October 7, 2020

Do-It-Yourself-Workshop: Is The Sprint Goal Optional In Scrum?

Want to help your Scrum Team make sense of why Sprint Goals matter? And more importantly, how you can create more focus together? We’ve got your back with this tried-and-tested string of Liberating Structures. All you need to do is run it and off you go — without coaches, facilitators, and consultants. You can also download this string as a nicely styled PDF

Hey there, Scrum Mythbuster! 

Does your Scrum Team use Sprint Goals? If not, why? Maybe it is hard for your team to identify a goal for the Sprint out of the patchwork of items on their Sprint Backlog. Or perhaps your Product Owner doesn’t know how to balance the requests from many different groups of stakeholders. Whatever the case, many Scrum Teams don’t use Sprint Goals. And that is unfortunate because Sprint Goals are one of the most effective ways to deal with complex work.

We designed this do-it-yourself workshop to help your team investigate what happens to their work and their outcomes when they have no Sprint Goal. By doing so, you can bust the myth that Sprint Goals are optional in Scrum. More importantly, this workshop helps your team think about what they can do to start creating better goals? Learn and grow, together!

How to Prepare

Group Size

This string of Liberating Structures is feasible from 4 participants and onward. We’ve successfully scaled it up to 100 participants (both virtually and in-person) without significant issues.

Intended Audience

The obvious participants for this string are Scrum Teams. But we highly recommend that you include important stakeholders as well. Often, the reason why teams struggle with Sprint Goals is caused by their environment. Stakeholders will probably be equally impacted by the lack of Sprint Goals and may have the means to change things for the better.

Virtual Delivery

Liberating Structures work well virtually. Here too, they allow you to unleash and involve everyone. What is exceptionally important, however, is that you have the right tools. Because Liberating Structures are fundamentally about breaking down large-group interactions into smaller groups, you need tools that allow you to create subchannels or breakout rooms easily. Zoom is ideal for this, but similar features are available in tools like Teams and GotoMeeting. We also recommend a virtual whiteboard where you can collect shared insights, like Mural, Miro, or Google Slides. Even Slack can work.

Step 1: Opening

Start at the scheduled time. People who drop in later can jump in then. We always start our gatherings by simply saying “Hi!”, followed by our name. We then introduce the purpose and start with the first structure. Superfast!

We’ve learned that the best way to drain energy is to talk for a long time, to ask everyone to introduce themselves, or to wait for people to drop in.

IM

Step 2: Start Your Thinking With Impromptu Networking

Our experience is that most people see at least some value in shared goals. The first step in this string is to quickly bring those reasons and insights to the surface so that we can build on them throughout. A great way to do this is with Impromptu Networking. This Liberating Structure allows a group of any size to form personal connections and share ideas in less than 20 minutes. It is a great way to kickstart the collective brainpower of the group and rapidly identify patterns to dig deeper into later.

Invitation

“In complex work, having a shared goal is important because …”

Steps

  1. (3 min) Share the invitation and give everyone time for individual thinking. Simultaneously, prepare the breakouts for the pairs. 
  2. (3 min) Ask participants to share their thoughts about the invitation. Let them be mindful of each other and share the responsibility for the timebox.
  3. (3 min) Reshuffle the configuration of the breakouts and ask the new pairs to continue sharing their thoughts about the invitation. 
  4. (3 min) In the third and final round, ask the newly formed pairs to share their thoughts about the invitation but to also pay attention to patterns (e.g. differences and similarities) between the conversations. 
  5. (5 min) Once everyone is back in the main channel, briefly discuss the patterns that emerged with the entire group.

Our Findings

Don’t reduce the number of rounds. They are short anyways. The power of this format lies in the three conversations that people will be having, and what they learn from that.

Step 3: Dig Deeper With Conversation Cafe

With Impromptu Networking, you helped get everyone’s thinking started about the importance of a Sprint Goals. As a follow-up, we want to dig deeper into personal perspective and real-life experiences with Sprint Goals. The Liberating Structures Conversation Cafe is a great way to do this.

Invitation

“My excuse for not always using a Sprint Goal is…, and because of that…”
“The inconvenient truth of why we don’t always use a Sprint Goal is…”
“What are our good, not-so-good, and horribly bad reasons for not having Sprint Goals? What am I missing because of that, personally?”

Conversation Cafe

Our Findings

  • It’s helpful to keep the visual with all the steps visible while everyone is in the breakout rooms. You can prepare a Mural or Google Presentation that contains all the steps.
  • Emphasize that groups should use talking objects. Participants can use whatever they prefer as a talking object, as long as they have one. A pen or marker that participants “pass around” is a fun way of using a talking object online. A good practice is that the person holding the talking object decides who goes next.
  • Encourage people to really listen. In the first two rounds and in the final round, the purpose is not to have a discussion, to ask each other questions, or to start a conversation. The purpose is only for each participant to share their perspectives while the others offer their full attention.

