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Sprint Goals – more important than the Backlog?

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08 Dec 2016

I like a good Sprint Goal. Having an objective to strive for is a good way of focussing attention on what’s important, but there’s more to it than that.

 Roman Pichler lists several benefits. A sprint goal, he says:

·       Supports prioritisation

·       Creates focus and facilitates teamwork

·       Helps obtain relevant feedback

·       Supports stakeholder communication

He goes on to describe how to write a good sprint goal. The key message from his article, I believe is this “As a rule of thumb, every sprint should have one shared goal

One. Just one. Not a list.

If you are using SAFe, however, you are apparently allowed to make a list. But I don’t think that’s very useful.

To me a list of sprint goals brings into question which goal is more important than the rest. Some teams I know rank their sprint goals from most to least important. This surely defeats the objective. Yes, it supports prioritisation, but you have simply substituted a list of user stories for a shorter list of sprint goals. That does not help the team focus.

Mike Cohn describes a Sprint Goal as “a short, one- or two-sentence description of what the team plans to achieve during the sprint. It is written collaboratively by the team and the product owner

But there is another factor here that I consider the most powerful aspect of a sprint goal. And for that, you'll have to go back to the Scrum Guide itself.

The Sprint Goal gives the Development Team some flexibility regarding the functionality implemented within the Sprint”

This has powerful implications. It means that the Sprint Goal is more important than the Sprint Backlog. That the team have the authority to add or remove Sprint Backlog items to deliver the Sprint Goal.

The problem I have always had with a Sprint Backlog is the way that it is often treated just like the predictive plans of old, just over a shorter time. The Sprint Backlog is a plan, but we should value ‘adapting to change over following a plan’, right? So, if we have more work in the backlog than we can complete, it makes sense for the team to adapt and remove anything they feel isn’t essential to fulfilling the Sprint Goal.

This is one way that we support the Agile Principle of ‘maximising the amount of work not done’

Sprint Goals are great, but not if they are just a summarised list of the user stories in the backlog.The Sprint Goal needs to provide a succinct, clear and achievable objective, agreed by all team members, that supersedes the backlog items in the sense that the goal is more important than the tasks required to get there.

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Related Articles: Agile is better than Waterfall
Scrum Agile prioritisation backlog Sprint sprint goal Cohn Pichler

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