Mar 23, 2021 Project Management

Sprint vs. Iteration: What's the Difference?

Sprint vs. Iteration: What's the Difference?

Even though sprints and iterations have a lot in common and are often used interchangeably, there is a difference between them. Both terms are linked to scrum, a modern project management framework, and follow a specific timeframe during which planned work should be completed, but they're not the same.

Sprints are more focused on productivity techniques developed by a group of individuals working on the same project. Iterations describe a development and planning process where a project is developed in small sections. In this article, we will dive into the comparison between iteration vs. sprint and thoroughly explain them.

What is an iteration in scrum?

An iteration in agile is a time-box during which development takes place. The duration may vary, usually between 1-4 weeks, and in most cases, it's fixed for the duration of a particular project. A crucial aspect of the agile approach is the underlying assumption that a project is exclusively made of a sequence of iterations, maybe except for a very brief "planning and vision" phase before the development process takes place.

Generally, iterations follow calendar weeks, starting on Mondays ending on Fridays. We should mention that this is more convenient than a recommendation, but different teams adopt different conventions. The fixed length of an iteration provides teams an opportunity to get, based on the amount of work remaining, an accurate estimate of how long it takes until the project is completed. Throughout decades, the scrum community has used the term "sprint", but iteration and sprint are applied interchangeably on projects nowadays, without a specific connotation attached to one or another.

Iteration offers a predictable, regular cadence for teams to increment value and improve those previously developed increments. These short periods assist product managers, product owners, and stakeholders to frequently evaluate and test business and technical hypotheses in a working system.

Iteration length

The agile community still hasn't agreed on the ideal iteration length. The Scrum method suggests up to four weeks, while others imply 1-2 weeks. When choosing a standard iteration length, you should think about how well your team is compatible with agile. For instance, teams that are new to the agile method should begin with longer iteration, and those who are well familiar with agile can choose shorter iterations. Beware - the shorter the iteration is, the more teams need to rely on automated tools to help them with their project.

The value that teams receive through shorter vs. longer iteration length is another thing to consider. Suppose you have limited opportunities to get in touch with the stakeholders and sponsors to capture feedback or make end-of-iteration demonstrations. In that case, a longer length might be more suitable.

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On the other hand, suppose you are dealing with a sponsor who's very concerned about minimizing the project's risks, or you want to build trust by delivering value rapidly in the early stage of the project. In that case, you might go for shorter iterations.

You must consider how to optimize your delivery of business value via iteration length. We measure business value in dollars, but it can also involve other elements such as rapid learning, improvements in service levels, risk reduction, strengthening relationships, and many more.

What is a sprint?

Now that we know what iterations are, we can explain sprints more easily. A sprint is a single time-boxed iteration of a continuous development cycle. When it comes to sprints, the team needs to complete all the planned work within a designated time frame and prepare it for a review. Sprint means a short race at full speed. That's why teams usually define a short duration of the sprint, mostly up to four weeks. Together, team members and product owners set their sprint goals. As soon as this race starts, the team works tirelessly to finish the planned work and prepare it for a review.

What happens during a sprint?

Sprint planning

Sprint planning is the beginning of the sprint process. The development team, scrum master, and the product owner all participate during this stage. Others may join as well when both team and product owner agree it's appropriate. The scrum master will provide data on the team's most recent and average velocity during this meeting. The product owner will focus on the product backlog, and they may also suggest a draft sprint goal, which could be revised through the planning process.

Daily scrum

The daily scrum is a daily meeting in which team members synchronize their efforts. Daily scrums ensure that the right people are doing the right thing at the right time. Each participant will address the following topics:

  • How did your previous actions help achieve the sprint goal?
  • What will you do today to accomplish the sprint goal?
  • Is there something that is blocking the progress towards the sprint goal?

Each daily meeting is limited to 15 minutes, and it has the goal to synchronize efforts and provide an update.

Sprint review

The sprint review usually occurs on the last day of the sprint, and the product owner, development team, scrum master, and any appropriate stakeholders should attend this meeting. During the sprint review, all the product backlog items that are completed should be presented. The team usually doesn't show work that's still in progress. The goal of this review is to obtain feedback on what was built during the sprint. The product owner will consider all feedback and make appropriate changes if needed.

What is a sprint cadence?

Cadence is often defined as rhythmical flow or a pulse. Therefore, we can say that sprint cadence is the pulse of sprint start, finish, and outcome.

Sprint cadence contains the following crucial parameters:

  • Start day of sprints
  • Length of sprints
  • Definition of done
  • Predictability of sprint outcomes

While the first two are fairly obvious, the 3rd and 4th are significant points. If the sprint deliverables don't accomplish the definition of done, then cadence project management doesn't have a purpose, and it won't help. Only if all four parameters are met, the sprint cadence will be beneficial.

What is the difference between iteration and sprint?

Even though many people are confused by these terms and consider them the same, they are slightly different. A sprint is a short, time-boxed period, during which the scrum team needs to complete a designated amount of work. Sprints are the very heart of agile and scrum methodologies, and getting sprints right will assist your agile team in shipping a better product with fewer headaches.

On the other hand, an iteration is a defined time-box applied in an iterative project model. In this case, the entire solution is developed throughout a project. Simultaneously, snapshot views or "work in progress" are presented to stakeholders or sponsors for feedback at the end of each time cycle or iteration.

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