Mastering Sprint Goals: Six Steps to Align Your Scrum Team for Success

May 2, 20244 min

Without a Sprint Goal, a Scrum Team is just a random collection of people laboring to complete tickets.  Because their work has no meaning, the group has no reason to collaborate and they cannot gel as a team.  The lack of a Sprint Goal is at the root of many dysfunctional uses of Scrum in the wild.  In order to do better Scrum, Product Owners and Scrum Masters must insist that Scrum Teams have Sprint Goals.  

Sprint Goal Reviewed

According to the Scrum Guide, “the Sprint Goal is the single objective for the Sprint.”  It describes “why” the business wants to continue to invest the Scrum Team’s time for another Sprint.  Along with the Sprint Backlog, the Sprint Goal is one of the two outputs of the Sprint Planning process.  It summarizes the “commitment by the Developers” to deliver a usable Increment before the Sprint timebox expires.  

When used by Scrum Teams, the Sprint Goal “creates coherence and focus, encouraging [them] to work together rather than [working] on separate initiatives.”  This small, but subtle change often transforms the group from a loose confederation of co-workers into a cohesive team focused on achieving meaningful outcomes for customers, end users, and stakeholders.  

Six Steps to Making Your Sprint Goals Awesome

Here are the six steps to creating Sprint Goals that foster team alignment:

  1. Clarify the Product Goal: Before starting Sprint Planning, it’s crucial that there is clarity on what is the Scrum Team’s overarching Product Goal.  Periodically, review the Product Goal to ensure it is relevant and up-to-date.  If there is no Product Goal, create one.  Scrum works best when the Product Goal provides the Scrum Team a North Star to guide their efforts.
  2. Identify Key Outcomes: In the absence of a Product Backlog, the next step is to decompose the Product Goal into a series of tangible steps, i.e., Sprint Goals, that deliver the broader business objective contained within the Product Goal.  Scrum works best when each Sprint Goal describes how the Scrum Team will help customers and users complete important jobs, eliminate extreme pains or realize essential goals.  Avoid the trap of defining the Sprint Goals in relation to the outputs they support, i.e., update an API or complete a report.
  3. Order the Sprint Goals:  Just like the Product Goal, it makes sense to periodically review the order of the Sprint Goals.  In the absence of a Product Backlog, the Scrum Team and the stakeholders work together to define the initial order of the Sprint Goals.  Scrum works best when the order of the Sprint Goals harmonizes business objectives with technological feasibility and that order is defined collaboratively.  Avoid the trap of a one-to-one mapping between Product Backlog items and Sprint Goals.
  4. Reevaluate During Sprint Planning: Product Owners have a responsibility to come prepared to Sprint Planning with an initial Sprint Goal and from four to eight Product Backlog items that support that goal.  Conversations during Sprint Planning may reveal new requirements, dependencies, needs and\or acceptance criteria.  Scrum works best when the entire Scrum Team embraces agility and reassesses their Sprint Goals based on insights into their product, market dynamics, emerging technologies and the planning process. 
  5. Craft a Concise Sprint Goal: As Sprint Planning comes to a close, the Scrum Team is going to be asked to commit to delivering the Sprint Goal.  To help people understand what they are committing to, edit the Sprint Goal into a succinct phrase consisting of ten to fifteen words, or less.  Scrum works best when the Sprint Goal effectively communicates the anticipated outcomes the business will receive as a result of investing the Scrum Team’s time for the duration of the Sprint.  Be sure to write the Sprint Goal in language that a well-informed stakeholder can understand.
  6. Confidence Check with the Scrum Team: The final step of Sprint Planning is to conduct a vote with the Scrum Team to validate if the Sprint Goal achievable.  At this point in the discussion, there should be a broad consensus that the Sprint goal is achievable.  Leverage techniques like Roman Voting, Fist of Five or Decider\Resolution to make that consensus visible and the Scrum Team’s commitment public.  If any doubts arise during this step, use the time remaining to refine the Sprint Goal and\or realign expectations.

By adhering to these six steps, Scrum Teams can harness the power of Sprint Goals to drive alignment, focus, and ultimately, deliver impactful outcomes that resonate with stakeholders and end users alike.