"The Sprint-Planning"

der agile coach

Phase 1: The impulse from the POT to the team.

At the beginning of a sprint cycle, the POT presents the team with the pre-planned product backlog list from the previously held conclave. The team asks questions such as, “What is meant by this backlog item?”, “What makes you think this backlog item is the same size as the others?”, “Should the documentation also be included in it?”, “Have you thought about the functional safety check?”

In order to estimate the effort of individual backlog items, it has proven useful to give each item, for example, clothing sizes (S, M, L, XXL). It is also common to evaluate with numbers according to the Fibonacci sequence (1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13 …, each number corresponds to the sum of the two preceding numbers) or with the help of planning poker: The team members use playing cards to evaluate the complexity of individual backlog items covertly and independently of one another.

With the help of these assessments, misunderstandings about the actual task or completely different assessments of the development effort required for it can be uncovered.

Finally, new backlog items are written that may simply have been forgotten by the POT. It is important for the start to simply get started. Refinement of the method can be tried in each subsequent sprint.

No sprint start without team commitment.

The main point here is to make step 1 of good leadership – you remember: “Set clear goals” – concretely better. An AGILECOACH moderates this discussion so that the POT takes the team’s questions and criticism as constructive advice and corrects the POT’s blue cards. Otherwise, there is a risk that the team’s commitment to the results wish list will suffer.

Many a POT member is accustomed to giving the team pre-prepared and thought-out objectives and then taking their leave. Correcting or changing these targets is taken as criticism and disrespect. Of course, something also goes wrong if nothing remains of the prepared backlog list after the team discussion. The AGILECOACH moderates this balance.

At the end of the sprint planning there is a common list accepted by POT and team – this is the decisive goal.

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Phase 2: Capacity planning – “and, can you do it?”

After the first phase, the POT’s backlog list has changed due to the team’s input. Looking at the corrected backlog list together, the AGILECOACH asks the next crucial question to the team: “So, can you do it?”

This may sound trite, but in practice, explicit engagement with the available implementation capacity is often suppressed. In industrial reality, it is rare to find the ideal situation where team members are 100% dedicated to the project.

The team member has only one project: this is ideal, but is often unrealistic.

When asked by the AGILECOACH about available capacity, each team member checks their calendar and looks at the next ten days. Individuals will say, “The second week I only have 50% capacity for this project, plus the first week has a holiday. On average, I needed 20% time per day to answer questions from product management, production, suppliers, etc. Accordingly, out of ten days, that leaves a net of four days.” For another team member it might be six, for the next five days, and so on. Adding it all up gives the group capacity.

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Phase 3: “The yellow line”

The culmination of each sprint cycle is approaching: Against the backdrop of this group capacity and in the face of the new backlog list, the AGILECOACH hands the team the yellow fiber pen from the AGILESET case. With the yellow pen, a team member steps up to the AGILEBOARD and draws a line dividing the backlog list, for example, so that of the 15 backlog items, three are below the yellow line.
And, while doing so, speaks the magic words:
“If things go well, we’ll get those three backlog items below the yellow line done, too!”

The first time a dominant POT member hears these words, he may have to gulp or get out his heart drops. It sounds like sabotage and refusal to work, the team refuses to implement!!! Other POT members may think, “This is not how I imagined this AGILE, it was better before! I want to go back!”.

He who does not have the courage to say no, his yes has no value!
(Quote Kurt Schumacher).

What are the advantages of this yellow line?

1. the team became aware of what is possible in the time available. This increases the probability of avoiding disappointment.

2. The team can focus on a scope that it believes is possible and free itself from a debilitating overload (“We don’t even need to start, we can’t do it anyway!”).

3. the team has visibly and physically (the yellow fiber pen) taken charge. This symbolic act manifests and realizes the goal of Agile:
Team self-determination.

4. The team committed the backlog items above the yellow line.

5. the team constrained with “if it goes well”. So it could also be that the team is “overperforming”. And how could over-performance be visible without that yellow line?

6. the POT can focus. “Above the line, the team has committed – below the line, that’s our job!”

7. the POT can make a decision regarding the backlog items below the yellow line:

  • Can we increase the capacity?
  • Can we move it to the next sprint?
  • Can we swap points from above the line with points below the line?
  • Or – and this is one of the key insights: Can we leave them out altogether?

Because every two weeks, goals that ended up at the bottom of the ranking after a previous prioritization are deleted. This is completely new. It feels weird at first. Omit? Yes, omit! In light of the fact that everything else is more important and the team can’t commit to this because they lack the capacity, less is more.

Less is more.

And we don’t mean the main functionalities of the product. Because we distinguish between Product Backlog and Sprint Backlog. The Product Backlog corresponds to the specifications. In it, the decisive, competition-relevant main functionalities of the product are defined as requirements. They are not the subject of discussion every two weeks!

The question is rather whether the implementation of the requirements can be achieved with higher or lower complexity. Even more important are the questions:
Will the customer honor this – does he even see it?
How can the maximum result be achieved with the available capacity?

der agile coach

Phase 4: The Thumbs-up Ritual.

When this exercise is complete, the culmination of the joint sprint planning is concluded with a symbolic ritual. All team members and the members of the POT seal the agreement on the work content of the upcoming two-week sprint by all looking into each other’s eyes for a moment, giving a thumbs-up, and nonverbally asking each other if everyone is really on board: here and now is the last opportunity to express objections, concerns or doubts.

If everyone gives the thumbs up, each team member can assume that every other team member will be as committed to the sprint goal as they are.

In addition, the team’s questioning look in the POT’s eyes seeks reassurance that they will not be faced with changes or entirely new goals on Wednesday.

After this thumbs-up ritual, step 2. of good leadership begins: Let freedom!

After this thumbs-up ritual, step 2. of good leadership begins: Let freedom!

Because that’s the genius of AGILE: The most difficult step of good leadership, freedom, is an integral part of the sprint. This aspect can no longer be unconsciously forgotten. The sprint is the freedom in the team. And it starts now. From now on, the team is completely on its own. The POT leaves the room, the door slams shut and the team takes a deep breath. Can you relate to the feeling of the team members?

A mixture of “whoopee, finally alone” and utmost concentration. After all, the team has made a promise. In two weeks, they want to have worked through the backlog list. And maybe even more.

der agile coach


The gift of freedom comes with the obligation to self-organize. This includes that the team sets up an Agile board just like the POT. On this TEAM AGILE BOARD, the backlog items with the result wishes of the POT (blue cards) are broken down in a ratio of 1:n into activities that are required to achieve the sprint goal.

The team uses yellow cards to do this. All this happens without the POT, because the TEAMAGILEBOARD represents the privacy of the team, where no POT member has any business. The only one who is allowed to be there is the AGILECOACH.

The goal of this TEAMAGILEBOARD is the maximum development of personal responsibility within the team. This includes that the team learns to organize itself. Only then can and will it take full responsibility for what it sets out to do.

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