Sprint Planning for Deadlines

As deadlines approach, most architecture students begin to panic, stress out and procrastinate heavily but sprint planning is something that can help you avoid all of those things. Planning is a great way to stay one step aead and make sure that your project has constant clarity and structure. But sprint planning is slightly different. This is a method I have adopted and inserted atleast a week before major deadlines.

Of course, with multiple deadlines this can get quite complex, but I feel that architecture students generally plan in the wrong way. Making vague lists or overwhelming yourself isn’t planning. There is a nice balance between planning and doing that sprint planning can give you because fo the short time frame.

Sprint planning is also a concept that is already out there. It condenses the general rules of planning with specific rules and guidelines that can apply to several situations. It is a type of agile methodology typically used for teams but can work equally as well for individuals. Agile methodology involves ‘adaptive planning’ or better known to us architecture students as iteration.

Iterative Planning

Think about your design project. As it evolves throughout the year, you first explore various ideas, identify common links and create some kind of output. But as we all know, stuff in architecture and design is never truly finished. The iterative design process is where we begin to refine ideas, experiement and pick out the things that work.

In a similar way, we can apply this process to planning for design work or essays or any other university deadlines. Remember, this is all before we even begin to actually work on what we are doing. This isn’t about maximising your time or attempting to multitask, it’s to understand what you’re going to work on, for how long and estimating the factors going into this future work period.

Why Should I Plan?

Because of the limited time frame we get, our first instinct is often to just get on with whatever it is we are doing. But this can be limiting in a way if you end up running out of ideas or feeling overwhelmed with the workload. I often find myself excited once the week begins but slowly the spark of motivation fizzles out. This is normal.

But planning, sprint planning in particular, can help you to figure out a roadmap for the next week or for a specific deadline and make sure that you hit all of the goals and requirements you need. I would recommend adopting a non-serious kind of sprint planning each week anyway just to keep everything clear and focused.

The great thing about sprint planning is that it’s not set in stone or final either. As we mentioned before, iteration is something that is the next step and doesn’t need to be excessive or over the top. As a rule, I keep my sprints to a full 7-day week. This doesn’t mean that I solely focus on what I have planned for a certain deadline or project, it’s more about treating this week as crunch time.

Usually in university, most modules will have draft submissions or presentations before the actual bigger deadline. This is a good marker as to where you can start to think about the sprint and loosely plan how you want to approach your work. For crits, I believe that if you’re already keeping up with the work each week you can plan a good crit in less than an hour.

Of course, if you’ve not been able to reach that point, setting aside a full weekend is just as helpful. Think about where you are right now and what you will need to get to that final destination. This is probably the only thing that will be different for everyone. For something like a portfolio draft submission, I would start taking it seriously a couple of weeks before the deadline date.

Having a good peripheral vision helps a lot here. I would suggest keeping dates in front of you at all times. Don’t obsess over these but make sure you have a rough idea of the timescale of each project or module. Associating these with months can help aswell. Below, you can find out more about The Monthly Method which is also a fantastic way of planning.

The Sprint Planning Method

Let’s take it back a few steps. Before planning you absolutely have to acknowledge the things that are already on your plate. It’s not healthy to just shove aside the things you are supposed to be doing and make this shiny new plan because you will most likely drop the ball at some point.

I quite like this idea of ‘Backlog Grooming’ which involves identifying the tasks that are already in your to-do list and maybe aren’t getting ticked off because you can incorporate these as part of the planning phase.

The actual planning process isn’t restricted to a physical or digital space or time limit as such as this can vary from project to project. I personally love using lists. I’ve actually been using my task-management system (Todoist) less and less the past few months either because I give myself too much to do and the pressure just builds over the week and also because I don’t have that time anymore to go through my to-do list as I used to every day.

Now, I prefer to store a simple, efficient plan in my Notion Uni dashboard and highlight them once they are done. I’ve found that the simpler and realistic I keep my plan, the better the output is. Of course, this plan doesn’t come about in one go and can take several attempts to try and curate the list that I know will help me get to my destination.

I also try and block my calendar for the week and make sure that I have achievable and bearable chunks of time dedicated to this goal. Another thing I hate is having to constantly check my calendar all the time so make use of the notifications if you have your calendar on your phone. Using a calendar in conjunction with an ongoing plan or list is great because it eases the pressure of having to do anything in a limited amount of time and then dealing with the consequences if something unexpected happens.

Deadlines

Set a reminder the week before a deadline. This will allow you to accept and begin the thinking process of dealing with this upcoming challenge. If I use an interim design portfolio submission as an example deadline, we can outline the steps taken when sprint planning.

First, I need to find the requirements, or list out my own. Within these requirements, there will be essentials, fillers and things that you want to achieve. The essentials are the pages or ideas that you absolutely need – the minimum to actually be able to submit something. The fillers are stuff like diagrams or research that will help support your work and beef up your portfolio but is either a low-level task or something that might not even be needed in the final iteration. The last bit is the stuff that you want to achieve.

Take a risk and try something out of your comfort zone or something that you know will need hours and hours of wor but is worth it in the end. Listing all of these out will help you to understand what it is you need to tackle. Now, the hard part comes in, estimating how long each of these will take, when the best time is to complete them and how you can plan your time to stay efficient and still keep it fun.

Estimate the roadmap for your sprint by blocking out your calendar or linking tasks together that can be done easily. For example, if you’re making a model, think about things a step further and book a photo studio in advance. This will help you structure the routine and also make sure that you do A in order to get to B.

Stick to your deadline. Make it difficult for yourself. Initially, you may have that motivation that will get you through the first day or so. Then the novelty wears off and you begin to get bored, you star envisioning the worst possible outcomes and you don’t know if this is even worth it. But if you stick to it, by the end of the week you’ll feel so much more relaxed and satisfied because you know you’re on track.

Planning is really about being able to lay everything out and complete them according to your energy levels, being smart and having the common sense to acknowledge this and take action.

Final Thoughts

Don’t obsess over planning in detail or planning things down to the minute. Understanding where to draw the line and move on is really important otherwise you’ll get lost in the dark hole of planning where you begin to change things mid-way using planning as an excuse. Once you’ve come up with your plan, that’s it, it’s done.

Another good practice is to keep your sprint planning to a certain time limit. You could give yourself 25 minutes – turn on the Pomodoro timer and just write out everything you need to do. Go have a cuppa or take a walk, come back and edit the plan if you need to. Short term planning can help you to bring that energy in a focused way.

‘Done means done’ is also something to keep in mind.

At the end of the sprint, the work done within the iteration must be shippable.

person writing bucket list on book

Sometimes we can get too bogged down with trying to make things better and this either ends up in spending too much time on filler work or low-value tasks that you don’t really need to do but you’re doing them for the sake of it. Or, you end up spending a ton of time on something that was actually pretty good the first time you did it.

One thing I’m learning having come back to the student life is that you might spend hours and hours on a drawing or collage just for your tutors to love the 5 minute sketch you did instead. That’s why I think throughout this iterative process, we don’t need to focus so brutally on the details and trying to achieve perfection because the journey taken to get to that stage is more fun and exciting.

So when you’re executing your plan, make sure you take a moment to recognise when something is ‘shippable’ and ready to be transformed into the next iteration. This will help you grow far better than sitting there stuck on something you have been trying to do for hours.

I hope that planning is something most architecture students can start to adopt because it is such a crucial element of productivity that we often overlook.

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