Breaking projects into time boxes known as sprints or iterations is often associated with agile delivery approaches but can also be used to deliver on detailed requirements for an overall project’s scope following the (infamous) approach commonly termed “Water-scrum-fall”.
The benefit of this approach is that it helps to focus a delivery team on a small, achievable set of work items, providing stakeholders with frequent opportunities to provide feedback on completed work items while increasing the transparency and objectivity of progress reporting.
Agile delivery approaches encourage prioritization of the work backlog and this can also be a good practice when using sprints with traditional projects. But this prioritization might not be sufficient to generate a desirable level of energy and focus from the team, so why not define specific goals as one of the team’s standing agenda items for a sprint planning ceremony?
Sprint goals can help by:
- Providing a measure of progress over and above completion of individual work items from the backlog. Meaningful sprint goals are truly milestones worth celebrating!
- Giving voice to accomplishments that transcend scope delivery. For example, completing all work items for the sprint with zero defects or meeting sprint commitments without requiring any overtime from team members are both achievements worth celebrating.
- Helping to focus the delivery team and key stakeholders on meeting a shared objective. This can encourage team self-discipline as they can use alignment with the sprint goal as a key determinant for whether a new work item proposed by a stakeholder or team member is worth adding to the sprint backlog.
Sprint goals should not be dictated, rather they should emerge out of the collective gestalt of the team and are a good pulse check for whether the team is aligned to the overall project vision.
When defining goals, the usual SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound) acronym can be used to test and refine them.
At the end of a sprint, the showcase or demo should include a presentation of the goals and whether or not they were accomplished, and the team’s retrospective ceremony should include a review of the goals including the identification of ideas for improving goals for future sprints.
As Albert Einstein said “If you want to live a happy life, tie it to a goal, not to people or things.”