Scrum – Sprint Planning Checklist

A simple checklist for planning a Sprint Backlog.

  1. Quick refresh of change suggestions from previous Retro
  2. Set a Sprint Goal
    1. The Sprint Goal is an objective that will be met within the Sprint through the implementation of the Product Backlog, and it provides guidance to the Development Team on why it is building the Increment – The Scrum Guide
    2. Goals should be SMART eg Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-bound.
  3. Capacity Plan – Log team availability in the coming sprint (including feature owners)
  4. Agree Velocity – Based on previous Sprints’ velocity, adjusted for capacity changes
  5. Re-write and re-estimate any not DONE Stories from the previous Sprint (if they are still a PO priority)
  6. Finish writing any incomplete Stories from Grooming
    1. Split Stories where possible – smaller is better
    2. Write Stories according to INVEST
    3. Write tasks on postits
    4. Estimate using planning poker – use fingers for 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 20 …
  7. Pull prioritised and Estimated Stories into Sprint Backlog  until the Velocity is reached
  8. Hold a fist of 5 vote to check Team’s confidence in getting every Story in the Sprint Plan DONE
  9. Team Commit to getting all of the Stories DONE
  10. Team put printed Stories from Rally and Tasks on their Board
  11. Team hold a mini-huddle to agree the tasks that each Team member will start on first (probably after lunch). Move tasks into In Progress with Avatars.
  12. Update the started Stories in Rally!

What makes a great Scrum team board?

I ran a workshop with my Scrum Masters recently asking them what makes a great Scrum team board. This is what we came up with:

  • A big team name banner / board title
  • Team sheet showing clear photos of everyone and their names
  • Velocity (with label eg a number by itself is not enough)
  • Specific Measurable Achievable Realistic Timebound (SMART) Sprint Goals
  • Clearly labled columns
  • Risks
  • Continuous improvement activities
  • Stories and tasks are colour coded
  • Key explaining what the colours indicate
  • Leave calendar showing when team members will be on leave (up to date)
  • The Team’s Definition of Done
  • Neat writing that is legible from a distance
  • Avatars clearly showing ownership of Stories and Tasks
  • Up to date, accurate and tidy

New Blocker Template

This is my new Blocker template for use on Scrum Boards and other visual management boards (VMBs).


I use blockers when I want to clearly visualise that something is blocking a story or stopping a team from meeting it’s planned goals.

The characteristic of a good blocker are:


Big blockers can’t be missed and they give plenty of space to write the cause of the owner of the blocker on the card. I’ve attached a template below but I usually print about six per A4 page.


Red is a warning colour and we avoid using it unless we want to call attention to a problem.


Have a space on the blocker to write brief details about who or what is causing the blockage. Some team only put a red X on the impacted work, I call these mystery blockers, because there is no information about what the blockage is.


Blockers should also be dated as soon as they are placed on the board. This way everyone will know exactly how long the blocker has been an issue. If blockers are an ongoing issue for a team the dates can be recorded and tracked as a metric like average blocker cycle time (how long from a blocker going on a boar to being cleared). Different blocker strategies can  be trialed and you can see if they have a positive or negative impact on average blocker cycle time.


Blockers should also have a clearly identified owner who takes responsibility for clearing the blocker and get the work progressing again.


The blocker should be placed right next to, but not on top of the task, story, feature etc that is blocked.

Printable Blocker Template

Blockers with text boxes and dates

Scrum – Should a Product Owner vote in Planning Poker?

Product Owners definitely do not vote or otherwise influence the Team’s estimates during Planning Poker (unless they are also developer).

Basically, the best people to give estimates are the ones who will actually being doing the work.

The PO Fallacy

The PO Fallacy is that if the PO convince the team to give lower estimates then they can get more work done. They mean well as they are probably thinking about strategic goals, what their leaders wants or customer satisfaction. But the likely net result of compressing Story Point estimates is some or all of the following:

  • Overloaded Sprints
  • Not getting all of the Stories DONE that the Team committed to
  • Stories that do not meet the Team’s Definition of Done
  • Quality drops as Stories are rushed
  • Tech debt caused by the Team taking shortcuts to get everything completed
  • Unsustainable pace as the Team work evenings and weekends to complete the work they committed to
  • Unhappy developers
  • Staff turnover
  • Reduced velocity in the future as new team members are brought up to speed

How do PO influence estimates?

PO are often unaware of the effects of encouraging teams to compress their estimates. In this situation they might do the following:

  • Directly ask the Team to give a smaller number
  • Challenge the legitimacy of the estimation even though they lack the technical knowledge to do so
  • Challenge team members who give higher numbers during the initial rounds of estimation
  • Let the team know in advance what “has to be done”

Sometimes POs are aware that they shouldn’t be challenging the Team’s estimates so they use less direct methods.

  • Let a confederate in the team like a Scrum Master or a senior technical person know exactly what “has so be done” in the Sprint prior to the estimation session. The confederate then compresses the Team’s estimates on behalf of the PO
  • Give subconscious cues like laughing, making faces, rolling eyes when the team or a team member gives an estimate that they think is too high

What should the PO do during estimation?

Generally the safest approach is for the PO to stay silent and still and trust the team to come up with an accurate estimate.

More information

Making Great Avatars and Team Sheets

I make photo avatars for everyone I work with. Photos are great for putting on team boards showing who is working a given task or story.

What is the difference between a good avatar and a bad avatar?

Good avatar Bad avatar
harambe ca-smallca-smallca-smallca-smallca-smallca-smallca-smallca-smallca-smallca-smallca-smallca-small
 Clearly identifiable passport style photo (no sunglasses, facing the camera, take in the last decade etc)  Not really sure who this is? Maybe the American guy in the team?
Clear name No name
Great for learning new names No idea who anyone is
Helpful for visitors to address team members by name “Um, who is this again?”
Great for showing ownership and pride Still not sure who it working on this
Big. Avatars should be big enough to be read by anyone within three meters of the Team’s Board. Someone always asks me if their avatar could be smaller. My answer is that they could, but that they wouldn’t be fit for purpose Too small
Usually only three per team member to encourage them to limit Work In Progress (WIP) Why are there so many of these? Who is doing all this work? Why is nothing getting DONE?
There’s only one Harambe Everyone wants to be Captain America (or Hulk)

Team Sheet

Once I have avatars for the whole teams I pull them all together and make them into a document that I call the Team Sheet.

  • One goes on the top of the Team’s Board.
  • One goes on the program board for Scrum of Scrums
  • The team take one with them to planning events, hackathons, anywhere they are representing as a Team
  • One goes on the front page of the deck they make for Showcase
  • Three more get printed for lamination and cutting up into avatars.

Link to avatar template in Word