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Pair & Share - a simple technique for Sprint Planning

How do you get the team to plan tasks effectively?
The second half of sprint planning is often a challenge for teams starting Scrum. It used to be their Project Leader would do the planning for them. Now the team has to figure it out for themselves! (Doesn't the Scrum Master do that? No!) How can you as a Scrum Master encourage your team to plan the Sprint effectively?

Many teams have difficulties doing task planning before they have thought about the technical concept. To address this challenge, I have a strategy I call "Pair and Share".

Preparation

Good preparation is half the battle. This means that coming out of Sprint Planning 1, you should have a selected product backlog ("forecast") that consists of reasonably small stories. Six to 10 items in the forecast is a sign that the stories were small enough (assuming it is a good forecast).

Your team has had the conversations with the Product Owner, the Stakeholders, other Subject Matter experts, etc, and the confirmation is reasonably clear, perhaps in the form of a how-to-demo workflow, or other criteria which can be readily turned into an (automated) acceptance test. If you are still discussing the confirmation during the task planning, you probably have a long meeting in front of you ;-) Having said that, there is a reason the Product Owner should be in the room!

Pair and Share

Here's how it works:

As a Scrum Master, I would take a moment to remind the team about the importance of working according to priority, getting things really done (as opposed to getting a lot of stuff sort of but not really done), and of minimizing work in progress, especially unfinished work at the end of the sprint. The goal for this meeting is not to create the definitive technical concept or task planning, but to create enough of each that the team can start working.

Then timebox Sprint Planning 2, the second half of the meeting, to one hour per week of sprint. So for two weeks, that gives you two hours. Divide that again in two halves, in this case 1 hour each for conceptual work and for task planning.

Have the team pair off. So if you have 6 people in the team, you have 3 pairs. Each pair takes two or three stories (what does this say about how big the stories are?). They have 1/2 hour to come up with their initial technical concept for implementing each story. So they timebox their discussion to 10 or 15 minutes per story.

After the first half hour is up, each pair explains how they want to implement each story to the rest of the team. Short Q&A. You are probably timeboxing the presentation to about 5 minutes per story. The rest of the team can ask questions, so this "share" part builds shared understanding and serves as an initial design review. The discussion may cause the team to rethink their solution, which will influence the task planning.

So now an hour has gone by, and you repeat the process, this time for task planning. Split into pairs (possibly different pairs than the first time), take the top stories, and do 1/2 hour of task planning.

During the final half hour, the team meets in front of the task board. One by one, each pair posts and explains their task planning to the rest of the team.

So now, pairs have thought relatively deeply both about the technical concept and the task planning. The whole team is consulted, and the team is well positioned to work forward as a team to start implementing.

BTW 1 - It may be that the team wants to think more about a particular item before committing to that particular concept. That's OK! Just make a task, "Finalize Design" or whatever.

BTW 2 - How did I come up with this? One of my first teams asked themselves this very question, and this is what they came up with! It worked beautifully! So if this doesn't feel right for your team, give them the goals for the meeting and ask them how they want to do it! Maybe you should even do that first!

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