The Magic of 1-Day Sprints

How long should your sprints be? Generally, 1-2 weeks, with a preference towards a shorter sprint.

But that’s not what I’m writing about today. I want to introduce you to the magic of 1-day sprints.

I’ve noticed that the effectiveness of a team is not a function of how long they’ve been working together in an agile way. Rather, it’s a function of how many cycles they’ve been through together. How often they’ve regrouped, made commitments, figured out how to finish them, and then reflected and adapted their practice. In other words, for a Scrum team, how many sprints they’ve done together. More sprints, in general, equals more learning.

This creates a unique opportunity that some of my clients choose to exploit. When a team starts or regroups, particularly after one of our Agile for Teams workshops, there’s new self-awareness, enthusiasm, and ideas to try. Over the next two weeks, you can channel this into one strong first sprint …or you can take the opportunity to have ten.

Ten 1-day sprints allows you to complete 10 cycles of working and learning together 10x faster than the typical team. And it forces you to figure out critical skills and practices like finding small slices of value and collaborating together on something instead of just handing work off to one another in sequence—skills and practices you can easily ignore in the space of a 2-week sprint.

Yes, they’re a bit inefficient. Your work won’t fit nicely into a day. You’ll spend more time in the sprint events. So, you probably shouldn’t do them forever. But if you’re like my clients, you’ll be surprised at how much you get done.

So, how do you actually do it?

Here’s a typical 9-5 day:
9:00-9:30 — Planning for the day. Find one, maybe two, increments of value that you can complete together today.
9:30-12:00 — Get stuff done
12:00-1:00 — Lunch break
1:00-1:15 — Daily Scrum to coordinate on the morning’s progress and plan the afternoon
1:15-4:30 — Get more stuff done (including backlog refinement to make tomorrow’s planning easier)
4:30-5:00 — Review what you did and do a quick retrospective about how you might work differently tomorrow
5:00 — Go home

Can’t get 8 overlapping hours due to your team members’ non-work commitments? Don’t worry, you can still do daily sprints. The key move is putting review, retro, and planning back to back in the morning or afternoon when you’re all at work. Then, the time on either end of the day becomes part of the sprint. Just be careful not to work overtime—you want to get a real sense of what your team can accomplish in one focused day.

Three tips to make this work:
1. Agree in advance that this is a two-week experiment and not your new normal. Working in this way is an intense change for most teams. Knowing it’s time-limited makes psychological space to really try it.
2. Plan smaller slices than you think. Actually finishing something meaningful in a single day is a key part of this experiment. It’s better to slice something too small and finish early than to always end the day part-way done. And the slicing skills you develop will be valuable to your team long-term.
3. While it’s an experiment in how you work, be careful to ensure what you work on is real. You need it to be representative of your normal work for learnings to transfer easily. (If, for some reason, you can’t make this happen with your real work, doing it hackathon-style with an innovation or charity project can still teach you something. It’s better than nothing, but it’s not as instructive as 10 1-day sprints of real work.)

Try it out, and let me know in the comments how it goes!

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Richard Lawrence

Is co-owner of Agile For All. He trains and coaches people to collaborate more effectively with other people to solve complex, meaningful problems. He draws on a diverse background in software development, engineering, anthropology, and political science. Richard is a Scrum Alliance Certified Enterprise Coach and Certified Scrum Trainer, as well as a certified trainer of the accelerated learning method, Training from the Back of the Room. His book, Behavior-Driven Development with Cucumber, was published by Addison-Wesley in 2019 (for more information, visit bddwithcucumber.com).

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