The importance of sprint goals

Amongst the backlog refinement, estimation, sprint planning, stand-ups, demos and retrospectives, the humble sprint goal is often one of the more overlooked guidelines of "doing scrum". It either gets forgotten about entirely or, when pressed, the team unimaginatively comes up with something along the lines of "Do all of the tickets in the sprint".

After all the investment that goes into planning a sprint, asking the question "why are we doing this?" might seem a bit.. pointless. Surely it's now just a case of getting things done? However, maybe you've noticed your stand-ups are starting to get a bit dull and repetitive, or you're seeing blank faces in your retrospectives.

Taking a step back for a second, one of the things an Agile methodology encourages is having conversations. A sprint goal helps to give a high-level purpose to the sprint, around which conversations can happen:

It gives context to the daily stand-up meeting

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Stand-ups can get extremely boring, we've all heard something along the lines of:

"Yesterday I worked on ticket X, today I'll pick up the next ticket in the To-Do column".

Stand ups can quickly feel like a chore. Product owners might feel it's just some developers rambling on about things they don't really understand. Maybe they feel like they aren't getting much value and get discouraged from continuing to attend.

Having a sprint goal means questions like: "Is anything blocking you?" can be rephrased into something a bit more insightful: "Is there anything stopping the team from achieving our sprint goal?" and "What are you going to do next?" becomes "What will you do to help the team get closer to achieving the sprint goal?".

This high-level purpose helps sprints to feel a bit more than just batting tasks out of the park.

It creates a focal point for the retrospective

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Probably the most important meeting in scrum, the retrospective is about identifying what's valuable enough to continue doing and what to experiment with doing differently next time. Having a sprint goal can help avoid those long, awkward silences when people are put on the spot to think up answers to "What went well...".

  • "We achieved our sprint goal" - Why? What helped to make this easier?
  • "We failed to meet our sprint goal" - Why? What could help next time?

Use the product owner

Finally, if you're struggling to come up with a sprint goal (and it is hard), ask the person who should be the most qualified: the Product Owner. Get them to think about what they want from the sprint, what is it you're trying to achieve. Anything is better than "Get all the tickets in the sprint done"!