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Iteration planning is one of the best practices for Agile development teams to set their goals for the Sprint and identify the entire flow of the upcoming Sprint. This practice is commonly found in Agile and Scrum development teams. Iteration planning is of vast importance for software development teams, as well as project managers, and in this article, we’ll explore how they utilize iteration planning to achieve successful product releases.

This article will teach you what agile iteration is and how Agile project managers can plan it effectively to achieve better results.

What is an Agile Iteration?

An agile iteration is a single-timeboxed development cycle. Many development teams that use Agile project management will schedule several iterations that need to be completed in two to four weeks. After that time, the team will have completed a product or feature that they will present to the stakeholders.

Iterations are sometimes known as Sprints if the development team works on an Agile framework known as Scrum. The software (or other product) development occurs in Sprints that take place rapidly, over a few weeks, and as such, the teams deliver the final product in increments.

It’s a fundamental concept in Agile methodologies and is used to incrementally build and deliver a portion of a project’s features or functionality.

Agile iteration planning takes place before the agile iterations. Agile iteration planning is a collaborative meeting in Agile software development where a cross-functional team selects and commits to a specific set of user stories or tasks from the product backlog to work on during a fixed time frame called an iteration or Sprint in Scrum.

This planning session ensures that the team has a clear understanding of what needs to be done, and how long it will take, and sets achievable goals for the upcoming iteration, promoting transparency and alignment among team members.

When to Do Iteration Planning?

Iteration planning is a process that should always take place before the sequence of Agile iterations takes place. Ideally, the agile team will discuss what can be done in the upcoming Sprint and make use of the key takeaways from the previous iteration’s review and retrospective meetings.

Conducting the Agile iteration planning early into the sequence of iterations is useful because it:

  • Allows the team and Agile PM to review the iteration and product backlog and discuss what can be implemented from it.
  • Helps select a set of rules and user stories to commit to
  • Allows you to estimate the required effort that each team member needs to provide
  • You can create a plan for how the work will be completed during the Sprint if you use Scrum based on what user stories are

Making the Agile iteration planning meeting early in the iteration helps the team comprehend what will be done in the upcoming sequence of iterations and ensures clarity. That way, the team will focus and achieve an efficient work cycle, and improve collaboration with a shared understanding of goals and priorities among team members.

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Iteration Planning Vs. Sprint Planning

Many refer to iteration planning as Sprint planning and use these two terms interchangeably, but they’re not the same.

In this section, we’ll discuss the key differences between iteration and sprint planning, so that you can distinguish between them easier and have an easier time planning out your iterations.

In iteration planning, the development team focuses on user stories. To plan an iteration successfully, the team needs to focus on the end user’s needs. During the Sprint planning, the team will focus on the Sprint backlog and plan implementation of those tasks.

Keep in mind that some Agile teams decide to perform Sprint planning and iteration planning as one meeting, so they may commit to both user stories and product backlog as a plan of the meeting.

Allan Kelly, a famous Agile consultant and a public speaker calls these two terms interchangeable despite the minor differences they have because people who use these two terms will often mean the same thing.

Both agile iteration and sprint planning are integral parts of product development in an Agile environment, and they serve to ensure that the team has a clear plan and understanding of what needs to be done.

The Iteration Planning Process

Agile iteration planning comprises several steps that make it among the most crucial practices in an Agile team. It includes several parties including the development team, product owner (PO), Scrum master (in the case of Scrum framework) and sometimes the stakeholders closely involved with the product.

The product owner has a great role in organizing the iteration planning meeting. They prepare a special report that includes some preliminary iteration goals, after closely analyzing the takeaways from the Sprint retrospective and Sprint review meetings.

