How I Facilitated a Session About a Controversial Topic Like Sprint Goal

Sprint Goal is tricky. Some people think that it’s a must. Some think that it’s useless. Is there a point somewhere in between? We wanted to figure out. That’s why we gathered with the Scrum Masters in the organization that I help as an Agile Coach.

I know that gathering in a room and giving “important” information about Sprint Goal would not work. People have different ideas, every team has its own conditions and best practices may not work as “plug and play” in a complex environment. So, I wanted to facilitate an interactive session about Sprint Goal. A session which participants don’t want to check their latest Instagram stories. Hopefully, they would leave the room with new ideas to experiment and excitement to apply. Here’s my facilitation format:

Sprint Goal

1 ) Why are we here? 🙄

After welcoming participants, I asked why they were in the meeting. Mostly, that’s not what people expect. It makes people understand that it’s not a listening session. Telling “I want this meeting to be interactive” does not work. Because interactivity is not something you ask for, but it’s something you need to provide.

Then, I clarified the goal of the session which is sharing information about Sprint Goal and deciding new experiments to learn. I asked if this goal made sense. Hopefully, it did. There is an extra benefit of asking a question in the beginning. The research says that if one talks once, the chances are she will talk again.

Afterwards, I asked another question. How many times the “Sprint Goal” is stated in Scrum Guide? “Five!” and “zero!” were two answers. The answer was “twenty-six”. My goal was not to tell Sprint Goal is a must. My intention was creating a sense of urgency because it’s an important topic of the framework they work with. It is worth to discuss.

2 ) What? + Why? 🤷‍

What & Why of Sprint Goal

Providing information is a challenging task. Our instinct is that we should cover all the important stuff about the topic. Participants will love to listen and they’ll learn what we teach. Unfortunately, that’s the rare case. That’s why I use drawing. First, it forces me to focus on the fundamental parts of the topic. Second, it helps people to digest the information easier. Third, you have the opportunity to go back what you mean and discuss it again.

3 ) Your Experience ? 👴

During the informing part, in people’s minds, theory and practice start to fight. So, leaving a space to reveal that fight pays off. I asked people to tell one good and one not so good thing from their experience of using the Sprint Goal. Of course, it didn’t lead to two answers for each person. But lowering the expectations helped people to share easier.

Writing down the ideas shared on the whiteboard helps to revisit during the session.

4 ) How? 👣

Because I already talked about “the what” and “the why”, I wanted to give the space for the participants to interact. Before giving any suggestions, I asked people to decide how they may create the Sprint Goal. That activated people. I wrote down their ideas on the whiteboard. Because it emphazises how valuable their ideas are.

Facilitation is full of surprises. What you plan may not work. People pay attention to the things you didn’t. So, it’s important to adapt their needs. For instance, I had planned “what if?” cases in a different part of the facilitation. But, people didn’t want to wait. They told what if cases in “how?” part. So what I did was combining the next part of the facilitation. But I made clear which ideas are about how and which ones are about what if by writing on a whiteboard. Therefore, we could discuss each category separately in their own context.

5 ) What if? 🤔

Receiving a question is challenging. You may want to instantly give the perfect answer. There are two things to consider before giving the “perfect” answer. The first thing is it’s not easy to understand the real intention behind the question. So, trying to summarize and asking for confirmation may help. The second thing is asking the question back to the other participants. It may trigger valuable discussions which are not possible if you’d give the “perfect” answer.

6 ) Let’s experiment! 🔬

Facilitating a session is an output. The outcome is that participants try new things discovered during the session. So, the last part is asking them what they would do differently after the session. This question is scary to a facilitator. Because you may face with an awkward silence. That’s also a learning. Yes, a learning which does not make you feel good. I was lucky enough to hear what they would try differently. The best thing to happen after hearing them is that the desire to experiment becomes contagious; people hearing other people and deciding their own experiments.

As a facilitator, generally you are the only excited one for the upcoming session. You will facilitate and you want it to be the best one that participants have ever seen. But don’t forget, mostly it’s just a meeting request on participants’ calendar. So, let participants digest what the session offers and give enough space to let them become active.

You have your own thoughts, discoveries and beliefs. But everyone has a different learning journey. It’s better not to plan the session with biased ideas. Because that may kill the opportunities of contribution. This facilitation structure helped me to provide the opportunity. Do your job well and create the best structure in your mind fit for purpose. But, be ready to adapt to what happens during the session.

Lastly, thank you Gülnur Bayhan for helping me to facilitate the session, encourage to write a blog post and review it. Thank you Alper Tonga for showing me how to open a great session and reviewing this blog post.

What do you think? What could be better? Please share your ideas🙌 .

Özmen Adıbelli

Agile Coach

ACM Software

ACM Software


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