Go Beyond Merely Completing Work Lists
A Sprint should be so much more than just completing a number of User Stories or fixing bugs. If your Sprints are merely about ticking off items on a scattered work list without having a shared understanding of why they’re important or what purpose they serve, your Development Team will struggle to keep focus in the short-term and will take longer to become highly effective in the long run.
Research shows that people, whether acting individually or as a team, achieve more when working toward an objective that is specific, challenging, and concrete. For that, we need clear Sprint Goals.
Why Do We Have Sprint Goals?
In Scrum, we ask a Team to undertake Sprint Planning to agree on what they will achieve in the next Sprint, based on their expected capacity. As an outcome of this, the team should leave their planning session with a clear goal.
This provides stable direction, with flexibility to re-evaluate work, throughout the Sprint. It is the WHY of a Sprint, establishing purpose and commitment.
By participating in setting a Goal, Team members experience a sense of ownership of it and gain a better understanding of the overall problem. On occasion, it also helps them find better solutions than originally planned because that overall perspective can help see things during the Sprint that aren’t obvious if looking only at the individual parts.
The Sprint Goal provides focus in Daily Scrum and an opportunity to refocus if the Sprint goes off-track. Finally, jointly identifying and achieving shared goals is a key element for growing a group of people from a working group to a true team.
How to Make Better Sprint Goals
In my experience, most Sprint Goals are not clear. Some poor examples I’ve seen are:
- Fix 10 bugs
- Finish 7 unrelated User Stories
- Complete the work assigned to the team in JIRA (yes, this is remarkably anti-Agile and ineffective, however, I see it all too often)
None of these examples help focus the Team, nor do they provide clarity on what they’re seeking to achieve.
So, what makes a better Sprint Goal? A good Goal answers questions such as: Why is it worthwhile to undertake this Sprint? Are we attempting to solve a problem? Are we implementing a feature or clarifying an assumption?
Improved versions might include:
- Reduce the shopping cart abandon rate from 50% to 30% by improving usability and performance – Solves a problem. We’re losing sales because we have a poor checkout experience.
- Add filters to the existing product search results so that buyers spend less time finding items that meet their needs – Implements a feature.
- Offer free shipping for orders over $40 – Tests an assumption that free shipping will increase the amount people spend per transaction.
Should the Product Owner set the Sprint Goal? No. It’s good for them to go into Sprint Planning with some business or product objective in mind, but it’s through negotiation with the Development Team that the actual Sprint Goal emerges, as all grow towards a shared understanding of what is desirable and achievable in the Sprint. “Achievable” means possible to accomplish while upholding the quality agreed to in the Definition of “Done.”
Agile Coach Bob Galen suggests that you imagine crafting an email to invite your whole company to your Sprint Review. What will you put in the subject line and first few sentences to entice them to attend?
That’s your clue for your Sprint Goal – the shared understanding created between the Product Owner and the Development Team of the desired outcome of the Sprint.
 “High Performance Teams: What the research says” by David Wilkinson, –The Oxford Review Feb 2019
 “Sprint Goals – Are They Important” by Robert Galen
Image attribution: Agile Pain Relief Consulting
Mark Levison has been helping Scrum teams and organizations with Agile, Scrum and Kanban style approaches since 2001. From certified scrum master training to custom Agile courses, he has helped well over 8,000 individuals, earning him respect and top rated reviews as one of the pioneers within the industry, as well as a raft of certifications from the ScrumAlliance. Mark has been a speaker at various Agile Conferences for more than 20 years, and is a published Scrum author with eBooks as well as articles on InfoQ.com, ScrumAlliance.org an AgileAlliance.org.