How does an Agile coach go about choosing the length of a sprint?
They don’t. It isn’t their job.
The role of an Agile coach is to help the team discover and design their process. To create an environment where the team can excel and each individual on the team can achieve their highest potential.
Agile coaches also help the organization transform into an environment where product development is better, more effective, and easier for the team. They instil Agile values and principles with the goal of helping the organization achieve increased business agility and adopt agile frameworks, processes and policies that foster innovation, creativity, and collaboration.
Their role isn’t to tell people what to do.
They aren’t a project manager guiding teams through every step of a waterfall-style of project management. They don’t assign work, nor do they impose their ideas and concepts on others as if it were Agile dogma that needs to be adopted.
It isn’t an agile coach or scrum master’s job to decide on the length of a sprint.
It is their job to facilitate conversations with the team where optimal sprint length is explored, discussed, and evaluated. It may involve experimentation where the team test a hypothesis and make an informed decision based on the evidence and data which the sprint produces.
Remember, it is ok to have an opinion. It is ok to walk the team through your experience with sprint lengths and to talk to them about what has and hasn’t worked in other environments. It is helpful and useful for the team to benefit from your expertise and experience, but you aren’t there to sell them on something.
I always advise agile coaches and scrum masters to make offers.
Offer your insight and perspective and allow them to use that as a point of departure in their conversation concerning the sprint length. When you make an offer, people can accept that offer and adopt it in the form of a trial or they can reject that offer and make a counteroffer.
You know you are doing a great job when the team negotiate terms and are willing to experiment rather than blindly adopt something. It isn’t your role or responsibility to enforce certain practices and processes, instead you are inviting the team to explore them and make their own decisions.
Most teams start with a sprint length of approximately 2 weeks and so it makes sense to propose an initial experiment of 2 weeks that allows the team to evaluate whether 2 weeks is a great length for them or whether it needs to be lengthened or shortened.
As a scrum master or agile coach, you will be gathering data and supporting evidence to discuss with the team at the end of the trial sprint and using that to inform decisions moving forward.
Your job is to help the team figure it out and make decisions that will move them closer to finding the optimal sprint length for their environment and their unique application.
Challenge assumptions and clarify positions using questions, discussion and conversations around key elements. Allow the team to weigh, measure and evaluate their options. Allow them to make a collective decision around what they are going to attempt next, why, and how they are going to attempt that.
Remember, you are always aiming to create autonomous, self-managing teams and that should always guide what you are doing in the environment, why you are doing it, and how you are doing it.
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