Yea I know this is an old question, but I have a new answer. :P
Split the meeting up.
We split our Sprint planning meeting into 3 separate mini-meetings
- Backlog grooming
- Story selection
- Task breakdown
We do each on a different day, right after our daily Scrum - as soon as the daily is done, we roll right into the planning activity, and then we are free from (regular planned) meetings the rest of the day.
So yea, we waterfalled our planning :-O
I'll go into more detail about what is involved in each session in a second, but let me explain how we arrived at this.
We, like yourself, had a problem with really dreadful Sprint planning meetings. We had all the right elements, but everything just took forever and was really draining mentally and emotionally to get through.
Then I got this idea after reading this Business Insider article on Pivotal's 5-minute daily about breaking our meetings up into shorter sessions and doing them at the beginning of each day.
I brought it up with the team at a retrospective. Some team members liked it right away, others were a little apprehensive, but then our intern mentioned some study he read about the pomodoro technique and started going on about it, and that really helped the idea gain traction.
So we decided to try it.
We broke our 2 hour meeting down into three 25 minutes sessions. (yes, that's fuzzy math, but everyone felt our meetings were too long and only wanted to do it if we saved time).
And it worked!
We've been doing it for about 6 weeks now on two separate projects (6 two week sprints total) and it's made a world of difference.
We are more productive.
We save a ton of time.
We get better outputs.
And we no longer dread our planning meetings.
And honestly, our 25 minute time-box is pretty loose - some sessions go really fast, like 5-10 minutes on some of our grooming sessions, and some go long, like when we end up identifying new stories or having to break stories up and re-estimate during negotiation. Overall though, it usually averages out to no more than 1.5 hours for the whole shebang, and I think that is why it works so well.
On to the details.....
Pretty simple - we review the top priority stories, talk about what they entail, and make sure our estimates are good.
We'll re-estimate stories if needed - like say we estimated something months ago and after realizing what a similar story actually took, we might agree to re-estimate. (we use unit-less story points by the way, and we don't estimate tasks).
Also, if the PO has added any new stories that he feels are high-priority, this is the time to estimate them.
Because we don't do Story selection until the next day, this process gives the PO a little extra time to do make final judgement on what's most important to get done in the next iteration - and this has proved very helpful.
This meeting tends to run short with some PO's and long with others. (personally, I think it's a great smell indicator of how your PO is doing)
Get your Chris Voss on, it's time to negotiate.
At this meeting, we take the top priority stories and define a DoD for each. We negotiate what each will entail - splitting and combining stories as needed - until we can all agree on our Sprint goals.
We benefit a lot from having fresh minds and that good morning energy for this meeting - and knowing we will do tasks another day allows us to spend the time we need to really negotiate well and understand our commitments.
Okay, so I'll be the first to say, tasks was my LEAST favorite part of planning in our old one day meetings.
We just never hit our stride with this.
We tried saving tasks til the end of the meeting - but we were all just drained by then and it was really unproductive.
We tried defining tasks at the same time as our DoD during our negotiation, but we found it too distracting and too cumbersome - we would burn ourselves out before selecting all the stories. Also, it was really hard to keep switching focus/thinking back and forth between estimating, negotiating, story selection, and task generation. We struggled, and it sucked, and it made our meetings dreadful.
But now, by defining the DoD on one day, and not doing tasks until the next, we don't get burned out, we're always in the right mindstate, and it gives us a whole day to marinate over the story and really think through and understand all the tasks before we get started.
This alone, IMHO, is a total game changer.
Putting it all together.
So, here is what our Sprint ceremony schedule looks like now:
- Monday - Daily scrum -> Sprint review
- Tuesday - Daily scrum -> Backlog grooming
- Wednesday - Daily scrum -> Story selection
- Thursday - Daily scrum -> Tasks
- Friday - Daily scrum -> Retrospective
It's worked really well for us.
If you give it a shot, I'd love to hear what you think.