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The Purpose of a Goal is Not to Reach It

January 3, 2023

In November 2020, the Scrum Guide added a new concept to the framework, the Product Goal. 

Interestingly enough, goals have different meanings depending if you possess a project or a product mindset.

Project Mindset

Working with projects, one would set a goal as a destination that needs to be reachedGoal as a direction and would create a plan to reach it.  In this context, we see the goal as the treasure at the end of the rainbow. Our return on investment will be generated only once the destination has been reached.   

The project mindset inherently assumes that:

  1. The purpose of our investment will not change in the course of our work;
  2. The solution created by the project is and will remain the best option to maximize our return;
  3. Risks around scope, time and budget are limited enough that we can hold a plan in place.

Product Mindset

The reason we create products is to solve problems.  In today’s world of persistent uncertainties, this is a daunting task. There are usually many kinds of users and clients, from direct users, end users, buyers, wholesalers, retailers, and so on; all of whom with different needs based on contexts, events and time. As a result the problems we are trying to solve are moving targets.

In addition, as problems evolve so should the solution to fix them and as technology evolves, opportunities arise, performance and security issues emerge, and the technical dependencies increase.

With this level of uncertainty, believing that we know where we will be in six months seems like a delusion. In this context, persisting toward a specific goal eventually triggers the return of on our work to gradually decrease.

Then, why does the Scrum Guide insist on Scrum teams to have a product goal?


Focusing on a goal helps Scrum teams reduce muda (waste) in their product management process.

  • It aligns all stakeholders, so that we all work efficiently in the same direction.
  • It manages expectations, reducing wasteful conversation around direction.
  • It enables autonomy, reducing decision latency.

An excellent read on what engages people is Dan Pink’s Drive. In his book, Dan mentions that extrinsic motivation such as salary and working conditions are not sufficient to engage individuals in complex work. He describes engagement in three points:

  • Purpose:  Why do we do this work
  • Autonomy: Let me work out how to get there
  • Mastery: Let me free to improve my skills to get there

Having a good product goal triggers two of those points. Here, I’ll quote Annicken R. Day from the Business Insider:

“Happy, engaged teams do better work, are more collaborative and innovative, have lower attrition and higher loyalty, and deliver up to 50% better performance than less engaged teams.”


Having an objective gives us a lens through which we can inspect our work. It provides the ultimate hypothesis we are trying to validate.

The Product Goal ultimately helps us establish if we are moving in the expected direction. The moment we realize that our investment does not generate the expected outcome we can reflect on whether or not we want to pursue that strategy.


To close the article, let’s quote the definition of OKRs. “OKRs are how you track progress, create alignment, and encourage engagement around measurable goals.”  A goal is not a destination, it is the direction.


Photo: Nick Youngson

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