As many companies have started adopting Agile Methodology, they begin with using the Scrum Framework as it is one of the easiest frameworks to understand and implement. Scrum is an iterative and incremental method of product development that solves complex problems and finds innovations in small periods called Sprints. Sprints are a time-boxed period that is allocated to the Scrum Team where they develop product increments and integrate them into the original product and increase its value. As a beginner, individuals have to understand the basic terms that are used during Scrum and know the difference between a few terms that might sound the same. One such example is the Sprint Backlog and the Sprint Goal. To a beginner, the Sprint Goal and the Sprint Backlog would mean a list of features that has to be completed. This article aims to clear this misconception and bring out the difference between Sprint Backlog and Sprint Goal.
What is a Sprint Backlog?
A Sprint Backlog is a list of Product Backlog items that are selected by the Scrum Team, especially by Developers, during a Sprint Planning meeting. These are the items that the team aims to complete within the duration of the Sprint. Product development in Scrum occurs iteratively and incrementally. The features that have to be added to the product are listed in the Product Backlog according to their priority. The feature or User Story with the maximum priority is listed first and the process continues. Hence, the Product Backlog is a list of all the items that have to be added to the product. When Scrum Teams review and retrospect a particular Sprint, they conduct a new Sprint meeting called Sprint Planning. During the Sprint Planning, the Scrum Teams choose the items that they could complete during the next Sprint. These items are listed in the Sprint Backlog which is a highly visible, transparent picture of the work that the Scrum Team plans to complete during the next Sprint.
A Sprint Backlog has to answer three questions about the upcoming Sprints-
- Why are these product items selected? (Sprint Goal)
- What are the items that are selected during the Sprint Planning?
- How will the Developers achieve to deliver the backlog items? (what would be their actionable plan?)
When a Sprint Backlog is planned, individuals may only see it as a list of items that are selected from the Product Backlog that has to be completed. However, these questions have also been answered while forming a Sprint Backlog. Hence, a Sprint Backlog is a plan which is devised by the Developers to achieve the Sprint Goal during the Sprint. As the Sprint progresses, the Sprint Backlog is updated; also the Developers track the progress of the Sprint through the Daily Scrum.
Who is the owner of the Sprint Backlog?
The Scrum framework describes that the Sprint Backlog is owned by the entire Scrum Team- Scrum Master, Product Owner, and the Developers. As every member of the Scrum Team brings a unique idea to the table and gives valuable insights at the start of the Sprint, the Sprint Backlog is owned by everyone. New marketing trends and changes in priorities according to the customers would be conveyed by the Product Owner. The Developers, who are the backbone of the Scrum Team, may have anticipated how much time a particular feature would take to complete. And the Scrum Master could anticipate the impediments that may come during the development process. All of the insights are essential for selecting which Product Backlog item should go in the Sprint Backlog. Also, the team has to decide Sprint Backlog items that align with their Sprint Goal. A Sprint Goal may be initially proposed by the Product Owner but has to be eventually collaboratively determined by the Scrum Team.
Can Sprint Backlog be modified?
Whenever a new product comes up, the Product Owner adds their ideas to the Product Backlog and the Scrum Team completes them in Sprints. As the tasks are being completed, the estimated workload remaining is updated against the time through a chart called the Burndown chart. If the Developers find a particular feature that would not be relevant to the agreed Sprint Goal, they can remove that feature from the Sprint Backlog. The Sprint Backlog is transparent and acts as a reflection of the team’s plan to finish the work within the present Sprint. There are two conditions in which the Sprint Backlog items could be modified. They are:
- As the team gains experience, they have a better knowledge about the requirements and can find new tasks that could be added between the Sprint to the Sprint Backlog.
- The bugs of the previous Sprint can be added as new tasks as they were unfinished from the last Sprint.
The Product Owner works with the Scrum Team to make them understand the Sprint Goals accurately.
What is the Sprint Goal?
The Sprint Goal answers what a particular Sprint aims to achieve. It acts as an objective for Sprint and is formed by the Developers. The Sprint Goal builds focus and coherence among the Developers and encourages them to collaborate rather than working individually. As the goal is formed by the Developers, they can easily set a goal that is flexible to them so that they can decide the exact work that they can complete during the Sprint. The Sprint Goal is created as part of the Sprint Backlog in the Sprint Planning. When the Developers work during the Sprint, they keep the objective of the Sprint in mind and work towards it. If the work does not align with the Sprint Goal, the Developers discuss with the Product Owner to make changes in the Sprint Backlog such that it does not affect the Sprint Goal.
