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How To Define Sprint Goal?
A guide to extract the sprint goal from release plan.
I’m Vibhor, and welcome to my weekly newsletter, the “Winning Strategy.” Each week I explore one question from you about agile, product, roles, processes, frameworks, career growth, working with humans and anything else that’s stressing you at your office. Send me your questions here, and in return, I’ll offer actionable, down-to-earth, and simple advice.
Q: I don’t know if this is true for everyone, but my team struggles a lot while writing the goal for the sprint. Is it a common problem? Can you provide some tips?
This is a great question.
The issue you’re facing is more common than you can think of, yet only a few people complain about it.
Because sometimes they don’t know the “why,” and sometimes they don’t know the “how.”
They don’t know why they need the sprint goal and what’s the significance of writing a sprint goal. And even if they do know all that, then in most cases, they don’t know the right process to write one.
In this newsletter, I will tackle the 5 great questions of writing a sprint goal.
The WHY, the WHAT, the WHEN, the WHO, and the HOW.
I've summarized it in the image below.
This post will be a live document. I’ll add to it as I learn new and effective techniques to write sprint goals.
1. WHY do we need a Sprint Goal?
Simply put, the sprint goal is your team’s anchor for that particular sprint.
It is that common objective that converges the diverse thoughts of various individuals into one single “objective.”
(Read the above line once again.)
Your Sprint Goal is nothing but a reason for your “group” to work as a team.
Having said that, below are some tangible benefits:
Prioritization: It helps your team select and then prioritize the PBIs (product backlog items) for that particular sprint.
Collaboration: A common goal pulls collaboration. This is one of the lessons I gathered after working in the Agile space for some while. Sprint Goal encourages team members to work together, share ideas, and seek support when necessary.
Motivation: Sprint Goal provides the team with a sense of purpose and direction. Achieving it will give the team a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. This boosts team morale.
Transparency: It provides your stakeholders with a metric (sort of) to track the overall progress. This transparency reduces anxiety and builds trust.
Continuous improvement: Finally, it enables the team to assess their performance during the sprint review. By examining how well the team achieved their sprint goal, they can identify areas for improvement and implement adjustments in future sprints.
2. WHAT should be the content of a sprint goal?
Many templates are floating around on the internet about what should be part of the sprint goal statement.
Some say it should have the goal, the method of achieving that goal and the metric to measure that goal, more like OKRs. Some suggest you include the features, the advantage of each feature and the benefits of those features.
I won’t say that the above ways of writing the sprint goal are wrong. On the contrary, these are good, and teams may require a comprehensive sprint goal for whatever reasons.
I have a slightly different point of view, though.
For me, the sprint goal should be precise “enough” to nudge the team in the right direction without telling them anything about the HOW.
Having said that, a sprint goal (at the very least) should be a combination of two things.
Business Value and Outcome.
Business value refers to tangible and intangible benefits that a product or service brings to an organization.
Outcomes, on the other hand, are the observable results or consequences of a particular initiative.
Sprint goal = Business value + Outcome
Now there can be multiple outcomes that deliver that business value. The number of outcomes the team can deliver per business value depends upon the length of the sprint and the team’s capacity. The above formula can be revised as follows:
Size of sprint goal = (Business value + Outcome) x (sprint length) x (team’s capacity)
An example sprint goal could be:
“Develop a user-friendly and secure checkout process that enables customers to review and finalize their orders seamlessly”.
Business Value: Develop a user-friendly and secure checkout process
Outcome: Enables customers to review and finalize their orders seamlessly
3. WHEN do we define it?
Before going into the details of “how,” let’s look at a common mistake, most teams make when defining a Sprint Goal.
During the sprint planning meeting, they treat the sprint goal as the last item to pay attention to. Most teams’ common practice is prioritizing user stories first, then creating a Sprint Goal based on those stories.
If you do the above, you don’t need a Sprint Goal. In this case, the goal of the sprint is to just finish the selected user stories. I do not recommend this approach.
You need an Initial Sprint Goal (defined below) before scheduling a Sprint planning meeting. This is usually defined during the second half of the ongoing sprint.
Because it is needed to guide the selection of the “right” user stories for the sprint.
4. WHO defines it?
The Product Owner defines the Initial Sprint Goal for the next sprint.
We call it an Initial Sprint Goal because the Product Owner has yet to share it with the team.
The initial Sprint Goal is a rough draft with the sole purpose of “selecting and prioritizing” user stories for the upcoming sprint.
5. HOW to define the initial sprint goal?
It’s finally time to discuss the “how.”
How does the PO define the “initial sprint goal”? Where does the information to define the initial sprint goal come from?
It comes from the Release Plan. More specifically, it comes from the milestones of the release plan.
If you want to know more about Agile Product Management, the product roadmap, and the difference between the roadmap and the release plan, you can watch the video series I created on the subject by clicking on the image below.
