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Best Day to Start a Sprint (It Ends in Y)

By Miranda Dulin
Published in Inspect & Adapt
April 08, 2022
7 min read
Best Day to Start a Sprint (It Ends in Y)

Believe it or not, the decision of when to start our Sprint has been a point of contention at two different places I’ve worked. Surprisingly, there might be more to consider than you think.





Boundary Between Sprints

The Scrum Guide states:

“A new Sprint starts immediately after the conclusion of the previous Sprint.” 

-Scrum Guide

Therefore, if you select Friday as your start day, your Sprint would end on a Thursday, and there should be no break between Sprints.

One thing the Scrum Guide doesn’t tell us is what day of the week we should start.

Except for the Daily Scrum, the Scrum events are either front-loaded or back-loaded. The Sprint Review and Sprint Retrospective will usually occur on the last day, and Sprint Planning will typically happen on the first day. Keeping that in mind, the heaviest meeting days will likely align with your start and end days.

Take it to the Team

Like other decisions in Scrum, the team should collaborate to determine the best day to start the Sprint and then use empiricism to adjust if needed. Although I wouldn’t expect a team to shift their schedule frequently, there has to be some allowance for experimentation.

As an Agile team matures, experience comes into play in this decision. Early in a team’s Agile journey, the sprint boundary that works might be different once they’re a high-performing team.

Weekend Considerations

The position of the weekend within your Sprint boundaries can have interesting psychological impacts.

Some studies show people perform better when they have a chance to rest. Inevitably, you’ll have that one guy on the team that just can’t quit. Even worse, you might have that one boss that asks you to work Saturdays.

Whatever the reason, people tend to treat this twilight zone end cap as a space where they can catch up on work, which goes against the Agile principle of sustainable pace.

The tendency to work weekends robs the team of their opportunity to recharge. Eventually, mental batteries are going to run dead. Also, working weekends tends to skew metrics. Velocity gained on a weekend will be expected to continue in future iterations, putting more pressure on the team to work more weekends.

So working even a single Saturday could lead to needing to work all Saturdays to maintain that same level of throughput.

Now, we can’t just abolish weekends from the calendar, so the weekend must land somewhere. Letting it fall in the middle can have some benefits. For instance, if you have long-running processes (testing or data loading), having a buffer in the middle to knock out that work can be beneficial but still allow people to enjoy their downtime.

Mid-week Sprint Cycle Considerations

If you’re the type that doesn’t care about sustainable pace and just looking to eek as many hours out of your team as possible, I have no idea why you’d read my blog. Second, although I cringe to include this, team members might be more willing to burn the midnight oil to hit a sprint goal mid-week than on the weekend.

My miser friends may also like that reduced weekend work lessens the likelihood of paying overtime.

A mid-week Sprint start can increase predictability and transparency. We don’t have that weird weekend that happens after the end of the iteration where someone does a bunch of work between the Sprint Review and Sprint Planning events. We essentially eradicate the “we can just finish this over the weekend” mentality.

Alt Text Given that Monday we’re just waking up and getting going and Friday we’re already in weekend mode, the middle days are just more productive.

The beginning and ending activities are crucial to the success of Scrum, so by putting them in the middle of the week, we’re doing more to guarantee that they will get the attendance they deserve.

The team can better leverage the mid-sprint weekend to complete any long-running processes while also allowing people their downtime.

Another benefit of the mid-week Sprint start for teams new to Scrum is that you gain some buffer room to deal with deployments that go awry before the weekend.

Monday

The only thing Monday has going for it is a conceptual alignment with the calendar. It feels natural to start and wrap up within the bounds of the week. However, I challenge you to define the value provided by that alignment. Although the benefits will be hard to articulate, the disadvantages are not.

I believe there is an inclination to see the beginning of the week as a fresh start. Everyone will show up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed ready to kick off a new iteration.

Alternate text

You must have vastly different co-workers because my colleagues come straggling in, barely holding on.

The Product Owner is destined to have a mad case of the Sunday scaries given that they are responsible for prepping Product Backlog Items ahead of the Sprint Planning ceremony. Talk about a damper on your weekend.

These points all presuppose that the team will show up on Monday. Zippia’s research shows that 20% of all sick days occur on a Monday. Check out that chart; those Mondays are lit up like a Christmas tree.





Even if you have the healthiest Scrum Team that never gets sick and never needs a mental health day, many typical holidays fall on the first day of the week. As a Scrum Master, there were few things I hated more than shifting around an entire Sprint scheduled to accommodate a holiday.

