How using sprint goals can boost agile flexibility

02 November 2021 Consultancy.eu 3 min. read
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While stakeholders can be keen to push ahead with projects on multiple fronts, focusing on individual sprint goals can be a more effective mode of Agile operation. Speaking to the Mastering Agility podcast by AgilityMasters.com, Maarten Dalmijn explained how sprint goals help him achieve more effective change within his teams.

While it originated in the world of software development, Agile has long since been adopted by businesses across the industrial gamut. However, being the market of origin for Agile means software consulting is still one of the best places to find best practices, and get ahead of the curve on the working practice. This is certainly the case when it comes to deploying sprint goals.

A sprint goal is a brief explanation of what the team plans to achieve during the course of an Agile sprint. It is a tangible goal, written together by the team and departmental leaders, and is time-bound to the duration of the sprint. In other words, sprint goals clarify a team’s purpose during a programme increment.

Maarten Dalmijn

Maarten Dalmijn has seen the benefits of this method first-hand. Currently Head of Product at Amsterdam based management software firm Rodeo, he is an experienced Scrum Master, and has held lead product positions at a series of different software firms.

He recalled, “When I started using scrum I didn’t use sprint goals. When you are a product owner and you don’t use sprint goals, you basically have to work much harder. When I started using them, I noticed my job became a lot easier, and down the line, stakeholders became a lot happier.”

Dalmijn was initially very sceptical of sprint goals. He was conflicted, thinking “If I already have a sprint backlog, what is the point of doing something that mirrors the sprint backlog?” Things changed when a departmental shift saw him move to a new team, however.

“My old team no longer had a product owner,” he remembered. “I was not allowed to help them – but they still asked for advice. At that stage I suggested, ‘Why not try sprint goals? Discuss with your stakeholders what is their top priority, make a goal of it, and see how it goes.’ I felt bad – because I wanted to help more – but when they came back to me later they were super energised! That was when I thought maybe I should also start experimenting with sprint goals.”

Flexibility

What Dalmijn quickly found was that setting sprint goals enabled his team to work more efficiently towards individual tasks, that quickly tallied up to impressive improvements. However, he also had to convince his own stakeholders that this was the way forward.

His approach to this was to plan with his team for an outcome they thought was important, and achievable – a single top priority instead of “three or four” priorities running alongside each other. Dalmijn noted that many stakeholders prefer to do things this way, to push for everything at once – but he explained that the choice was between two distinct options.

“Either you don’t choose what is the priority; you work on three things at once, and you don’t have control over what you’re going to get – but what you know for sure is that all of it will take longer. Or, you do make a choice; that means you have control, and the one thing you choose you will get quicker.”

Of course, that is not to say sprint goals are anything set in stone. Dalmijn admitted that it would not be “realistic” to only have one thing anyone could work on in a team – businesses always have other unexpected issues, bugs or shortages, to address. The thing is, by not planning an entire sprint 100%, and instead cutting it into bitesize chunks, businesses can find more flexibility to deal with these equally important issues.

When it comes to adopting sprint goals, it might not feel easy to adapt at first, however Dalmijn also stressed it was a learning curve. It may not be perfect at first, but working out what doesn’t work with quick experimentation can see teams quickly become more efficient.

He concluded, “Try to start by thinking about the goal you want to achieve. If you don’t use sprint goals, it is still better to have a goal where you don’t make it perfectly smart. If you feel ready though, I would advise that you make it clear what the outcome is you expect.”