There is no one magic solution to determine sprint length that will work for all teams equally. However, there are few guidelines in Scrum that can help you choose a good sprint length. We should mention that sprints are the heart of Scrum methodology, which is part of Agile project management.
This entire concept ensures that risks are minimized, requirements clarified and filtered, the product roadmap shared while business driving outcomes delivered at the end of each sprint. But, scrum teams, stakeholders, product owners, and scrum masters are those who should define an ideal sprint length.
Ideal sprint length
According to scrum guidelines, a sprint shouldn’t last more than four weeks, and its ideal length would be two weeks. But, to understand why a sprint should last up to four weeks, let’s explain the basic approach behind Scrum project management.
For more than ten years, development teams have been practicing incremental product release. The reason why they accepted this method is the fact that incremental product release offers them a roadmap of the journey ahead.
From a business and strategic perspective, stakeholders have relatively affordable and frequent opportunities to improve the product before spending significant resources like team efforts, money, and time. Therefore, if you ran a two-week sprint and you didn’t get the outcome you were hoping for, your cost exposure is just those two weeks and nothing else.
Maximum sprint length in Scrum
As the name implies, a sprint is all about getting things done swiftly and efficiently within a short period of time. This concept identifies user stories that the scrum team should work on and compete within a designated period. This is commonly known as sprint length.
We talked about this in the previous section and said that sprints should last 1, 2, 3, or 4 weeks. If the sprint exceeds four weeks, that’s not agile scrum project management. Sprint length is a time interval within which each team provides and delivers workable solutions that meet specific guidelines and definitions of done acceptable by the end-user. Four weeks is the maximum recommended length for the sprint. There has been a lot of debate about sprint length, which applies to all projects and teams.
Many factors play a significant role in determining sprint length, and mature scrum teams often exceed two weeks, which is considered ideal. After all, you should decide what works best for your team, four weeks or more than four weeks. There are no wrong answers here.
How is the length of the sprint determined?
The right sprint length relies on an appropriate stimulus-to-response scrum sprint cycle. The primary stimulus in the sprint is the customer setting, and team building working software is the response. Working software becomes a stimulus to the customers, while their response is the feedback.
The better the feedback, the higher the likelihood that what is delivered is what the customers wanted. This stimulus-response process will continue until your team completes the project.
Factors to consider when establishing sprint length
Market viability and risk appetite. When competition is fierce, the businesses might not want to risk and would like to deliver products frequently. In this case, the sprint length is adjusted to a lower risk appetite, while the team plans a shorter duration.
Overall length. For projects needing a shorter release duration, it makes sense to go for a shorter sprint length. In this case, the teams will have faster feedback, which helps them adapt and inspect. If your project requires more time, the team might choose to prolong the sprint length to four weeks.
Uncertainty. Suppose your team faces uncertainty with regards to velocity, technology stack, and change. In that case, it’s better to choose a shorter duration so that the team will have a better chance to acquire frequent feedback from stakeholders and inspect and adapt according to the situation. Your team should start with two- or three-week sprints, and once you set up a pace, you should stick to it.
Who decides the sprint length in Scrum?
The scrum team is responsible for this decision; however, the scrum master and the product owner also have a thing or two to say. As you probably know, the scrum master acts as a coach who guides the team and helps team members reach a consensus.
Teams who are relatively new to the scrum approach usually experiment with sprint length until they establish a certain dynamic. Over time, they will review and adapt to different sprint lengths and reach a consensus. Only on certain occasions, the scrum master will have to interfere and set up sprint length.
When it comes to managing and structuring work, nobody should do it on behalf of people who are actually doing it. Managers, stakeholders, and product owners shouldn’t be included.
Longer Sprints vs. Shorter Sprints
A sprint needs to be long enough to complete stories the team is responsible for. According to scrum methodology, sprints should never be longer than a month. In other words, a sprint should be around three times as long as it takes to swarm on an average medium-size story and complete it.
In our experience, it takes approximately two to three days for a team to complete a story, which means that a typical team doesn’t require more than two weeks in sprint length. But, keep in mind that environments are different, and sprint length is based on differences in these environments.
Fundamentals of Agile Project Management
On the other hand, a sprint needs to be short enough so that the requirements churn slower than the sprint length can accommodate. For example, if a sprint lasts two weeks, the team is hoping for changes to happen slower than every two weeks. This further implies that stakeholders will have to wait two weeks to see new stuff done.
Nowadays, it’s common that the requirements churn are too fast for the sprint because there are many things to fix in other systems as well. This is one of the reasons why teams shorten the planning cycle or the sprint length. Things happen, and therefore, teams develop different systems to manage requirements a couple of times during the sprint length.
Pros and cons of shorter sprints
- Teams have better opportunities to make smaller changes.
- Frequent sprint reviews allow product owners more feedback and frequent opportunities to update their thinking.
- Slowdowns and impediments are highlighted more quickly since the team should complete all the features by the end of every sprint cycle.
- Short sprints make planning easier.
- It lets teams do a better job, boost visibility and understanding of processes within a sprint.
- It is challenging to finish a product by the end of week two.
- It can be stressful for many teams.
- People are against sprint meetings for one-week sprints. But, they should increase gradually as the sprint length increases.