Easier Sprint Planning in Jira with Agile Planning Boards

Image of laptop showing Agile Planning Boards canvas with article title next to it

In Scrum, every sprint kicks off with a sprint planning ceremony (‘ceremony’ being a fancy agile term for ‘meeting’). The point of it is to define what can be achieved in the sprint, and how that work will be delivered.

In the past couple of years, teams everywhere have had to adapt to working remotely, which for some people, has looked like this:

Photo of an ironing board being used as a desk

Even if you had a separate room to serve as an office or had to improvise a desk out of an ironing board, one thing was – and still is – for sure. None of the solutions available to replicate in-person sprint planning in the digital world quite cut it.

So, let’s take a look at how Agile Planning Boards for Jira can make your digital sprint planning ceremonies just as effective as physical ones, and turn your next sprint into a, er, walk in the park. :wink:

What is sprint planning?

The sprint is a specified length of time your team gives itself to do a set number of tasks, so sprint planning is all about what and how many tasks you set, and who you assign them to.

At the start of a sprint planning session, the product owner and the team collaborate to define a goal for the sprint. The team looks at what items from the product backlog may contribute to that goal, and plans the work necessary to achieve it.

Running a successful sprint planning event requires discipline. The product owner must be prepared, incorporating lessons learned from prior sprint reviews, stakeholder feedback, and the product’s vision. This lets them see the big picture before making important decisions. When done correctly, sprint planning fosters an environment where the team is driven, challenged, and capable of success.

But before 2020, all of this typically happened in person in the office, with sticky notes and whiteboards. For many businesses, remote working has put an end to this, which is why software providers have been rushing out new brainstorming and digital whiteboard tools that can be used during video calls.

The reason most don’t work as well as they should is that they don’t sync with the platform the team’s going to be working in. This wasn’t as big of a problem in the office, because silos could be circumvented by the fact that we were sat next to each other, or might run into one another in the kitchen. With everybody distributed, connected only by their computer screens, having a single platform for your sprint planning and your sprint has become vital.

This is what makes Agile Planning Boards for Jira unique. You can replicate the whiteboard experience on a free-form canvas, but you can also turn digital sticky notes into Jira issues without leaving the canvas, and even take Jira actions, such as updating fields, which automatically sync to your Jira instance.

In effect, you can now do sticky-notes-and-whiteboards-style planning in Jira, making sprint planning sessions as dynamic as they were in the physical office, and saving a whole bunch of time typing everything into Jira manually.

What if we still want to use actual whiteboards and Post-its?

Even though remote working is here to stay, lots of us have ventured back into the office and are doing our best to resume our old way of working.

For many companies running Scrum, the old way of sprint planning in the office with a real whiteboard was better. Do those companies need Agile Planning Boards for Jira?

I’d say so, yes. Because Agile Planning Boards isn’t just a digital whiteboard. It will copy and recreate your physical whiteboard as well. Using handwriting detection, the app will turn a photo of your whiteboard into an editable digital replica. In a few clicks, you can transform analog content from the meeting room into Jira tickets, cutting down on hours of post-workshop data entry.

So, if you want to continue using a real whiteboard, go for it. And when you’re ready to start porting your ideas over to Jira, Agile Planning Boards is a fast, fun, efficient, and highly visual way of doing it.

The importance of the backlog in sprint planning

Often the starting point for a sprint planning ceremony is to look at the backlog of issues in your Jira. This provides a list of things that could potentially be part of the upcoming sprint. The product backlog is usually based on the roadmap and its requirements, and it’s there where most of the ideas pushed for later will end up.

Your backlog should be properly organized and maintained for clarity and transparency. This is the product owner’s responsibility. In native Jira, you’re limited to lists in terms of how you see your backlog, which can make the backlog grooming process feel tedious.

Screenshot of Jira Product Backlog list

Agile Planning Boards for Jira can help product owners refine the backlog. You’re able to pull Jira issues from the backlog onto the free-form canvas and visualize them how you want. Make a diagram, stick them in columns, rewrite them, combine them. And because of the sync with Jira, every backlog-grooming action you take will reflect in your Jira project.