Step 4: Help Your Product Owner With Wise Crowds

Conversation Café gives everyone the opportunity to share their personal, real-life experience with Sprint Goals. From experience, we know how important Product Owners are in shaping Sprint Goals. When you have a clear product vision, roadmap, and ordered Product Backlog, it makes the creation of Sprint Goals a lot easier. At the same time, we commonly observe that the Product Owner is often limited in the ability to manage the product, the budget, or return-on-investment. Overcoming these limitations together often paves the path forward to better Sprint Goals. The Liberating Structure Wise Crowds is a great way to tap into the wisdom of the entire team and overcome these challenges.

Invitation

“What is a challenge your Product Owner is facing, that prevents the team from defining good Sprint Goals? What are strategies, practices, and experiments the Product Owner can try to resolve the challenge?”

Steps

  1. (2 min) Give the Product Owner the opportunity to define a personal challenge, that negatively impacts the use of Sprint Goals;
  2. (2 min) Ask the Product Owner (the client in this case) to present his/her challenge and request for help.
  3. (2 min) The team members (acting as consultants) ask open, clarifying questions to better understand the challenge.
  4. The client turns off the webcam and audio and gets ready to take notes.
  5. (8 min) The consultants ask questions and offer advice, and recommendations, working as a team, while the client only listens.
  6. (2 min) The client turns on the webcam and audio again and provides feedback to the consultants: what was useful and what he or she takes away.

Our Findings

  • Invite participants not to shy away from presenting complex challenges without easy answers.
  • If more people are facing a challenge, you can give them the opportunity to become a client as well.

Troika

Step 5: Identify Next Steps With 15% Solutions

We commonly observe that Product Owners are limited in fulfilling their role and this impacts the use of Sprint Goals. We used Wise Crowds to tackle one big impediment that your team faces in this area. A logical next step after Wise Crowds is 15% Solutions. It helps the entire team to define a personal tangible next step, based on what they learned so far.

Invitation

“What is your personal 15% Solution to help the Scrum Team make better use of Sprint Goals? Something you do not need any additional resources, permission, or authority to do right now?”

Steps

  1. (3 min) Ask everyone to silently generate a list of personal 15% Solutions
  2. (5 min) Form pairs and invite each par into their own breakouts. In the breakouts, people take turns to share their 15% Solutions. We always encourage listeners to help their partner find ways to guarantee that they will actually do those things (e.g. make it smaller, simpler).

Our Findings

  • It is tempting for people to complicate their 15% Solutions, which makes it unlikely they’ll actually do them. You can encourage people by asking them “What is the thing you’re going to do to work on that [original idea]?”.
  • You can make individual 15% Solutions transparent on your virtual whiteboard. But make sure that this is optional.

Step 6: Closing

If you have the time, do a quick debrief with the group. A simple Liberating Structure for this is Impromptu Networking (“What did you observe, think or feel while participating in this meetup?”). Draw out some salient patterns from the whole group, but keep it short.

Thank everyone for their presence and announce when the next Scrum Mythbusters string will be explored!

After The Meetup

With this string, you should be able to pique the interest of people to bust more Scrum myths together. Ideally, these strings aren’t only used within your team, but also in the wider organization. Make use of the opportunity to have a real impact!

Learn And Grow, Together

We designed this string to help your team think about the value of (Sprint) goals. Although many Scrum Teams consider them optional, Sprint Goals are really at the heart of how you can successfully navigate complex work. We hope this string brought that insight home. More importantly, we hope that you were able to identify and overcome some of the impediments that make it hard to work with a valuable Sprint Goal in mind.

If you’re stuck with a design or have other questions about this design, reach out to us at info@theliberators.com or connect to other Patrons. Let’s learn and grow, together!

Help Us Improve This String

We are eager to learn from your experience of this string. You probably discovered much about the flow of the string, the use of the invitations, and the impact on the group. What did it make possible for you or your team? What unexpected surprises did you run into? What would make the string even better? Help us learn from your experience by sharing it with us. It only takes a few minutes.

Share Your Outcomes

There is bound to be plenty of learning going on in your session. If you can, please share some of those results with the wider community. We always like to share a collage of pictures (with permission) or a short video. It is a nice way to inspire people to give the string a try as well!

Network

Try Our Other Strings

This string is part of our Scrum Mythbusters series. It probably triggered in-depth conversations, valuable insights, and tangible next steps.

We have many more strings for you to explore with your team! We offer strings to bust Scrum Myths, overcome impediments, start new teams or initiatives, and grow as a team. We add new strings every week.

You can find more free and premium strings in this series here. Or browse all our strings here. Give them a try, and unleash the superpowers of your team, organization, and community!

Unleashing Teams All Over The World

We are The Liberators — Barry Overeem and Christiaan Verwijs. Our mission is to create data-driven products to unleash the superpowers of teams all over the world. We do this together with a growing community of patrons.

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