Sprint Planning: Are You Doing It Backwards?

Bart has been in ecommerce for over 20 years, and can't imagine a better job to have. He is interested in all things agile, or anything new to learn.

Here's the problem: many teams plan their sprints completely backwards. This isn’t entirely unexpected; the Scrum Guide is fairly sparse when it comes to the topic of creating the goal for a sprint, basically stating that the Sprint Goal is the objective for the sprint, and it is meant to inform, inspire and guide the team with regards to what to build, even explaining why the team is working on the product at all. Yet, this all seems a bit self-referential — the goal is what they are working on, and what the team is working on brings them towards the goal? This doesn’t seem to provide a lot of guidance to the team.

No surprise then that many teams craft their goal in a bottoms-up fashion. The team takes a look at what is on the top of the backlog, with perhaps a bit of addition from the product owner and other stakeholders, and makes the goal by compiling the stories and tasks that are added to the sprint. For a simple example, imagine that I want to be prepared for a party I’m hosting tonight. My personal backlog might contain tasks such as pick up ice, get snacks, select music and vacuum the carpet. I add those four tasks to my daily list and decide that my objective is to pick up ice and food, clean the house, and choose some tunes. Easy to understand, and it sounds a lot like a simple to-do list. And yet, I can do all those things and still not be ready for the party.

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