The duration (or length) of a Sprint determines how quickly a Scrum Team can “inspect and adapt” to changing circumstances and learning. Scrum, as a tool for product development, sets an upper limit to the duration of a Sprint. In other words, Scrum sets a minimum for the frequency of the inspect and adapt cycle. This frequency ensures that teams using Scrum get at least a certain minimum benefit.
The Scrum guide does not set a maximum frequency (minimum Sprint length). There are cases of teams using Sprints as short as half-day!
If a team has a five-week (or longer) Sprint, the benefits from Scrum drop off. In particular, they reduce their ability to frequently deliver value to the customer, respond to change, evolve their Definition of “Done”, and detect deficiencies in the quality of their product. As well, risks increase associated with short term planning, responding to change, team development, windows of business opportunity, and other error detection.
A team can adopt a shorter Sprint length simply by deciding to do so. It is important to remember that having a shorter Sprint length means that the Product Owner must refine the Product Backlog Items more in order to make them ready for the Sprint Planning meeting – in other words, the Scrum Team must have reasonable confidence that Product Backlog Items will not take longer than a single Sprint to complete… The Product Owner must be good at “Story Splitting”.
One of the main obstacles to shorter Sprints is simply the mindset of the team members and their stakeholders. There is often concern such as “we can’t do anything in a week” or “there won’t be anything meaningful done in a week”. These mindsets are often based on traditional waterfall thinking. The best way to approach this is to treat these concerns with respect and discuss them in your ongoing Sprint Retrospectives. The best advice on how to do short Sprints is simply to go for it!
Check out our article 21 Tips on Choosing a Sprint Length!
Sometimes the length of a Sprint is determined by people outside the Scrum Team. If these outside decision-makers have asked the team to do Sprints that are longer than one month, the Scrum Master should inform these decision-makers of the consequences of having long Sprints and request that the Scrum Team be given the authority to determine their own Sprint length. This request may not be honored, in which case it is probably best for the team to stop calling itself a Scrum team.
The heart of Scrum is a Sprint, a time-box of one month or less
Sprints are limited to one calendar month. When a Sprint’s horizon is too long the definition of what is being built may change, complexity may rise, and risk may increase. Sprints enable predictability by ensuring inspection and adaptation of progress toward a Sprint Goal at least every calendar month. Sprints also limit risk to one calendar month of cost. — The Scrum Guide
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