Product Goal & Sprint Goals – Why They Are Important

According to Scrum, The Product Goal is the commitment to the Product Backlog. But what does that really mean? How does a Product Goal differ from a Sprint Goal? How does a Product Goal relate to the Product Vision or Product Strategy?

First some more detail on what these things are and why they are important

Product Goal

  • The Product Goal is a simple directional statement that defines an objective and purpose (the “why”) for the work in the Product Backlog.
  • It should be motivational, directional, tangible, measurable, and concise.
  • The Product Goal exists in the Product Backlog.
  • Not every Product Backlog Item in the Product Backlog needs to relate to the current Product Goal.
  • There is only one Product Goal for the Product Backlog at any one time, although it could address multiple objectives.
  • As each Increment is produced, the product incrementally moves toward the Product Goal.

Sprint Goal

  • The Sprint Goal is a simple directional statement that defines an objective and purpose (the “why”) for the work in the Sprint Backlog.
  • It should be motivational, directional, tangible, measurable, and concise.
  • The Sprint Goal exists in the Sprint Backlog.
  • Not every Product Backlog Item in the Sprint Backlog needs to contribute to the Sprint Goal.
  • There is only one Sprint Goal for the Sprint Backlog at any one time, although it could address multiple objectives.
  • As each Sprint Goal is achieved, the product incrementally moves toward the Product Goal.

As you can see, the definition of the Product Goal and Sprint Goal are near identical with the scope of each being the only real difference. This is because they serve a similar purpose over a different time period.

Product Vision, Product Strategy & Product Roadmaps are outside of the scope of Scrum and therefore not covered by the Scrum Guide. However, they are commonly used complementary good practices, so it is worth describing them in the context of the Product Goal & Sprint Goals.

Product Vision – There may also be a Product Vision that describes the Product Goal in more detail or it may describe a much higher level narrative where the Product Goal (or a series of Product Goals) is the first step towards that much bigger vision.

Product Strategy & Product Roadmap – A Product Strategy or Product Roadmap often provides a directional plan for realising the Product Goal (or a series of Product Goals). Product Goals are the milestones on a Product Roadmap that teams need to target to realise their Product Vision.

Why are Product Goals & Sprint Goals important?

“Artifacts that have low transparency can lead to decisions that diminish value and increase risk. Transparency enables inspection. Inspection without transparency is misleading and wasteful.”
The Scrum Guide

The commitment contained in each artifact (Product Goal, Sprint Goal and Definition of Done) is intended to improve the transparency around the associated artifact. This enables better inspection and adaptation which ultimately leads to a more effective empirical approach. Empiricism is deciding what to do next based on what we learn, informed by data, and feedback. Empiricism is what Scrum is all about.

Why can we only work on 1 Product Goal at a time?

“The Product Goal is the long-term objective for the Scrum Team. They must fulfil (or abandon) one objective before taking on the next.”
The Scrum Guide

Many leaders are ineffective at setting clear priorities. They either do not (or cannot) prioritise, do not clearly communicate the priorities when set, or set many (e.g. 5+) top priorities (the “everything is a priority, therefore, nothing is a priority” situation).

The result of all or any of these is that the people closest to the work (and often the most junior people) get to set the priorities in practice. This is not a situation you want to be in as they are unlikely to have access to all the information they would need to make good decisions. The big priorities should be set by someone who has the big picture.

Picking one tangible, measurable, and succinct Product Goal provides real guidance on what is most (potentially) valuable to the Scrum Team and stakeholders. It leaves less space for ambiguity. Less can be more!

The intention around the Product Goal is to ensure focus and transparency around what is most important to achieve and why.

Now, of course, there are some possibilities left available for us here. The Product Goal could address multiple objectives. This may reduce focus and transparency, but may be appropriate under certain conditions.