The iteration goals are based on the total team’s progress, Agile Velocity, and the overall performance during the previous sequence of iterations. Once the Iteration planning meeting starts, the team will compare performance and discuss different implementation options, identify and mitigate potential risks, talk about technical issues, and consider Nonfunctional Requirements (NFRs)

This discussion helps in planning the iteration because the PO helps identify what to work on, while the team finds out how to implement it and how many resources will be used. During the meeting, the Agile team also identifies acceptance criteria for each user story and calculates how much effort they’ll need to put into completing them.

Those who meet the available capacity and pass the acceptance criteria will be prioritized throughout Sprint. If a user story demands a lot of effort, the Agile team will break it down into additional smaller tasks.

Once they finish the planning process, the team creates an iteration backlog and either visualizes it with some tools or adds it to the storyboard or a Kanban board.

For teams that visualize their tasks and user stories, a Kanban board can be an intuitive and versatile way to present the tasks and show what each team member has been working on. Kanban Zone’s Kanban board is equipped with all the necessary features to run an iteration backlog and show what everyone has been working on. We also have ready-to-use Scrum board templates to assist you in doing Scrum.

Below, we listed all the key steps in the iteration planning process.

Establishing Capacity

To be able to process certain user stories and complete an iteration, the team needs to establish the capacity first. Each team member will share whether they’re available to work on certain tasks and give a heads-up about some potential time off and potential issues that may arise during the iteration.

The team will use their Historical Velocity as a metric when establishing capacity. Then, they will make the necessary adjustments for when some team members won’t be available to work on their user stories and tasks.

Story Analysis and Estimating

We mentioned earlier that agile iterations focus on user stories rather than the product backlog. So, once the capacity has been established, the team will take a look at the entire backlog and analyze their tasks. They will focus on things like complexity, relative difficulty, uncertainty, and acceptance criteria.

Each story should have its acceptance criteria. Acceptance criteria consist of conditions of satisfaction before the user story is complete. Some teams will also use Behavior-Driven Development (BDD) which ensures that all team members understand the specific behavior and pattern of each story. Based on that, the team will find the perfect size estimate for each story planned for the iteration.

Tasking and Delegation of Stories

Agile teams that use SAFe iteration planning may prefer to delegate and task user stories. For example, when members are dealing with a large user story, that has many complex requirements and will take more time and resources to complete, they split the story into several smaller tasks that they complete throughout the iteration.

The team will discuss which user stories could potentially take more time to accomplish. They estimate the time in hours or sometimes days and consider any dependencies that could be tied to the user stories. Once the tasks are established, each team member who was supposed to work on the user story will commit to a specific task.

Occasionally, some team members may become too overwhelmed with the over-commitment of the tasks that were delegated to them. That’s when the team will sit down and organize another meeting where they can relocate the resources to see those tasks completed.

Commitment to Iteration Goals

Once the team establishes the iteration backlog, it’s time to focus on working on priorities. This will help finish most of the work planned during the iteration. All priorities are noted down in the iteration backlog, as well as all the PI objectives noted during the PI planning event.

PI objectives may change throughout the iteration, based on team performance. However, if the iteration is close to the PI planning session, the objectives initially established are unlikely to change.

Conclusion

Agile iteration planning is a powerful asset that allows teams to make use of user stories and include them in project development. Agile iteration planning ensures that the team understands what features need to be implemented to meet the requirements of end users.

However, to be implemented properly, the whole team needs to understand the project requirements and develop a way to assess progress at the end of the iteration in a way that will be transparent and easy to understand by entities like product owners or stakeholders. Kanban Zone is equipped with a toolkit for effective Agile iteration planning and story tasking.

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About the Author: Danica Simic

Danica Simic, Author
Danica Simic is a software and data engineer with great passion towards planning and tech. She started writing to be able to pay for studying but it wasn’t too long before she decided she wanted to work as a full-time tech writer. She’s focused on academic writing and copywriting but also enjoys writing about artificial intelligence, productivity, planning, organization and everything tech. Her hobbies include swimming, reading, drawing and gaming. She also runs a few tech Instagram accounts and offers data & AI consultations to small businesses and data science students.