Here’s a simple process to teach your PO to glean the sprint goal from the milestones of the release plan.
Understand the release plan: PO starts by reviewing the release plan and milestones. Understand the overall vision, objectives and features required to achieve the ongoing or upcoming milestone. Let’s say the upcoming milestone is “Implement checkout process.”
Identify the milestone focus: List the objectives of the milestone. For example, let’s say the objectives for implementing the checkout process are
Develop a user-friendly interface for the checkout process.
Integrate secure payment processing options.
Allow users to review and edit their order before finalizing the purchase.
Break objectives into outcomes: For example,
Design and implement a responsive checkout page with clear input fields and validation
Integrate a secure payment gateway (e.g., Stripe, PayPal) with support for multiple payment methods (e.g., credit card, digital wallets)
Develop an order summary page that allows users to review and edit their cart before confirming the purchase.
Craft the initial sprint goal statement: Summarize the outcomes in one statement. For example, “Develop a user-friendly and secure checkout process that enables customers to review and finalize their orders seamlessly.” This is the “initial sprint goal.” You intentionally keep it broad to enable the user story selection process. You will take this to your team during the (refinement meeting or directly to the) Sprint planning meeting.
Prioritize the user stories: During Sprint Planning, use this “initial sprint goal” to select and prioritize the user stories that contribute to the “desired” outcomes.
Validate the initial sprint goal: If PO writes the initial sprint goal, it is the team that validates the initial sprint goal based on what is humanly possible and can be delivered during the sprint. The team’s capacity for the upcoming sprint is used to validate the initial sprint goal.
Once validated, the initial sprint goal becomes the final sprint goal.
6. What-if the team doesn’t validate it?
We can't ignore cases where the user stories selected (based on the initial sprint goal) exceed what the team can deliver during the sprint.
In such cases, the PO must empower the team and let it select the user stories that can be done based on their capacity.
But if this happens, then the sprint goal will also change. Then how to easily revise the sprint goal according to the new user stories?
It is not as difficult as it seems.
Let's say the 6 user stories selected through the initial sprint goal
"Develop a user-friendly and secure checkout process that enables customers to review and finalize their orders seamlessly,"
US#1: As a user, I want to enter my shipping and billing information easily on the checkout page, so I can complete my purchase quickly.
US#2: As a user, I want to choose from multiple secure payment options, such as credit cards and digital wallets, to accommodate my preferred payment method.
US#3: As a user, I want to review and edit my order, including product quantities and shipping options, before finalizing the purchase to ensure accuracy.
US#4: As a user, I want to see a clear breakdown of the total cost, including taxes and shipping fees, so I know exactly what I am paying for.
US#5: As a user, I want to receive a confirmation email with the order details and estimated delivery date after completing the purchase, so I can keep track of my order.
US#6: As a user, I want the ability to apply discount codes or gift cards during the checkout process, so I can take advantage of promotions and offers.
Let’s say the team's capacity only allows the first 4 user stories. You can adjust the initial sprint goal by using the formula:
Final Sprint Goal = (Business value) that enables (Outcome1 + Outcome2 + Outcome3…)
Business value: Develop a user-friendly and secure checkout process
Outcome1: I want to enter my shipping and billing information
Outcome2: I want to choose from multiple secure payment options
Outcome3: I want to review and edit my order
Outcome4: I want to see a clear breakdown of the total cost
Final Sprint Goal:
"Develop a user-friendly and secure checkout process that enables customers to enter their shipping and billing information, choose from multiple payment options, review and edit their orders, and see a clear breakdown of the total cost."
The Final Sprint Goal is even more specific than the Initial Sprint Goal.
While the initial sprint goal helps to select user stories, the final sprint goal can help to set clear expectations with the stakeholders.
This is it…
This post contains a great deal of information, so don't worry about attempting to remember it all.
Consider it more of a reference guide or a source of inspiration for when you're generating ideas. And when you do come up with brilliant ideas, hit me up!
I am always open to suggestions and feedback. Pls, let me know if I missed something or if something seems odd.
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Have a fulfilling and productive week 🙏
📌 Things I loved this Week
📚 Book - Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. This insightful book explores the concept of achieving a state of complete focus and enjoyment in any activity. A truly transformative read, it offers valuable guidance on enhancing happiness and fulfillment in life. Do check it out!
📚 Video - Steve Jobs On Recruiting People
Diving into Steve Jobs' hiring wisdom at Apple, I found two striking principles:
The most exceptional individuals are self-managing yet require a collective purpose provided by effective leadership.
Apple only employs those who displayed immense excitement toward its products.
Lessons learned: The finest managers don't crave power, they champion quality and vision.
✍️ Quote of the Week
"The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile."
- Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in Flow
“I share things I wish I knew in the starting years of my career in the corporate world"
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