Sprint Goals
December 17, 2019

Sprint Goals — What Do They Really Need (With Examples)

Project Management
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What Is a Sprint Goal?

A sprint goal is the overarching objective to be accomplished during a sprint. In contrast to a vision, sprint goals are more tangible. This is because it they are time-bound to the duration of the sprint.

Sprint goals answer the questions:

  • Why are we going to work hard as a team to complete all sprint backlog items?
  • Why should stakeholders (owners, customers, publishers etc.) care and support the team?

A sprint goal should be easy to understand. It is often a one-liner supporting a larger theme in your product, maybe simply the name of the sprint. The sprint backlog will further clarify the goals into tangible expected results. Like any goal, the sprint goal will help you as a team:

  • Stay focused.
  • Define what is valuable.
  • Determine priority.
  • See progress.
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Why You Need Sprint Goals

If you are using sprints as a planning method, you should be setting sprint goals. The sprint goal is an essential part of SCRUM. If you are using sprints, you will benefit by setting a sprint goal as it is a proven and well-tested way to work. Not using sprint goals will make you a ScrumBut.

If there is no goal, there is no good definition of done for the sprint. What are you trying to achieve? The consequence of not finishing the sprints becomes blurry. Sprint goals will help teams finish the things they committed to.

Teams today typically have access to a ton of data about their products. Still, to answer what is valuable may still be difficult. The sprint goal should be expressed in a way that makes it easier to define what is more valuable when you have to make a choice. That clarifies priorities, and allows decentralizing decision making to speed things up.

There is no alternative to not setting a sprint goal if you are doing Scrum. Teams that try to do all goal setting to the product backlog often face challenges implementing Scrum. The Sprint loses its value as it is just a container of items. Teams working like this would often benefit from a more flow-based way of working, such as Kanban where there is no sprint (and hence no sprint goal).   

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So Why Aren't You Setting Sprint Goals?

Let’s be honest, a lot of SCRUM teams do not set proper sprint goals. To save time in a sprint planning meeting, stories are often pulled in based on urgency. But a backlog alone does not help explain why something needs to be done. Actually, there is often a sprint goal ‘of sorts’ that is not clearly expressed making some backlog items more urgent.

Another challenge is that teams also commit to things that are not a part of the sprint goal. They might say that “yes, but we also need to do …”. However, promising too much and not delivering on that promise is a worse alternative. If you finish a sprint goal early, then you can look at also achieving separate goals. To multi-task is a productivity killer. Finish one goal before starting on the next.

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How do You Write a Good Sprint Goal?

A good starting point is to not over-complicate a sprint goal. Just try to pick a straightforward goal and stick with it until the end of the next sprint. If there are a lot of things you need to do that don’t fit within the goal, then perhaps the goal isn’t right.

Goals can be changed. That is the whole purpose with agility. If you change your sprint goal during sprint planning from “Deliver fantastic, shiny, feature 1 that makes us better than competition” to “Address root cause of recent crashes in component X causing outages for our largest customers,” it is not a failure. It is adapting the plan to reality.

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Sprint Goal Examples

The sprint goal expresses the objective. It is time-bound by the sprint, but should still be ambitious enough to offer value to the customer. The actual expected results and outcomes are defined by the sprint backlog.

Need to learn about Scrum? Get the Guide >>

Here are three sprint goal examples and the corresponding sprint backlog structure:

Sprint Goal Example 1:

Sprint Goal: Secure enterprise-class quality for web client after recent customer complaints.

Sprint Backlog Breakdown:

  • Reduce the number of critical bugs to zero.
    • The list of open critical bugs.
  • Reduce average response time for most popular view.
    • Refactoring tasks to improve response times of the most popular view.
  • User story: Allow customers to toggle off one feature they do not want to use to make product easier to use and also make sure broken code can quickly be turned off.

Sprint Goal Example 2:

Sprint Goal: Refactor our old login interface to achieve 25% better conversion rate on the login page.

Sprint Backlog Breakdown:

  • Explore how five other products are handling logins.
  • Rewrite two new login interfaces.
    • User story: Support login using service X.
  • Start A/B test.

Sprint Goal Example 3:

Sprint Goal: Improve retention rate by providing a better feedback mechanism.

Sprint Backlog Breakdown:

  • Add feedback button in several existing views.
  • Support BreakPad Crash Reporting system for automatic feedback when client crashes.
  • Send customers an email asking for their feedback after support case is closed.
  • Do analysis of reviews online and update product backlog accordingly.
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3 Quick Checks For Your Sprint Goal

As you can see, sprint goals can be fairly broad and should drive the content of the sprint backlog. It should also define the review and demo after the sprint. A good sprint demo session starts with “We set out to reach [sprint goal]; this is how we did in the past two weeks…”

After you have created your sprint goal, check:

  1. Is the sprint goal defining a relevant “why” in a concise way? Align the sprint goal by discussing with the team and stakeholders to make sure everyone is ready to pull in the same direction.
  2. Are there items in the product backlog (or elsewhere) that is ready to be worked on that fit under the sprint goal? These will measure outputs after the sprint has ended.
  3. Does everyone have visibility into the sprint goal? Does it show up in your sprint planning tool? Should you post it in big letters on the wall? Do what it takes to communicate the message where you will be after the sprint has ended.
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Sprint Goals Need a Tool to Enhance Visibility

Not all sprint goals are created equal. And even the best goals need the tools that can help them manage a backlog and provide visibility into progress and bottlenecks in development.

Helix Plan (formerly Hansoft) is the tool that can help you better estimate and manage sprint goals. It offers fast and flexible management that is as agile as you are. You can stay on top of changes, streamline your backlog, easily prioritize stories, and reach your sprint goals. Plus, Helix Plan is free for small teams so you can start driving development without the cost.

Learn more about why people choose Helix Plan >>

Reach Your Sprint Goals Faster

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