There are two important questions that the Sprint Goal answers:
- Why should stakeholders such as publishers, customers, owners, etc support and care about what the Scrum Team is working on?
- Why does the team need to work hard to complete all the Sprint Backlog items?
When forming a Sprint Goal, the team should make it understandable and a one-line that supports the theme of the product or the Sprint. The goal should only give a picture of the Sprint as the Sprint Backlog breaks the expected tasks into simple steps such that the team can divide and complete the tasks. The Sprint Goal helps the team to be focused, see progress, determine what feature is a priority, and define what exactly is valuable in the product.
Why are Sprint Goals required?
If the company uses the Sprint method to develop products, having a Sprint Goal would be extremely productive. The Sprint Goal is a crucial part of the Scrum framework as all the processes and operations take place by Sprints. Sprint Goals give a direction to the team to achieve a tangible task. If the team does not have a goal, they would not be motivated to achieve anything in the company. The team should have a proper definition of done so that the tasks are complete and there are minimum revisions in the upcoming Sprints. Sprint Goals will help the company to gain more business value as it helps the team to finish the development process sooner.
Teams get access to tons of data on the Product Backlog and randomly picking features and completing the Sprints creates a lot of confusion among the team members. The Sprint Goal should help the Developers choose the items on the Sprint Backlog. This allows decentralizing and setting priorities are important to make things move faster.
How to create a Sprint Goal?
Sprint Goals should be simple and not complicated as it only gives the gist of the entire Sprint. If you have many things in the Sprint that need to be completed, and you cannot find a particular goal, then you have taken up many items on the Sprint Backlog. Re-consider the items once again such that everything aligns with a common Sprint. As the company has become Agile, there is a scope of changing the goal according to the practical needs of the customer. For instance, if the Sprint Goal was “Delivering a new and shiny feature which would make us better than our competition.” It can be changed to “Fixing the bugs and ensuring that the system functions smoothly.”
Sprint Goal example
The Sprint Goal should be an ambitious statement that would provide value to the customer. It expires as the Sprint ends, and only talks about the objective of the Sprint. Here are few examples of Sprint Goals:
- “Developing an enterprise-class durable customer service application to tackle the recent surge in consumer complaints”
In this case, the Sprint Backlog would be:
- Decreasing the critical bugs in the application
- Listing the number of critical bugs
- Decreasing the average response time
- Improving the response times by refactoring the tasks
- User story: remove the least used feature such that the customer feels that the application is easier to use.
Things to check in a Sprint Goal
After the Sprint Goal is created, check for the following things:
- Whether the Sprint Goal defines the “why” precisely? Make sure that everyone aligns in the direction of the Sprint Goal and is ready to work towards achieving the same.
- Whether any Product Backlog items are present which could fit under the Sprint Goal?
- Is the Sprint Goal transparent to everyone? Whether it shows up in the Sprint Planning tool, should it be posted on the wall? Ensure that the Sprint Goal is visible to everyone till the Sprint ends.
Sprint Goal Vs Sprint Backlog: What’s the difference?
It is important to understand how different both these terms are from each other. During the Sprint Planning meeting, the Developers select the items from the Product Backlog and transfer them to the Sprint Backlog. The Sprint Backlog is different for different Scrum Teams and is only valid till the Sprint is functioning. It is crucial to understand that the Sprint Backlog contains the list of items that have to be completed during the Sprint. Every Sprint should have a goal called the Sprint Goal, which lets the team members know what they have to achieve in the particular Sprint. The Sprint Goal is a one-liner vision statement that describes what the team members should achieve in the Sprint. It does not describe the tools and techniques, nor does it contain detailed ideas of how the team should achieve the vision. The Sprint Goal only shows a direction to the team about how they can increase the product value. Hence, the Sprint Goal is a commitment to the Sprint Backlog. The Sprint Goal has a small statement about why the team should work through the Sprint and the Sprint Backlog contains a detailed list of tasks that has to be completed during the Sprint that aligns with the Sprint Goal.
Scrum functions on an iterative and incremental basis where Sprints are time-boxed iterations that add value to the product. Few terms such as Sprint Backlog and Sprint Goal are often confused by many professionals. When we look at the terms, the Sprint Backlog is a combination of a list of Product Backlog items that are selected by the Developers during the Sprint Planning meeting, a Sprint Goal, and a plan of how the Sprint Goal will be accomplished. The Sprint Goal is a statement that becomes the commitment to the Sprint. All the items on the Sprint Backlog should align with the Sprint Goal. As teams gain more experience, they learn to design Sprint Backlogs that fully justify the Sprint Goal and add value to the product.