Every app and software product is a work in progress. Once you download an app, it's very likely that your device will periodically download updates for that app. With each update, you may not notice anything different, or perhaps you'll note some relatively minor, incremental changes.
Most of these minor changes and feature updates result from sprints, which are planned and executed to keep software up to date without introducing too many big changes at once. Sprints are common in the world of software development, and anyone working to become a Front-End Developer, Back-End Developer, or Full-Stack Developer should be familiar with them.
In this article (and in the video below), we'll go over what sprints are, why people use them, and how they work.
What is a sprint?
Essentially, a sprint is a set amount of time that a development team has to complete a specific amount of work. Sprints are generally planned to last about two weeks, though they can be as short as one week or as long as a month.
The big advantage of the short time frame of a sprint is that developers are forced to focus on pushing out small, incremental changes rather than large, sweeping changes. As a result, far less debugging is required, and clients using the software can get a more seamless experience with the product.
A sprint can require any sort of programming expertise. You might use Swift or Kotlin for front-end development to PHP or Node.js for back-end tasks. You might also use SQL for database management or Python for machine learning projects.
Given that sprints are so limited in scope, you might be wondering why developers sprint at all. Why not "marathon" instead?
It turns out that there are a few reasons why developers prefer organizing software updates into smaller-scale sprints rather than large-scope "marathon" projects. Let's look at some of the most common.
Sprints reduce debugging time
Suppose you're working on a project involving thousands of lines of code. You excitedly start running it, and then your program crashes. What went wrong?
When you and your development team have thousands or tens of thousands of lines of code, debugging becomes one of the most time-intensive tasks in the project. And, all that time debugging means that there's little progress made in the actual software product.
With sprints, there's much less time spent debugging because there's simply less code to check. It's a bit like playing "Where's Waldo?" Would you rather look for Waldo in a picture the size of a postcard or the size of a movie poster?
Sprints introduce change gradually
Even the most adventurous of us have to admit that some changes take time to get used to. For example, imagine waking up to find that everything in your favorite app has changed — from menu titles to color schemes to where your favorites are located.
Chances are, you'd need some time to adjust to the new changes. You might even feel less excited to use the software — which is exactly what developers want to avoid. By gradually introducing feature changes through sprints, developers can ensure that they're introduced in a way that doesn't disrupt the end-user experience.
Though the sprint itself might not last long, there's a lot of careful planning behind it — what goals should be achieved, how long it should last, and when to start.
Sprint planning involves product owners working with Software Engineers and various technical teams to ensure that the sprint outcomes are relevant and achievable. Product owners go by various titles, but they're generally responsible for managing the many projects involved in a product's development.
So, how do people plan sprints?
First, it's important to remember that sprints aren't designed to address every technical issue and wish-list improvement. Instead, the product owner and technical team work together to outline what the most important issues are at the time and how they can be addressed during the sprint.
Below are a few questions that product owners and technical teams might ask when planning a sprint. Note that while product owners are typically in charge of a product's development, many decisions come from higher up in the company.
Which technical issues are affecting people's experience the most?
The software issues that annoy app developers aren't always noticed by the general public. Still, software hurdles that developers can overcome with a simple workaround might be quite frustrating for other people using the product. Sprint planning involves figuring out which features and updates would have the greatest business impact.
Which potential improvements are aligned with our short-term and mid-term strategies?
Even if it seems that every other app developer is coming out with Feature X, the product owner may decide to hold off and focus efforts instead on Feature Y, which could be more relevant or useful for the app's target audience.
Which features will be most relevant at the end of the sprint?
Starting work on a new Thanksgiving theme for your app won't make much sense if your sprint ends around the new year. A product owner is aware of holidays, demand cycles, and other external factors, and schedules sprints so that more people find the new features and improvements useful and relevant.
Which features and issues need to be most urgently addressed?
Sometimes, there's a technical issue that could expose the company to legal or financial trouble. Perhaps a potential security weakness was found, or maybe there are new privacy regulations to address. These features get special priority to avoid future legal problems and losing public credibility.
What are the human limitations for the sprint?
It's one thing to plan the perfect sprint on paper, but at the end of the day, it's a team of real people who need to carry out the sprint project.
Are there enough team members with the right programming expertise to do the sprint? Are team members already juggling other projects? If so, which tasks take priority? And, of course, is the proposed sprint deadline a reasonable one?
Staying flexible during a sprint
Even when a sprint lasts just a couple of weeks, the reality is that business needs can change quite suddenly at any time. Halfway through the sprint, you may find that the product owner wants to change some of the fundamental sprint goals or even the sprint timeline.
If this happens, the important thing is to stay positive and flexible. Companies are chasing a moving target when figuring out how to create the best software and apps in the shortest amount of time.
Who's involved in a sprint?
Depending on the goals and timeline involved, a sprint can involve just a few developers or dozens of team members. During the planning phase, the technical team also decides what kinds of people to include in the sprint, such as Front-End Developers, Back-End Developers, or Full-Stack Developers.
Now that you know more about sprints and how they work, the next step is to keep building on your knowledge as a developer. If you're not sure what to learn next, our Career Paths help you focus on learning the specific skills you need to succeed as a new developer.