I've always been praising the value of maintaining a stable rhythm (cadence) of the software delivery - frequent, regular, habitual, nearly continuous. That's why as a Kanban aficionado I've never minded the concept of a sprint - and in particular the specific idea of a sprint goal. I believe such nearby targets underline the "why" behind the work and boost the motivation of product-oriented team members.

However ...

... sprint-level goals are definitely not enough to sustain long-term development effects. They are too volatile - they change too often to make people genuinely care, to unleash their grit & persistence in striving to reach the truly motivating goal. Something truly meaningful can't be reached in two weeks ... It just doesn't feel right.

Sprint's goal is still relevant (to preserve the accountability for short-term commitments), but I've learned to split the goals into two categories:

  • operational (short-term,  "common" ones)
  • aspirational (mid-, long-term, ambitious & frequently infinite game-style ones)

While the former group is more about keeping the tact (& the delivery discipline) of the work, the latter serves a different purpose - it's something to chase for, distant - yet reachable (feasible to achieve).

Based on my own observations:

  1. teams w/o goals (no operational ones, no aspirational ones) quickly lose any engagement they had, disconnect from the organization & lose any belief in the leadership (they may have had before)
  2. teams w/ only operational goals suffer from "Scrum fatigue" syndrome - routine slowly kills their passion, they get jaded & lose any perspective on "the big picture"
  3. teams w/ only aspirational goals quickly get frustrated by missing the framework to execute on a daily basis - they do believe in the end-game & they'd love to get there, but they can't get moving
  4. teams w/ both operational & aspirational goals operate at full potential - efficient in day-to-day operations & with a course well set on the grand prize

There are apparent differences between what can and what cannot be an operational or an aspirational goal. While the operational goals serve mainly the purpose of governance (so they don't have to be truly inspiring), the aspirational ones need to resonate well with team members' intrinsic motivations. In essence, they need to fulfill them somehow (cause the sense of accomplishment when met), to remain really captivating.

Another tricky aspect of aspirational goals is ... the climax - actual momentum of getting there (because eventually you need to be getting there ... once in a while ...) - and this trickiness is indeed multidimensional :)

  • time - one can't get there too soon, nor too late
  • difficulty - the win has to be well deserved & well earned (it's the effort that makes us appreciate the win)
  • completeness - the success cannot overshadow the future goals - there always has to be another prize, worthy of reaching for (next)
  • progression - it has to make you feel different: better, more capable, advanced in some way, elevated even
  • fairness - one has to feel that it was her/him (and her/his teammates) who've done the heavy lifting & earned the laurels
  • ownership - aspirational goals (to work) cannot be imposed

With so many vital aspects to consider, it's not that surprising that organizations keep failing so frequently in setting, re-iterating & striving towards different kinds (layers) of goals. That needlessly causes a lot of frustration,  discouragement & overall helplessness. While (ironically) all that people may have needed was to be appropriately challenged (both short- & long-term) ...

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