How Crafting Sprint Goals Can Set Your Scrum Team’s Fate

David Pereira
David Pereira
Product Leader, Content Creator, Speaker
Posted on
Apr 27, 2022
Updated on
May 1, 2023
Table of Content

With a bitter taste, the Jorvik team had just finished their Sprint. Ivar was disappointed as the team couldn’t deliver the promised 63 Story Points. Unfortunately, Björn got stuck with his 5 Story Points ticket, and Ragnar’s last 3 Story Point task was rejected during browser testing. The morale was low in the team as stakeholders were rigid during the Review. Here is what they said:

  • I made it clear how critical my feature was, and you failed me.
  • How can I tell my boss to wait until the next Sprint to get his export to CSV? You left me all alone.
  • You promised 63 Story Points, and now we get 55 only. Please take action to see that this will never happen again.

Anyway, the team had to start the new Sprint. The team joined the Sprint Planning call on Wednesday morning, and Floki opened the room.

Floki: “I understand you are disappointed with yesterday’s harsh feedback, but let’s make a fresh start. No Sprint is alike, and after our retrospective yesterday, I am convinced we can do it better this time. Let’s start with the following: do we have any holidays planned during the next two weeks?

Ragnar: “Nope. I am fully available, and I understand everyone else is, too.

Björn and Harold nodded their heads, agreeing with the statement.

Floki: “Great! Looking back at our previous three Sprints, I see an average velocity of 57 Story Points. Our average went down because we missed the mark in the last Sprint. Should we be cautious or audacious this Sprint?

Ivar: “Looking at the pressure I have, I cannot tell stakeholders we will deliver less than 60 Story Points beyond our carry-overs, adding up to 68 in total.

Ragnar: “You know we can’t do it. We never delivered such a high number.

Ivar: “Why not try it for the first time and go the extra mile? We must do something different if we want to regain trust.

Björn: “Ok, guys! Let me interrupt you all. We are missing the point. Sprint by Sprint, we discuss the same nonsense. We use our time to review capacity, agree on Story Points, and figure out how to deliver more features. Can we be honest with ourselves at least once? What we are doing here is pure bullshit.

Ragnar: “Wow, Björn. You always get right to the point, and I agree with you. The other day I read the Scrum Guide, and there it says we should start with the Sprint Goal, and this is the last thing we do.

Harold couldn’t hold himself and shouted, “We craft a pointless sentence nobody ever cared about.

Ivar: “Calm down, guys. Our stakeholders were tough on us yesterday, but we don’t need to cave under their pressure. Our Scrum implementation is terrific. This team is constantly outperforming the other teams. Kattegat never delivered more than 47 Story Points.

Björn: “Sorry, Ivar. Please don’t feel offended, but you’re leading us into a hole. We deliver features, fix bugs, and improve our interfaces, but we don’t even know how that improves our customers’ lives. Our team is strong, but without a goal to pursue, everything will be based on the highest-paid person’s opinion.

Ivar felt offended, he had fire in his eyes, and furiously he said, “Björn, do you want to do my job? Do you think I don’t know how to do it?

Floki: “I see you’re getting emotional. Let’s step back for a moment. We all want the same thing. We want to do something that creates value for our customers. Can you suggest how to proceed instead of accusing each other?

Before continuing with the story, have you ever been in a similar situation? Depending on your teams’ maturity, this scenario may ring a bell, but it doesn’t need to last forever. Let me walk you through common traps within the Sprint Goal, and then later, I will conclude the story with team Jorvik.

Sprint Goal Common Traps

What’s your go-to choice, doing what’s right or what’s easy? Most teams I know would pick the second, and their Sprint will end up:

  • Without a Sprint Goal or with a pointless goal nobody cares.
  • Committed to individual features to please stakeholders.
  • Planning done by capacity.
  • Delivering Story Points as the ultimate measure of success.

Why do teams pick this option? It’s because giving an illusion of predictability will please stakeholders in the short term and avoid conflicts regarding what isn’t part of the Sprint. However, this approach leads to terrible outcomes, some of which are:

  • Lack of accountability from the Scrum Team.
  • Low morale because the team won’t be able to live up to the output expectation.
  • A faster waterfall and a zombie Scrum.
  • No direction; the Scrum team splits into micro teams going in different directions.
Bad Scrum teams focus on output and fail to be Agile.

