Why you should measure your team’s sprint velocity

Foto van bijdrager Sarah LaoyanSarah Laoyan14 juni 20225 min. leestijd
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Summary

Sprint velocity is a common tool used in Agile project management. It measures how much an Agile team produces during their normal sprint cycle. In this article, we talk about the importance of measuring sprint velocity and how you can use it to manage your Agile projects.

When measured correctly, sprint velocity can help you accurately estimate your team’s workload, simplify sprint planning, and help project managers keep a pulse on their projects.

What is sprint velocity?

Sprint velocity is a measurement of how much an Agile team can produce during one normal sprint cycle. You’ll use two main variables to calculate sprint velocity: how much work your Agile team completed and how long it took them to complete that work.

It’s important to note that sprint velocity is a descriptive metric and should not be used as a success metric. Sprint velocity should not be viewed as something to “improve.” It is a hard metric to describe how much work your team can complete within one sprint. While you should be measuring sprint velocity consistently, it should not be viewed as a success metric. If so, your team can end up overworked. The goal of understanding your Sprint velocity is to know the capacity that your team has, not to increase that capacity.

How to calculate sprint velocity

You can calculate sprint velocity with a simple math equation: divide the number of backlog items (or story points, if that’s what your team uses) by the total length of your sprint in days.

For example, if your team has 60 backlog items, and you average sprint duration lasts 2 weeks, the equation would look like this:

60 backlog items/10 days = Sprint velocity of 6

Figuring out how much your team can complete in an average sprint is relatively simple. Start by addressing a backlog with far too many items in it, and see how many items your team can get through in your desired sprint time. The goal is not to complete everything in the backlog, but to benchmark the work your team can complete.

Another option you can do before your first sprint is use project estimation strategies to predict how much your team can complete. If you’re looking for some strategies to use, try using top-down estimation, three-point estimation, or the analogous estimation method.

Why measure sprint velocity?

You don’t measure sprint velocity just because—there are practical (and beneficial) reasons as to why your team should measure sprint velocity. Here are a few.

  • Makes sprint planning easy. For product owners and Scrum masters, knowing your team’s sprint velocity can help make sprint planning easier. If you know your team’s average sprint velocity, it’s easier to choose the right user stories from the product backlog to move into this iteration without overloading your development team.

  • Manage stakeholder expectations. If your stakeholders are asking for a timeline on a specific user story, or if they’re trying to add anything before the end of the sprint, you as a product owner understand how that change may affect your team’s output based on their sprint velocity.

  • Signals potential trouble. When you regularly track sprint velocity, you’ll be able to measure the average velocity more consistently. If you see a sudden dip in velocity, then you know there’s a potential issue, such as a roadblock like an unfinished dependency, that needs to be resolved before moving on to the next sprint.

How to visualize sprint velocity

Being able to look at and measure sprint velocity at a glance can help those working on an Agile project quickly understand how their team is performing. At any time during the sprint, they can glance at a chart and see the team’s current progress. 

Depending on what you want to visualize for your sprint, there are a few different types of velocity charts you can use. Here are a few examples:

Basic velocity chart

A basic velocity chart is a bar graph that compares two main factors—the projected amount of work your development team can complete in one sprint, and the actual work that is completed in a sprint. 

The X-axis of the graph showcases different sprints, whereas the Y-axis displays the amount of story points or user stories.

When you look at this visually, it’s easy to see on average how much your team can complete in a given sprint in comparison to the estimated amount.

Burndown chart

de burndown plotten

A burndown chart estimates the amount of work that your team needs to complete and compares it against the time you have remaining in the sprint. As the sprint progresses, the goal is for the graph line to move closer to zero. 

If you have an estimate of your team’s velocity, you can plot this on your burndown chart and see how your team compares to the ideal velocity line. In the example above, you can see how early on in the sprint the team was able to complete more work than anticipated from the ideal line. Eventually the team took a dip in work, but still eventually reached the end goal. 

Burnup chart

A burnup chart is the exact opposite of a burndown chart. This graph commonly includes two lines: the actual work completed and the ideal goal that you want your team to reach. The ideal goal usually is a horizontal line across the graph, while the actual work will continually grow to reach the goal line as time moves on.

Visualize work with project management software

Tracking your sprints in one tool and reporting in another is manual, unnecessary work. With universal reporting in a project management tool, it’s easy to capture and report on work, all in one place.

Rapporteer met Asana over teams en projecten

Tips for regulating your team’s sprint velocity

If you notice that your team’s sprint velocity is inconsistent, that might be a sign that you need to regulate your team’s velocity. Consistency in sprint velocity is important because you can easily see your team’s regular performance—inconsistencies show when something is wrong.

For example, four of your most recent sprints had sprint velocities of 4.5, 7, 5, and 3. Your average sprint velocity is usually around 6. The inconsistency of sprint velocity may be an indicator of a bigger issue. Regulating your team’s sprint velocity means trying to keep sprint velocity consistent from sprint to sprint.

Here are a few tips on how you can regulate your team’s sprint velocity.

Clarify user stories

One thing that can help stabilize your team’s sprint velocity is to ensure that user stories are clear and easy to understand before the sprint starts. A user story is a quick explanation of a software feature written from the perspective of the end user. These user stories are often attached to items in a backlog. This ensures that Scrum team or project team members can focus on the work they need to do, instead of spending time hunting down stakeholders for more specifics. This can help increase your velocity by focusing your team’s time on the work that matters the most.

Ensure consistency

If your team’s velocity is inconsistent, you might be changing too many variables from sprint to sprint. For example, are you swapping different team members from your development team? Team composition can change the amount of work your team can achieve. 

Here are a few other variables that may affect your sprint velocity:

  • Sprint length

  • Increase in story points

  • Change in processes

Establish a uniform definition of “done”

It’s important that everyone on your team has a clear understanding of what it means for a user story to be “done” or complete. This is a key aspect of the Scrum framework that is often used in other Agile methodologies as well. 

When your team has a clear definition of what it means for a user story to be complete, they’re able to more accurately estimate how much work is involved in each one. This in turn leads to more accurate project estimations and, ultimately, more accurate sprint velocity.

Host a sprint retrospective

One of the benefits of the Agile methodology is that it’s an iterative development process. This means that at the end of each sprint, there’s an opportunity to reflect on the past sprint and see what went well and what didn’t. A sprint retrospective meeting is meant for just that—a meeting dedicated to reflecting on the past sprint and how to improve for the next one.

The goal here is to continuously improve. As your team iterates through different sprints, your team should apply the learnings from past sprints into future sprints. This gives your team the opportunity to shift processes to continuously improve.

Looking to try Agile project management?

Easily track and measure your team’s Agile velocity by using a work management tool like Asana. With Asana, you can track deliverables, automate tasks, and manage sprint planning all in one convenient location.

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