Sprint planning meetings of old consisted of a whiteboard, marker, and post-it notes. But these days, digital tools have emerged that make planning more effective, leading to a more successful sprint.
There's plenty of sprint planning tools on the market, and many offer similar features, which make it confusing to decide what to choose. But there are a few things that can make decision making easier:
You may find - especially in the case of small teams - that you can run your meetings on zoom or discord. Maybe your team already works well with Slack (crucial to avoid excess meetings) and has good experience using project management tools like Trello or Asana. This may be all you need, especially if you don't want to sign up for yet another platform. For others, a program that exclusively tracks their sprints works really well.
Many of the platforms listed are designed with a range of teams in mind beyond developers. This can save a company money and make it easier for other departments to track sprint progress, particularly in terms of ROI and deliverables in dealing with things like technical debt that in some companies can be a hard sell against time to market priorities.
Software can be expensive, and prices can jump rapidly as your team expands or your needs grow more complex. Fortunately, all vendors offer a free trial allowing you to try before you buy.
The pain of context switching
Did you ever go to school with folks who took meticulous notes with colour coding, page separators, copious use of highlighters, and immaculate penmanship? It's easy to distract yourself from the real work by focusing on tooling, especially for procrastinators.
Further, sprint planning software, in general, is easy to use with large visual interfaces, drag and drop, and overall good UI. But consider the time wasted with context switching when you continually switch between tasks or, in this instance, software or even tabs. It sucks your attention and focus and makes it impossible to focus on the deep work which is vital in development.
Ask the freelancers on your team; they've probably tried all of it with different clients and know the pain of context switching well. The best sprint planning approach should integrate with your current way of working and other software to reduce the pain of context switching.
Linear is a project management tool and an issue tracker that can be used by engineering teams as well as other teams, such as marketing or design. To fight the competition, Linear focuses on a modern design and a “magical feel”: the well-designed app with hotkeys makes managing tickets and cycles easy and fast.
Linear helps streamline software projects, sprints, tasks, and bug tracking, and the main advantage is that any action can be accessed and completed in seconds with the command menu.
Monday offers a comprehensive suite of software tools for various departments, from sales to marketing to software. It makes it easy to plan sprints, especially for teams using a scrum approach, assigning owners to tasks, determining story points, and sharing files and updates with team members in real-time.
It's easy to open tickets meaning anyone can easily report a bug, including non-devs.
I especially like the ability to see multiple sprints in one place, which would be especially useful with addressing flow over tasks from previous sprints and removing the need to create new documents continually.
Overall it's suitable for a wide range of teams across various industries, and there's plenty of integration options with other software vendors. It reduces the need for meetings for big organisations as you can frequently communicate progress updates so client-facing teams can easily keep users in the loop.
Created by JetBrains, YouTrack is a project management platform for agile teams.
You can create boards with multiple projects, add swimlanes based on user stories, epics, deadlines, or any other field. It's easy to see the changes applied to the board or in the backlog in real-time.
I particularly like Knowledge Base, a project collaboration tool that adds project plans, team policies, and meeting notes.
Personally, I find the interface a little unwieldy as it's pretty text-heavy initially, but I think greater familiarity and some customisation would make this less of an issue.
Sprints aren't just about shipping features, but also maintaining a healthy codebase and managing legacy code.
Stepsize is an editor-first issue tracker for a healthy codebase. The tool is built for engineers to track and create technical and maintenance issues directly from the VS Code or JetBrains free extensions. It integrates with other project management tools, such as Jira, as well as with Slack, BitBucket, and GitHub.
Create & view code issues directly from your editor
Track & prioritise code improvements like technical debt
Add key issues to your sprints with our Jira integration
There's plenty of other tools that can help with sprint planning:
Digital whiteboards: Some people are just visual and miss the use of a whiteboard in digital sprints. A good option is Creately which provides a bunch of different tools to make it easy to visually represent ideas, map stories, or create charts and wireframes without leaving your meeting. You can literally dial in to use it online, and I like the integration with Slack and other tools - more are coming.
Build your own: There's also the option to build your own tools to address pain points you might have with your existing sprint planning tools. Nejra wrote a great article about building a slack bot. He explained that code reviews were a bottleneck in their 2-week sprints as they didn't have an explicit way of determining the code reviewer for their tasks:
"Our original idea was that anyone who has free time will check out the Jira code review column and review some tasks. When that approach didn't work, we agreed among ourselves on who would review which task. However, we chose the person we were closest to, leading to inequality in the workload."
They built a Slack bot to display the name of the person who will code review the task. The bot selects a person using a round-robin arrangement and is easy to implement as the company already uses Slack for their day to day communication.
Whichever tool your team chooses, remember to allocate time to maintenance issues and technical debt. Teams who manage technical debt properly run productive sprints, keep their Engineers happy, and ship quality products 50% faster than teams who ignore tech debt.