Sprint planning and fresh ideation

Teams capture their best ideas in the moment. Looking at the backlog of issues may be the starting point in the sprint planning ceremony, but sometimes a new idea for a task will emerge then and there, triggering a new sticky note to go up on the whiteboard. Perhaps there is a story in the backlog that the team wants to complete in the upcoming sprint, but it turns out that your colleague has broken this story down into smaller tasks in their notebook.

When sprint planning involves fresh ideation on the spot, it leads to some awkward seesawing between the physical and the digital in trying to harmonize handwritten notes and sketches with the tickets in your Jira.

With Agile Planning Boards, this constant back and forth doesn’t happen. If you write something in your notebook, just take a photo and there it is on your digital canvas. Now that the idea is “on the system”, it can evolve as your thinking changes, no longer frozen in time in your notebook.

Screenshot of Agile Planning Boards canvas

In an age where the line between physical and virtual worlds is blurring to the point of simply not being there, Agile Planning Boards is the tool Scrum teams need, because it brings the two worlds into the same room.

Now, let’s break down exactly what your sprint planning ceremony will look like with an Agile Planning Boards canvas at your disposal.

The 3 main topics of sprint planning: why, what, and how

Topic 1: WHY is this sprint valuable?

First the product owner and team work together to develop a sprint goal that explains why the sprint is important to stakeholders. This involves looking at the product you’re working on and how you might be able to improve its value and utility.

Create a note of your sprint goal on the free-form canvas in Agile Planning Boards and this can act as your starting point for visualizing your sprint planning.

Beginning your sprint planning ceremony on an Agile Planning Boards canvas

Topic 2: WHAT can be done in this sprint?

Through discussion with the product owner, the team selects items from the Jira backlog that will help achieve the sprint goal. Pull these items onto the canvas in Agile Planning Boards and you can more easily see how certain stories relate to the sprint goal. You can refine them right there on the canvas, break them down into tasks (usually that take one day or less to complete), and add new notes, tables, and diagrams.

Choosing what work gets done involves a negotiation between the team and the product owner about the value of the work and the level of effort required. Determining the level of effort involves estimating, i.e. predicting how long the task will take to complete.

Estimating tasks and determining how many of them can be accomplished in a sprint can be difficult. The more information the team has about their prior performance, their forthcoming capacity, and their definition of ‘Done’, the more confident they can be in their forecast.

When estimating, Agile Planning Boards offers fully customizable smart drop zones to take Jira actions, like updating fields, using drag and drop. You could do this live in the office on the big screen or with screen-sharing during a Zoom call, allowing everyone in the meeting to clearly see the decisions being made in real time.

Estimating in an Agile Planning Boards canvas

Topic 3: HOW will the work get done?

Once you have defined and estimated the tasks you aim to accomplish in the upcoming sprint, you can use another smart drop zone in Agile Planning Boards to quickly assign those tasks to appropriate team members. You end up with a sized task list, each one properly delegated, as shown below.

Assigning work to team members in an Agile Planning Boards canvas

Sprint planning best practices

Sprint planning involves trying to achieve a balance between too much and too little. Too little planning leaves the team without a clear focus. Too much reduces scope for self-organization and adaptability, two hallmarks of being agile.

Achieving this balance is a lot easier with a tool that keeps the whole team engaged, fully informed, and ultimately more capable of making decisions about the why, what, and how of sprint planning. Agile Planning Boards for Jira acts as a colorful and customizable visual overlay for your Jira environment that allows you to visualize these decisions in real time, and organize them into tangible work.

That said, your sprint plan doesn’t have to be perfect, so don’t try to make it. Focus your attentions on the sprint goal and build just enough of a task list to get started. Then ensure that your product backlog is ordered so that the team can pick up work if they deliver on the sprint goal early. Even if the problem you’re solving is hard, your sprint planning shouldn’t be.

Plus, Scrum is an empirical, learning-by-doing framework. If nothing goes wrong, you won’t have anything to talk about at the retrospective!

Competitive marksman, gamer, and hip-hop music maker Gabriel Wielkopolski was born in Brussels in September 2000 and has amassed a crazy amount of experience and knowledge considering he’s young as f**k. Following a stint for Atlassian Partner SoftwarePlant, he joined Old Street in a marketing role and has since become our resident Agile Planning Boards for Jira expert.