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The Anatomy of a Product Development Team’s Sprint

Rudy Mutter
June 9, 2015

So you know what your final product is, and you know what problem it solves, but don’t have a prototype yet. There are innumerable tasks required in the development loop to get you there. Releasing new products into the marketplace is high-risk and expensive, so you want to get a prototype into initial testing. Now.

Enter the sprint -- a key component of agile project management and a proven tool used in rapid prototyping.

The Structure of a Sprint

Sprints are used when your team has a centralized goal that can, in theory, be completed in a short period of time, usually two weeks. Designers, product managers and developers become single-minded, place all other projects aside, and collaborate to quickly sculpt high-quality product features. The two-week time frame allows the team to balance speed and urgency with thoroughness. The first week is filled with “new project” highs, and the second week with “finish line” focus.

A successful sprint starts with structure. The sprint project manager looks at the backlog of tasks required to reach the defined goal and works with the developers to assign each task a number of points. The sprint team has an average velocity - a number of points they can finish in the allotted two-week time frame as estimated or defined by previous projects. The project manager prioritizes the tasks and assigns the achievable number of points to the team. Point allocation can be an opportunity for teams to work on growth and push themselves to take on more points than they have in the past, but an experienced project manager recognizes the maximum amount of points he or she can allocate before sacrificing the success of the sprint itself.

These tasks are also referred to as user stories. A user story is comprised of a specific instance in which a user persona may approach the product. Every morning the sprint team participates in a scrum, mentioning the user stories the team tackled the day before, what they're working on today, and whether anything blocking them from solving their stories. The scrum relies on a self-organizing team. Without a defined team leader the user stories and any issues that arise are solved by the team as a whole. The team is cross-functional, and every member is responsible for taking the project from scrum to implementation.

Because user stories are based on personas, they are often naturally connected. Over the course of one or multiple sprints, these user stories collect to create an “epic”. Epics often present their own unique stories, providing new and interesting problems to solve. Sprints within involved and collaborative prototypes like Tape require and benefit from multiple epics.

Just as the sprint is kicked off with a planning meeting, it is concluded with a sprint review conducted by the product owners. User stories and solutions are compiled, accepted or rejected. This review allows the team to refocus and readjust the direction of the project, and from sprint to sprint, the project manager and product owners are able to adjust what tasks are worked on as priorities shift.

Why Sprint?

There are multiple benefits to putting your projects on a sprint schedule. When rapid prototyping, sprints allow you to do user testing earlier than you may usually be able to in a normal development cycle. Sprints assist in building a concrete set of features, testing these features, and real users, and then they analyze the results to adapt your approach in future sprints.

At this point in the process, it can be tempting to get fickle and add too many new features based on customer feedback. Instead, keep the goal of the product clearly defined for your team and stay on task. Instead of trying to please everyone, focus on building a Minimum Lovable Product -- the smallest number of features needed by your customers to love the product.

The benefits of sprints and agile are real, but your team will only see success if they completely embrace collaboration and the flexible, adaptive agile environment. Junior developers can be partnered with senior developers, providing guidance and shrinking the experience gap, and new staff are immediately expected and encouraged to contribute. A great project manager leading a communicative and interconnected team will drive a sprint through to the end goal, building an awesome product, increasing job satisfaction, and strengthening company culture along the way.

Rudy Mutter is a CTO + Founding Partner at Yeti. He found his passion for technology as a youth, spending his childhood developing games and coding websites. Rudy now resides in the Yeti Cave where he architects Yeti’s system and heads up project production.

Follow Rudy on Twitter.

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