In Scrum, sprint goals stand as pivotal guiding stars, directing teams towards success. A sprint goal encapsulates the essence of a sprint – a short, time-bound period during which a team commits to achieving a specific objective. This blog explores the significance of sprint goals, shedding light on their importance, potential pitfalls of not having one, and offering real-world examples.
What is a Sprint Goal?
The scrum guide defines the sprint goal as:
“The Sprint Goal is the single objective for the Sprint. Although the Sprint Goal is a commitment by the Developers, it provides flexibility in terms of the exact work needed to achieve it. The Sprint Goal also creates coherence and focus, encouraging the Scrum Team to work together rather than on separate initiatives.”
Why Do We Need a Sprint Goal?
A sprint goal is a coherent statement that defines the purpose of a sprint. It outlines what the scrum teams intends to achieve within the sprint. A sprint goal elaborates the ‘why’, why should we invest in this sprint, as a scrum team we should have an idea of value we believe we may get by achieving the sprint goal.
With the sprint goal defining the ‘why’, the developers use the ‘why’ to help them understand which product backlog items to select for the sprint, the ‘what’. With the ‘why’ and the ‘what’ understood, the developers then collaborate to agree the ‘how’.
The sprint goal provides the team with:
- Focus and Direction: A sprint goal serves as a focal point for the team’s efforts, minimizing distractions. It provides a shared understanding of the sprint’s purpose and creates a sense of unity among team members.
- Alignment with Business Objectives: Sprint goals bridge the gap between scrum teams and stakeholders. They ensure that every sprint contributes directly to the overarching product goal and organizational strategy.
- Adaptability: scrum helps teams to responding to change. A well-defined sprint goal allows teams to adapt to evolving requirements as we learn more during the sprint.
- Scope flexibility: During the sprint, as the team learns more and realise that we need to do much more than we thought, the sprint goal provides the team flexibility to negotiate scope without affecting the Sprint Goal.
- Motivation: Having a clear sprint goal boosts team motivation and engagement. Team members understand how their contributions impact the larger picture, fostering a sense of ownership and commitment.
- Measuring progress: Having a clear goal that we used to plan against, this also helps the team measure progress (are we there yet?).
In addition, Scrum events provide opportunities for inspection and adaptation. The sprint goal gives each of these events a purpose:
- Sprint Planning: This is where the tea, agree and formulate the Sprint Goal. The sprint goal enables the developers to understand which product backlog items should be selected for the sprint, as well as the how the team will work to achieve the sprint goal.
- Daily Scrum: The Daily Scrum, we inspect the progress made towards the sprint goal and make adaptations to the sprint backlog as we learn more.
- Sprint Review: The purpose of the Sprint Review is to inspect the outcome (sprint goal) of the sprint and adapt the product backlog on what to do next.
- Sprint Retrospective: The purpose of the Sprint Retrospective is to plan ways to increase quality and effectiveness. We do this by inspecting how we did the work to achieve the sprint goal.
Challenges and Impact of Not Having a Sprint Goal:
- Lack of Focus: Without a sprint goal, teams might lose direction and become entangled in a myriad of tasks, diluting their efforts and affecting the sprint’s outcome.
- Unclear Prioritization: Teams might struggle to prioritize tasks, leading to confusion about what should be accomplished first and potentially impacting value.
- Disconnection from Stakeholders: Absence of a sprint goal can result in a disconnect between scrum teams and stakeholders, making it difficult to inspect and adapt.
- Low Productivity: Teams can become unproductive due to ambiguity and lack of focus, resulting in incomplete or subpar work.
- Missed Opportunities: Without a clear sprint goal, the team might miss opportunities to be creative and innovate.
- Reduced Collaboration: The absence of a shared sprint goal might hinder effective collaboration among team members, leading to miscommunication and misunderstandings.
- Lack of Self-management: Without a sprint goal, the team may be working on a collection of tasks which leads to lack of focus and struggle to make informed decisions and take ownership for all the work
A major challenge for Scrum teams face when crafting a sprint goal, revolves around the belief that it’s an objective conjured up during sprint planning. In reality, the sprint planning event is unlikely to be the first instance in which the objective is discussed. In my experience, when the sprint goal is being formulated during sprint planning, it’s essentially the process of fine-tuning an objective that has already been deliberated upon as part of the product backlog refinement but it is not called a Sprint Goal yet until Sprint Planning.
During the sprint planning, the objective is further refined into something that is valuable, but is also attainable within the sprint’s timeframe. To fully comprehend this, we need to trace back to the very origin of the ideas, products, or features are initiated. Teams will engage in workshops to gain an understanding of the product’s functionalities and its potential benefits for customers. These discussions inherently involve the exploration of ways to break down features into smaller, independent features. These features might ultimately manifest as our product goals or initial sprint objectives conceived at a higher level.
As the product backlog undergoes refinement, it’s based on what we are striving to achieve. Consequently, we already have a notion of the objective we intend to accomplish. Therefore, part of the process of crafting the sprint goal during sprint planning entails refining this goal during sprint planning discussions.
Examples of Sprint Goals:
- Customers can view more details on each of their financial transactions. This does statement does not explicitly say what details which gives the goal flexibility.
- Improve User Onboarding: “By the end of this sprint, enhance the user onboarding process to decrease new user drop-off rates by 20%.”
- Enhance Performance: “Achieve a 15% improvement in application loading times through code optimization and database tuning by the sprint’s conclusion.”
- Allow buyers to pay online for our service for a lower payment integration fee” Maybe XYZ is the answer but maybe not. This would reflect more the flexibility of the goal
Sprint goals are not just abstract concepts but vital tools that fuel team success. They bring teams together, align them with business goals, and provide a roadmap for progress. The challenges and impacts of not having a sprint goal underscore its significance in maintaining focus, improving collaboration, and achieving successful outcomes. A well-crafted sprint goal can drive teams towards tangible and meaningful accomplishments, setting the stage for continuous improvement and innovation in product development.