What is an Agile Sprint?
In agile methodology, a sprint is a period (e.g., 14 days) in which an agreed-upon set of development tasks takes place.
The agile methodology embraces short, frequent bursts of development, and iterative product releases. In contrast to more traditional product development where larger chunks of functionality are built at a time, release cycles may be months-long and don’t ship until everything is completed.
In agile, Sprints are much shorter blocks of development. The goal is to get new functionality and improvements into customers’ hands as quickly as possible. Sprint lengths vary by organization but often last less than one month. If something is too large for a single sprint, it’s broken down into smaller components and spread across more than one.
Sprints usually begin with an agile sprint planning meeting. There the agile team will agree on the sprint goals. Sprint goals are what the sprint is trying to achieve, i.e., introducing new functionality, improving performance, optimizing UX, improving conversions. Sprint goals are always measurable.
Development teams select items from the sprint backlog, which is a subset of product backlog items. These items are ready to be built now and prioritized by the agile sprint team based on how efficiently and effectively they meet the sprint’s goal.
Seldom are changes made to a sprint’s contents after defining it. Sometimes an item may prove too large or difficult to complete and fall out of the scope. Likewise, there may be room to squeeze in extra details. But the sprint goal never changes.
After completing an agile sprint, the next one begins, with its own goals, items, and cadence.
What Do Sprints Mean for Agile Product Managers?
Agile, and sprints, in particular, mean users get new functionality much faster and with greater frequency than traditional product development methodologies. The functionality has several significant repercussions for product management:
Working well with others
Agile sprint planning is a collaborative effort, and product management is only one of the voices in the room. Scrum masters, product owners, and the development team are all involved in the process. Since there aren’t any detailed product requirement documents, product managers must both trust and cooperate with the development team to get the best possible product out the door within each sprint’s time frame. Daily interactions replace occasional strategic planning meetings.
A product roadmap envisions fully-formed features with all the ancillary functionality. But sprints are all about getting something that works in front of customers ASAP. Therefore, features must be pruned down to their most essential elements. They’re then augmented incrementally, incorporating customer input along the way.
More frequent feedback loops
Agile sprints deliver new functionality and user experiences every two or three weeks. Therefore, product management is in a constant cycle of assessing their impact. Based on their learnings, product managers can create new backlog items or adjust prioritization. They can quickly address pain points or emphasize positive responses. The process of build, measure, learn, and adapt happens far more frequently.
They are embracing dynamism and fluidity
Plans change far more often in an agile environment. The rapid pace of turning feedback into requirements may feel overwhelming. But this also allows organizations to respond to customers; swiftly delivering optimal experiences.
From sales training to help documentation, these accelerated releases mean product managers are continually updating stakeholders and users on what’s new in the product. Product teams can’t expect lengthy information-sharing sessions with everyone that often. Ongoing education demands consistent and concise communication to ensure that everyone knows what’s new.
What Are the Pros and Cons of Agile Sprints?
Like any method or framework, there are advantages and disadvantages to an agile sprint. From a product management perspective, here’s how those play out:
- Instead of waiting months and months to gauge the market reception of a new feature, shorter release cycles give product managers more immediate input. Faster feedback means you can tweak (or scrap) new features without committing as many resources to the initial release.
- Based on that fast feedback, customers won’t have to wait as long to have burning issues addressed, and major bugs quashed. Speedier response times help make the organization more customer-centric in its approach.
- The cadence and size of sprints make them an excellent platform to try things out. Then, you can assess the results and adjust accordingly. Ample opportunities for experimentation facilitates more adventurous exploration of possibilities.
- Faster responses to market changes. Competitors continuously introduce new features, and industries get shaken up by something new. Now products can be more nimble in how they address these dynamics.
- Product managers must be available for consultation throughout the agile sprint process. If you’re always on, it may include attending daily standups. If product managers can’t answer a question right away, the pace of the sprint may cause development to make their own calls and move forward as they see fit.
- Don’t get into the details. How development chooses to implement backlog items is primarily out of product management’s hands. Product managers don’t always get the opportunity to provide much feedback and input during each sprint. Small tweaks and changes may have to wait until the next sprint.
- The go-go-go nature of sprints can sometimes lead to things getting sloppy in the codebase. Technical debt accumulation might cause problems in production over time, requiring some dedicated clean-up time.
- The non-stop cycle of sprints in agile methodology can be taxing on everyone involved. Scheduling an occasional sprint full of clean-up and bug fixes can be a refreshing way to mitigate that and take a brief mental break.
Are Agile Sprints Right for You?
Sprints enable product teams to deliver value to customers faster. Their iterative nature allows for rapid updates and continual improvement of the user experience.
Agile sprint-based product development requires significant engagement and discipline for product managers. However, the benefits are often worth it. Increased responsiveness, shorter feedback loops, and an experiment-friendly environment enable teams to see what works best and invest minimal resources into trying new things.