You can genuinely benefit from Sprints if you’re brave. Success is up ahead once you’re ready to set meaningful Sprint Goals. But I warn you, this won’t be easy because you need to:

  • Ensure focus on one problem at a time.
  • Say ‘no’ to stakeholders for anything unrelated to the problem you want to solve.
  • Empower the Scrum team to achieve the goal instead of what to deliver.
  • Make peace with the unknown.

Once you make this decision, you will be surprised by how much team morale increases. Consequently, the team will produce absolute value beyond output. That will happen because they will be accountable for achieving a goal instead of delivering a set of tasks. The shift from output to outcome can be frightening, but rewarding.

Don’t tell your team what to deliver, but what to achieve.

The Sprint Goal is the Heart of a Sprint

Coming back to team Jorvik, let me review how that cold spring day unfolded. Floki, the Scrum Master, helped the team step back from the heat of the discussion; it was time to come up with a solution. As always, Björn decided to share his perspective.

Björn: “Allow me to say something. I want you, Ivar, to tell us what’s the most critical thing at this moment. From there, we will craft a Sprint Goal. After that, we will agree on how to reach the goal. I beg you to trust us and let us do Scrum correctly, at least once.

Ivar: “I am skeptical about your approach. Our stakeholders want predictability, and you know that.

Björn: “That’s the point. You let them tell us how to do our work, and that sucks. Please, let’s try something different this time.

Ivar: “Ok, I will give you the benefit of the doubt. The biggest problem we have is with our returning users. No more than 17% of them make a second order. We noticed they come back to our platform but don’t order anything.

Björn: “That sounds like an interesting problem to solve. What about this for a goal: Returning users are eager to do business with us. Last refinement we had many items related to it, I think we are ready to tackle this challenge.

Ragnar: “I like the suggested goal. In addition to what we already refined, I would set up something right after our Sprint to learn why they leave us after returning to our website. That would contribute to our Sprint Goal.

Harold: “I also have some complementary ideas. I noticed our conversion funnel has many steps, and some are confusing. I have some ideas on what to simplify.

Ivar: “That sounds cool. But I receive a lot of pressure from our stakeholders, I wonder how I could tell the account team they want to get their automated e-mail every 27th day of the month related to the open orders.

Ragnar: “The Sprint Goal is supposed to give us orientation. We commit to it, and if we have remaining time, we can work on other requests. But our objective is to reach the Sprint Goal.

Ivar: “Hmmm… I’m not sure about it but let’s try.

Björn: “Cool! We will not disappoint you.

Team Jorvik never started a Sprint so excited. Every day, team members asked each other, “What are you doing today to reach our goal?” They continuously inspected and adapted.

They managed to reach their goal, and after measuring the result learned that 29,5% of returning users made orders. Although they delivered only 37 Story Points, stakeholders cheered them on because, within the outcome, the quarterly sales goal would be surpassed.

Sprint Goals' Benefits

In summary, when you craft an inspiring Sprint Goal, you will get the following benefits:

  • Team alignment: Understand the WHY
  • Prioritization: Know what to do
  • Accountability: Get new product ideas from other team members to support the Sprint Goal
When you empower people, the result can surprise you. Nothing can talk louder than a significant outcome.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are Sprint Goals?

The Sprint Goal is what the team aims to have achieved by the end of the Sprint. This can be a multitude of things, ranging from the way the team works to specific work that the team wants completed. Whatever it is, the Sprint Goal will act as a North Star for the team to look at so nobody strays too far away from what they should be doing. Keeping them aligned like this makes it easier to keep track of the work being done but also makes sure the team knows what to prioritize.

What are the benefits of defining Sprint Goals?

The benefit to defining the Sprint Goals is that the whole team can be certain of the Sprint Goal together. This means there is no doubt that the whole teams knows exactly what they’re striving for.

How to write Sprint Goals?

You should write Sprint Goals in ways that support outcomes, instead of specific deliverables. This empowers the team to innovate and come up with creative solutions, but keeping them on track to accomplish what you need them to accomplish. It can also be beneficial to write goals following the SMART goal format – specific, reliable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound.

Examples of Sprint Goals

For example, a Sprint Goal for the next Sprint could look like this:

“This month, we will spend 4 hours per week reworking our employee onboarding process. We will then implement the new process in order to improve our retention rates by 35% in 2022.”

About the author

David Pereira
Product Leader, Content Creator, Speaker

Product Leader with 15+ years of experience. Currently located in Munich, Germany and striving to help companies create value faster. I'm a Partner at Value Rebels and Interim Chief Product Officer at omoqo. My passion is helping product teams overcome their challenges and deliver REAL value faster. Almost every product team is trapped somehow, untrapping them is what drives me.

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