A Quick Guide to Choosing the Right Sprint Length for Your Project

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Magic comes from the heart, and the heart of Scrum is the sprint. Many teams choose their sprint length without too much thought. And chances are it will works out. In optimism we trust after all.

In some cases, it helps to take a potshot and hope for the best. But when it comes to the sprint, finding the right length can be crucial for your project success. You should have an iteration short enough to keep the team focused but long enough to deliver a meaningful increment of work.

The Scrum Guide limits the sprint length to one month. There is no official lower limit but one week is often accepted as the shortest sprint duration. This gives us a window of one week to one month. So how do you find the length that’s best for your team?

The simplest answer is to experiment until you find the length that works best for your context at that very moment.

Start with 2-weeks sprints

If your team meets the forecasted velocity and reaches the planned sprint goals but they don’t make meaningful progress on the product in each sprint, then this duration may be too short.  Try lengthening your sprints up to 1 month to see if it makes any difference.

If your team misses the forecasted velocity or is unable to reach the sprint goals because of unexpected developments, then this sprint duration may be too long. Try shortening your sprints up to 1 week.

If you have none of these problems, 2-weeks sprint may be just right for your team.

4 Sprints Rule

It usually takes 4 sprints to get accustomed to a new practice. If after 4 sprints your team is still struggling with the chosen sprint duration, it’s unlikely that this will work out.

Longer Sprints vs Shorter Sprints

The main advantage of shorter sprints is that they help reveal problems faster.

Pros of shorter sprints (1-2 weeks)

  • More frequent sprint reviews = more feedback.
  • More opportunities to learn and try smaller changes.
  • Problems and impediments are revealed more quickly.
  • Work is done into smaller chunks that increases visibility and gives more control over prioritization.

Cons of shorter sprints

  • It’s more stressful to work in 1-week sprint but most teams get used to it after 3-4 sprints.

Pros of longer sprints (3-4 weeks)

  • When you’re starting out in Scrum, doing longer sprints is easier.

Cons of longer sprints

  • Fewer sprint reviews = less feedback.
  • Fewer opportunities to improve the product.
  • Problems are discovered and addressed more slowly.

Influencing factors

Before choosing your sprint duration, here are two things you have to consider:

1. Sprint should deliver: If your sprints are too short, the team fails to achieve goals and has nothing (or almost nothing) interesting to show on demo.

2. Sprints should deliver frequently: If your sprints are too long, you’ll probably have too many goals and too many retrospectives where nobody remembers what happened at the beginning of the sprint.

Final thoughts

Here is a quick overview to help you determine the best sprint length for your project:

  • Don’t go longer than 4 weeks (it’s not a sprint by definition)
  • 2-weeks sprints are common for software development projects.
  • Shorter sprints mean faster feedback and more opportunities to improve.
  • Longer sprints make it easier to get a potentially shippable increment at the end of every sprint.
  • If your team struggles to complete all the work they plan for a sprint, make the sprint duration shorter.
  • If your team fails to make a meaningful progress on the product in each sprint, make the sprint duration longer.

Bonus tip: If you are working on a product, consider sprints that allow you to release minor updates more frequently than your main competitors.

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About the Author

Paul Fawcett

Paul Fawcett is an Atlaz Architect with over five years of experience in guiding developers to follow the best agile practices and standards. Paul works closely with the team members to continuously improve development processes and design solutions that generate the most business value and help our clients succeed.