One of the most common requests from scrum teams is the desire to extend the sprint beyond the original date. This request may be the result of multiple factors: 1) unclear sprint goals, 2) inaccurate sprint planning, or 3) unplanned work. Managing these factors with your stakeholders will determine the success or failure of the sprint.
Before embarking on a new sprint, the scrum team should have a clear understanding of the sprint goals. Goals might be focused on completing a particular set of features, tickets or bug fixes. The key is to ensure that the team is aligned with the goals and objectives of the sprint. If the goals are not clearly defined, the scrum team may have difficulty reaching the sprint objectives within the allotted time.
After aligning on the sprint goals, scrum teams would benefit from an organized sprint planning exercise. Here, the team can properly review the goals, define the tasks required to meet the goals, and estimate the effort required for each task. The team then has the opportunity to evaluate if the sprint allows enough time to complete each of the tasks. Key to sprint planning is having enough time to properly evaluate the time needed to complete all tasks for the sprint. Without ample time, the scrum team is simply hoping and guessing.
Once the sprint goals are identified and the sprint tasks are defined, scrum teams have to be careful not to allow unplanned work to derail the sprint. Unplanned work is simply work that was not defined during the sprint planning process. Some might refer to this as “scope creep”. If unplanned work does “creep” into the project, it should be identified as quickly as possible. This work should be evaluated against the existing tasks based on effort and priority. Many teams make the mistake of taking on this work. If this work is absorbed into the sprint, the scrum team would be wise to remove work with a similar level of effort from the sprint.
So, back to our initial question, “Do we need longer sprints?”. Oftentimes, the answer is actually “no.” We simply need to manage the sprint more efficiently. When scrum teams set clear goals, perform accurate sprint planning and manage unplanned work well, they are less likely to ask for extensions—and stakeholders are more likely to be pleased with sprint outcomes.