5 key actions to take for successful engineering sprints

Every sprint begins with optimistic goals and a scheduled timeline to reach them. Inevitably, circumstances change and we have to adapt — often in less-than-ideal ways. 
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Trying to improve your team’s sprints? Support better sprint outcomes with these smart actions.

1.  Ensure that people actually have time to work.

This seems too obvious to state, yet teams frequently falter. It is assumed that business-critical projects are equally prioritized in engineers’ schedules, but meetings and side projects consume hours of every day. Check that team members have ample time allocated for the current sprint and firmly protect Deep Work time.

2.  Monitor unplanned work that is added mid-sprint.

Thoughtful sprint planning sets a manageable number of tasks for the established timeframe. Given the nature of sprints, that workload is somewhat locked from the beginning, but exceptions always try to find their way. When bugs and fire drills arise after the sprint begins—no matter how “quick” or “easy”—they crowd the task list. Be wary of mid-sprint additions and adjust accordingly. (There can be exceptions for this, such as polishing tasks that surface after a feature is completed, or tasks added for team members that cleared their sprint queue.)

3. Manage every stage of the PR cycle.

Take a deep dive into your PR cycle time and you’ll find numerous insights about where progress meets friction. Let your historical trends inform ways to proactively clear roadblocks, like delegating reviews or allocating additional time for approval.

4.  Get ahead of burnout.

Most people agree in theory that burnout is to be avoided. In practice, however, tasks get labeled as “important” and devs are expected to enter crunch mode. Burnout prevention should be a full-time focus: make sure people aren’t entering a new sprint with high levels of fatigue, and ensure that overtime doesn’t routinely increase throughout the two weeks.

5.  Use sprint progress estimations to re-prioritize.

We plan for a set workload, but truthfully, every sprint is dynamic. Given each day’s progress, consider your estimated rate of completion by the sprint end date. If that number indicates you’re on-track to complete a majority of the work, you can expect a relatively successful sprint end. If not, it’s time to recalculate priorities. Engineering managers might take this time to load balance across team members or shift a certain goal to the next sprint.

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