Best Practices

How Leverage uses Asana for sprint planning to scale their business

Editor’s note: This is a guest post written by Nick Sonnenberg, CEO of Leverage and Asana Certified Pro.

At the end of the day, most business owners have three major concerns when it comes to planning the growth of their business:

  1. How can I ensure that everyone is putting their efforts in the right place to move the business forward?
  2. What is the most important work that I need to do right now?
  3. What is the status of the key projects and milestones my team is working on?

It’s a trend I’ve seen across nearly all industries through my own business efficiency consulting and the work my company, Leverage, does for our clients. We function as a tech-enabled growth agency that helps businesses generate more revenue through marketing efforts while also saving costs by improving their operational efficiency.

Luckily, there’s no need to reinvent the wheel here. By pulling on the well-established framework of sprint planning and utilizing it in a work management tool like Asana, any team can set up a thorough system to plan, prioritize, and execute the right projects while ensuring nothing falls through the cracks.

What is sprint planning?

Before we dive into the nitty-gritty, it’s worth explaining how sprint planning works and why it is such an effective technique for businesses looking to scale.

Sprint planning is part of the Agile and Scrum project management frameworks. Simply put, the idea is to break long-term projects or goals into shorter sections of time called “sprints.” A team then agrees to complete certain tasks or milestones within the sprint to contribute toward the overall project or goal. The idea is that it’s far easier to predict what can get done in a shorter time period, which helps to ensure there are no big “surprises” at the end of the quarter. It also breaks large, intimidating projects into manageable chunks.

A sprint could be anywhere from one week to one month, and sprint planning is the process of determining what will be worked on in the sprint and by whom.

It all starts with determining longer term goals (quarterly and yearly), then breaking each goal down into all of the key projects that will need to be completed in order to achieve it. From there, the key projects are broken down further into smaller tasks and milestones which are housed in a backlog (essentially, a large to-do list). Sprints are then used to prioritize, plan, and complete all of the work in the backlog to ensure goals are met.

When scaling a business, there is often an overwhelming amount of work that needs to be done and it can be difficult to decide what to prioritize. This system is perfect for growing businesses because it provides room for flexibility and allows managers to have transparency and accountability without micromanaging.

Sprinting to success in Asana

Now that you have a better idea of what spring planning is, here’s a look at how Leverage does it in Asana. 

Step 1. Creating the quarterly portfolio

Start by creating a project in Asana for each key project for the quarter. Then, add all of the relevant backlogged tasks and team members to each project. You can then group all of those projects within a quarterly portfolio. We do this by using a simple naming convention: Q1-4, followed by the year.

Our portfolio for Q4 2020

Step 2. Creating the sprint portfolio

Next, create a separate sprint project for each department, as well as one called “meetings.” These should all be grouped in a “sprint” portfolio, with relevant team members added.

The sprint portfolio

Step 3. Setting capacity

Determine the capacity for each team member over the course of a sprint. At Leverage, our sprints are one week long and we set each team member’s capacity at 50 hours. It’s also important to add an “estimated hours” field to all projects within the sprint portfolio. This way you can budget estimated time for all major pieces of work.

Step 4. Factoring in meeting time

It’s important to factor in time spent in meetings when determining which projects each person will work on during the sprint. If a team member has 20 hours of meetings in a week-long sprint, they only have 30 hours to effectively work on projects.

The meetings project

To do this, create a section in the “meetings” project for each team member. Then, create one task per day of the week. Add each individual meeting as a subtask with estimated hours on the corresponding day. This will account for all the hours spent in meetings among your team members as you begin to plan your sprint.

Additionally, we have a section called “Meetings needed to be scheduled.” This is a way for team members to account for meetings they know will need to happen but are not yet scheduled. We also use the meetings project to budget a few hours each day for responding to emails, Slack messages, and Asana comments.

Step 5. Planning the sprint

The actual process for determining which projects to prioritize during sprints will likely be different for each company, but here’s how we do it.

At the end of each week, team members spend a few minutes planning out what they’ll work on during next week’s sprint. They add any meetings to the meetings project, and then add relevant backlogged tasks to their department’s sprint project until they reach their capacity. (Each project must have estimated hours filled in!)

We then start each Monday with 1-on-1 meetings between team members and their managers. On the 1-on-1, we go over what was accomplished last week and what the priorities are for this week. Later in the day, we get together as a group for a team sprint planning meeting where everyone goes over the work they’ve committed to. If managers or other team members have objections to what anyone is committed to working on, they are free to voice those concerns and change the sprint as necessary, including moving certain items to next week’s sprint.

About 80-90% of the sprint is locked in prior to this meeting, but it helps us refine anything we may have missed and keeps the team in full alignment. This meeting only takes about 30 minutes each week because of the systematic pre-work that everyone does.

Step 6. Managing the sprint

As a team works through sprint after sprint, managers are able to monitor their team’s progress over time in the Workload view. At the beginning of each week, they’ll be able to easily see if everyone is at capacity or not, and which tasks they’re working on.

Assessing your team’s capacity with Workload

By using the weekly view, you can easily see the progress and workload of the entire team. This provides accountability and transparency for managers and other team members, as everyone can quickly and easily see what each person is working on and what their capacity is. This helps to align expectations—there’s no need to ask “why didn’t this get done?” because anyone can clearly find the answer—and also lets managers keep track of their team’s progress without micromanaging.

Looking at an individual’s workload and task history

This system has allowed us to efficiently and consistently scale our business over the past several years. If you’re looking for a way to plan and prioritize projects, achieve your goals, and ensure everyone on your team is putting their efforts in the right place, I can’t recommend sprint planning enough.

We’re inspired by customers like Leverage who are using Asana to achieve their missions. See what teams around the world are doing with Asana.

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