The most common reasons why your sprints are always behind schedule include the following: (1) underestimation and (2) ineffective capacity management. Estimation-correction is a relatively simple issue to resolve: the most popular solution is consensus estimation using Planning Poker. The most overlooked cause, however, is ineffective capacity management. Even the most experienced Scrum Masters sometimes fail to recognize the value of measuring capacity. Some Agile tools are available to help overcome this challenge, but let’s talk about some easier ways to do so:
Deduct Holidays and Vacation
This should be a no-brainer. If a holiday falls in your sprint, no work will be completed that day. The same goes for vacation or personal time. Make the effort to factor holidays into your schedule and at the very least, ask all your resources for their vacation time during the upcoming Sprint. A Team Calendar comes in handy. Add holidays into the calendar and let team members enter their scheduled vacation time. Prior to Sprint Planning, check the calendar and account for these days.
Account for time spent on Agile Ceremonies
Taken as a whole, time spent on Agile Ceremonies can be substantial. This builds up exponentially across multiple sprints and can get out of hand quickly—especially if you fail to account for it at the project level. Sprint Planning accounts for at least two hours per week per Sprint: four hours for a two-week sprint, and eight hours for a four-week sprint. This is half-day and a full day of Sprint Planning, respectively, that you didn’t account for in the Sprint. Sprint Reviews typically take an hour per week in the Sprint, and the Sprint Retrospective takes about 45 minutes per week in the Sprint. So, for a two-week sprint, that’s six hours and 45 minutes per resource, which can really add-up with multiple resources.
Let’s face it: nobody works 100% of the time. At the very least, we need lunch and bathroom breaks—not to mention the short breaks we take just to “get away.” You certainly don’t want to overwork your resources. 75-80% efficiency is typical. What this means is: deduct an additional 20% to 25% from capacity per resource after Holidays, Vacation and Agile Ceremonies have been deducted.
Additional Tips when using Agile Tools
Some Agile Tools like Azure DevOps include functionality to help manage the capacity discussed above. Use them! For tools that do not, I suggest putting together a spreadsheet that calculates the capacity. You can then reuse that spreadsheet for succeeding sprints and projects.
When calculating the figure manually, or via spreadsheet, don’t forget to enter the capacity for each resource in the Agile tool (this functionality should be available in most of the popular Agile tools). This is used in the burndown chart (obviously), as well as in other reports. Without it, these reports are useless.
Most importantly, resources should burn-down their hours on a daily basis. I personally enforce this by reminding everybody to burn-down their hours at the end of the day. I also enforce this during each daily scrum or stand-up. Without it, you will not produce an accurate report, including the burn down chart. Lastly, if you need assistance planning your sprints—or any other help with the Agile sprint process—please don’t hesitate to reach out. We’d love to help you get started.