Without a goal, it is easy to wander aimlessly!

Sprint goals are a statement of the value that teams strive to deliver.  The statement provides a guide for teams so they can focus on the “why” rather than falling into the trap of local optimization.  It is possible to complete all of the stories or work items only to realize that the team has lost sight of the goal. Alternately, it is possible to meet the goal and not complete all of the stories.  There are three general maladies that afflict Sprint Goals when they are not done well. They are:

  1. BHAG’itus. Big hairy audacious goals are visionary statements whose time horizon extends into the future. Sprint goals have a different time horizon and need to be timeboxed based on the agreed cadence.  Paul Laberge, Lean-Agile Leader at GCI, stated that the hardest part of writing a sprint goal for the “product owner is balancing the goal’s language to be at the proper level.”
  2. Vague goals. By definition, vague goals are unmeasurable and unverifiable, which makes them hard to use as a rallying cry.  Nebulous wording makes it difficult to determine why the team is doing the work and the value of the outcome. Rebecca Schira, Scrum Master at Hyland Software, helps avoid vague goals by “looking at the value being delivered, and to who that audience is.“
  3. Laundry Lists. They provide readers with a recitation of all of the stories or work items that will be accomplished.  This problem is the outcome of two very different issues. Listing issues often occur when the team is doing pieces of unrelated work or when they have learned to negotiate the goal with product owners. An enumeration of work items is specific but does not address why the work is being done nor the value being delivered.  Dipali Murphy, Scrum Master at Hyland Software, summarized this issue stating, “Though everything is important, not everything generally needs the focus or visibility that the Sprint Goal helps with.”

Most of the people that I have discussed sprint goals with see their value. When not done or done wrong, the lack of a sprint goal reflects a missed opportunity to provide guidance about the value a team has committed to delivering during a sprint and why the work is important. A sprint goal is both a tool to communicate direction and one of the guardrails helping teams self-organize and manage.