The Sprint Planning event is arguably one of the most critical Scrum meetings. We should strive to maximize attendance at this meeting and not just physically; we want to enable focused team collaboration. Although I’m physically present on Mondays, my spirit is still clutching onto the fleeting remnants of my weekend like Gollum scrambling after his lost ring.

Sprint Planning on Monday means your Sprint Retrospective will likely land on Friday, which also suffers from a similar holiday and vacation concern as Monday. Friday isn’t the best choice to end the cycle if we want the entire development team to attend the Sprint Retrospective.

I will concede one benefit of starting on a Monday: the Friday end lines up nicely for the team to go out and celebrate a win and kick off the weekend with a shared drink after work. But this benefit and even the perceived benefit of calendar synchronization don’t outweigh the complications.

Tuesday

When you start a sprint on Tuesday, you know you have that one last day to finish things up after the weekend. This extra day can help offset the tendency of the Product Owner to scramble on the weekend to prepare for Sprint Planning. 

The major flaw with Tuesday as a start date is that it doesn’t escape all the pitfalls of Monday. Tuesdays that follow a Monday holiday are just Mondays in disguise.

Wednesday

I think Wednesday is the best day to start the Sprint. Why start a Sprint on a Wednesday? First, Wednesday offers the most distance from the weekend, providing a buffer from holidays, sick days, and long weekends.

Another benefit of Wednesday is that starting on a Wednesday provides the most distance from the dreadful weekend gap (we discussed those anti-patterns in the Weekend Considerations section above).

Three camels representing hump day, the best day to start a sprint
Hump day, being in the middle of the week, is generally the best day to start a Sprint

Before Wednesday, You’ll have had a couple of days (at least one, even if Monday was a holiday) to get back into the groove of work.

I’ve worked with many teams that chose Wednesday Sprint start schedules and had no complaints. Given the attitude of those development teams, this is practically a raving review.

Thursday

Although Thursday suffers less from the holiday issue, in the US, there is at least one notable holiday that is guaranteed to land on a Thursday, Thanksgiving. Workers will also commonly take off the Thursday before a Friday holiday to extend a holiday weekend.

There is also an additional psychological issue to consider with the Thursday option. One measly Friday is the only thing that separates a day filled with Sprit Planning from a glorious weekend. It might be too tempting for team members to wait until Monday to get started on any significant work.

Friday

Friday is the second most frequent day for holidays and is also a popular vacation day for those looking to plan a long weekend. So for those reasons, Friday becomes less practical than Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday if we seek to maximize participation in our Sprint events.

Release planning is another consideration for Fridays. Even though it’s an anti-pattern to couple releases to the Sprint, it’s not an uncommon practice and thus might be relevant to your particular situation. Given that the idea is to have a potentially shippable product increment, it stands to reason that we might want to ship the increment. Anyone who has spent their weekend putting out fires caused by a misfortunate release will tell you Friday is a bad idea.

Another consideration for Friday is the weekend gap between Sprint Planning and the next Daily Scrum, which provides at least two full days to promptly forget everything we discussed in Sprint Planning.

Other Considerations

Just Start

If this decision is the topic of much debate on your team, you’re better off rolling a five-sided dice and just staring on any day. You can always change your process in the future if you really picked the “wrong” day. 

“Just start Don’t wait for perfection. Just start and let the work teach you.”

-Jacqueline Novogratz

Multi-team Cycles

If you have multiple teams, you’ll want to consider whether it’s more beneficial to sync the team schedules or stagger them. 

Syncing might open up opportunities like a collective Sprint Review or better dependency management. On the other hand, Staggering opens up capacity for shared resources like meeting rooms.

Use the Sprint Review as a Guide

A popular lesson on planning demonstrates the need to consider tasks in order of priority. It’s best to consider your rocks first, then consume the remaining capacity with pebbles, sand, and water if you want everything to fit in the jar.

When it comes to the Scrum events, the Sprint Review will be the rock. Because this event includes external stakeholders, it will be the most challenging Scrum event to schedule. Therefore, one approach to setting your Sprint start date is to determine when the Sprint Review meeting needs to be held and then schedule everything else around that event.

Works Consulted





TLDR

Start your Sprint on any day except Monday. As with most other things in Scrum, it’s best to let the team experiment to determine the proper Sprint boundary, even if it happens to be a Monday. It’s just a coincidence that all the best teams choose Wednesdays. 


Previous Article
Focus in Scrum: Increase Throughput
Miranda Dulin

Miranda Dulin

Scrum Master

Table Of Contents

1

Boundary Between Sprints

2

Take it to the Team

3

Weekend Considerations

4

Mid-week Sprint Cycle Considerations

5

Monday

6

Tuesday

7

Wednesday

8

Thursday

9

Friday

10

Other Considerations

11

Works Consulted

12

TLDR

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