Beyond Scrum Events - Sprint Planning


This Sprint Backlog is our commitment for this Sprint” is frequently echoed at the end of Sprint Planning events. Even though this belief is commonly seen in environments adopting Scrum, it clashes hashly with the nature in which Scrum was conceived, to address complex adaptive problems through empiricism.

The real purpose of a Sprint is to deliver an outcome - not output - via a potential releasable increment. In other words, the focus is on WHAT and not so much on HOW.

Output: an amount of something produced by a person, machine, factory, country, etc

Outcome: a result or effect of an action, situation, etc.


Let’s suppose you are going to hike today. You arrived at the foot of the mountain very early in the morning, looked up to the top and set a goal to be there on the top by the end of that morning. You trace a plan that is the path you will follow even though you are not able to see it entirely. You start your journey, after a few hours of walking, you cross a forest and you either see the river has flooded covering the track or realise there is a shortcut to get you up to the top of the mountain quicker. What would you do? Would you adapt your initial plan to achieve your goal or you would keep following your plan because you *committed* to it at the start?

I guess that adapting the plan to achieve the goal is the most wise decision in this situation. Linking it to our Sprints, the same logic applies. There are many ways to get you to the top of a mountain as to achieve a Sprint Goal. The more clarity we get throughout the way/Sprint, the better is your position to take decisions and this will most likely imply in adapting your plan.

“... The Development Team modifies the Sprint Backlog throughout the Sprint and the Sprint Backlog emerges during the Sprint. This emergence occurs as the Development Team works through the plan and learns more about the work needed to achieve the Sprint Goal.” Scrum Guide.

Choosing different paths

Choosing different paths

Jeff Patton illustration between output and outcome

Jeff Patton illustration between output and outcome

Jeff Patton illustrated very well the correlation between output and outcome in the picture below. It may seem counterintuitive but by having a goal, an aimed outcome, we should work on reducing the output to achieve it. In other words, find effective ways to get to the top of the mountain. 

Therefore, by the end of the Sprint Planning, Scrum Teams should be able to clearly answer two questions:

  1. What can be delivered in the increment resulting from the upcoming Sprint? 

    • Sprint Goal / Outcome 

  2. How will the work needed to deliver the increment be achieved? 

    • FORECASTED Sprint Backlog/Output to achieve the Sprint Goal. 

In a nutshell:

You COMMIT to the Sprint Goal (WHAT), FORECAST through the Sprint Backlog and HOW you intend to achieve it!

Focus on having Sprint Goals and stop using “Commitment” for Sprint Backlog - use “Forecast” instead. Let’s keep options open to better deal with complexity and to continuously deliver value to our customers.

If you would like to learn more, Ammeon Solutions will be hosting Scrum Master training on the 11th & 12th of September in Dublin, Click here for more details

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