Once your sprint length is set, stick with it for a while to see if it’s working.
Good luck. Let us know how you get on!