Should Iteration/Sprint Lengths be Fixed?

During the first week of August we ran a mini-survey exploring whether or not teams have fixed iteration lengths.  It was motivated by a question about the results of our Agile Cadences and Technical Debt Survey we ran earlier this year.  Apparently the person was working on a team where their iteration length often shifted and he was wondering how common this was.  I responded that it wasn’t very common and that instead the common practice was to not allow the iteration length to vary.  He found this hard to believe and wondered why we didn’t have any data to back up that claim.  So we decided to run a short survey to discover what is happening in practice.  Over a one-week period we had 264 responses (thank you very much to those of you who did take the time to fill out the survey).

The following diagram summarizes the results of the third question that explored whether teams that were working with iterations kept the iteration length fixed.  As you can see, the majority of agile teams (68%) that have iterations/sprints keep their iteration lengths fixed.  Furthermore, for those teams that allow iteration lengths to vary it’s a rare occurrence (often the result of valid reasons, such as a holiday in the middle of the iteration).

Are Iteration/Sprint Lengths Fixed?

The survey consisted of four questions:

  1. The first asked if the respondent was working on an agile team (if not they exited the survey)
  2. The second asked how long iterations are (the majority said two weeks or less).  If the team didn’t work with iterations (such as lean teams or continuous delivery teams) or if the respondent didn’t know then they exited the survey.
  3. The third question asked whether the length of the iteration was fixed (see the chart above).
  4. The fourth question was presented only to people who said that their iteration length could vary.  It explored the reasons why this was the case.  I will summarize these results in a future blog posting.

I will post the survey details at the IT Surveys page towards the end of August.  This will include the questions as asked, the answers as provided, and a short slide deck summarizing the results.  Normally I’d do that right way but I’m on vacation right now and shouldn’t even have taken the time to post this blog (hey, I’m dedicated).

2 thoughts on “Should Iteration/Sprint Lengths be Fixed?

  1. Olivier Béghain


    I’m always wondering why the focus _when talking about iterations_ is on its length (duration) and not capacity? Iteration over iteration, we try to seek for a sense of how much work can be accomplished (velocity) therefore should we not try to have iterations of more or less the same capacity? reference to what is mentioned in the post about holidays.

    I understand that the length (timing) helps to build a certain cadence (rythm) but the most important is to repeat (and don’t try to escape) certain rituals like the review on the fixed date (no extra days in the iteration hoping it will change the results). At least, this is how i see it 😉


  2. Valentin Tudor Mocanu

    Olivier, i think that should be iterations with ~ same length and capacity. Anyway, usually could work like this: we have a planned length and capacity and with the progress, we rather keep the length and adjust the capacity to the release context.


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