Red Green Repeat Adventures of a Spec Driven Junkie

Improving Team Goals

It’s that time of year again, goal setting time!

I am thinking about what goals to set for the upcoming year for me and my team. This article will be a way to help me reflect on the goals I had for the team last year. What was the original intention of the goals, the side-effects I saw throughout the year, and possibly, how to make that goal better if I were to have that goal again.

If you’re a manager and thinking about goals for your team, you can learn from my experiences. If you’re on a team and want to set a goal that will help your manager out, these goals will set you in the right direction.

This article will take you about five minutes to read.

Auguste-Rosalie Bisson - The Ascent of Mont Blanc source and more information


Last year, the main goal given to me regarding my team was to improve the team’s velocity. The average velocity at the end of the year was the measurement.

From this overarching goal given to me, I thought about what goals I could give the team to align with my goal.

I share what goals I set and reflect on how well the goals served me and the team. Possible changes to the goal if we were to pursue them again.

Team’s Goal

I gave the team one individual goal and a team goal. The individual goal would be to complete X number of stories that are worth Y points within a single sprint.

The team goal I set was to have… can you guess? Clean Sprint.

The clean sprint goal was for my direct reports as well as partners that interact with us. The sprint has moving parts with different velocities, directions, and motivations. Getting those aligned with in an organization for a short period is hard! Not everyone in the sprint reports to me, nor can I set their goals. I set clean sprints as a goal because it is easy to understand for everyone in the team.

Individual Goal: Complete X Stories of Y Points in Single Sprint

My motivation to have this goal was aligning the larger clean sprint goal with the individual. I like this goal because:

  • it is easy to measure
  • aligns with clean sprint rule
  • push team members to do more

If anything I learned from previous goals, an open, easy to measure, frequently revisited goal is far more valuable than a precise, difficult to measure, end of year goal.

This goal hits the first three points. I would review with my directs in our 1:1s after every sprint, update, and they can see their progress against the remaining time remaining.

By having a goal closely aligned with the larger team goal benefited and gave a positive feedback. If the sprint is clean, there’s a high chance of accomplishing an individual goal.

Win-win, right?

Side Effects

I wish the goal was as straight forward as I thought it would be. Over time, unforeseen side effects of the goal happened:

  • where the individual story point, Y, is high, there are fewer high point stories in the sprint.
  • thanks to the introduction of technical grooming, there’s story point deflation
  • bit cut-throat effect between team members to take points in sprint reach own goal
  • each team member had similar goal quantities

When setting the team’s and individual goals, I did not have technical grooming as our sprint process. (I know I sound like this is the greatest thing since sliced bread) This meeting had a beneficial effect on the sprint by having everyone on the same page, enhancing the team goal. The detrimental effect to the individual goal was now stories are lower as everyone has a good idea on how to do it.

This made higher point stories scarcer, in effect, producing a cut-throat effect amongst team members to achieve their own goal.

This is the first time I had this goal and set the amounts for everyone at an arbitrary level. Would it be possible for them to achieve? I did a bit of hand-waving to figure out 5, 10, and 20 for each skill and experience level. If technical grooming was not part of our process, this assumption would be true.

Improving Goal

I love how this goal is simple, straight-forward, and aligns with the higher goal. At the same time, allows individuals to push themselves.

The point deflation of process improvement killed the goal for some team members.

Possible solutions:

  • just have a total points done over a period instead of sprint
    • possible benefit: even lower point stories contribute
  • have greater range of values of story points
    • possible benefit: breaking down stories further
  • use the number of stories completed last year as a goal post for each team member

These are just some things I am contemplating at the individual level.

Clean Sprint

The team goal of a clean sprint is a goal I believe in deeply. As they are:

  • easy to follow
  • sets the end goal for the team
  • enforce discipline through whole sprint process
  • aligns everyone involved in the sprint

I can go on and on about clean sprint, and I did! You can read about my thoughts on clean sprints here.

The motivation for this goal is to get the team into a position where sprint velocity is stable. From there, I can analyze to build up towards the larger goal.

Side Effects

As great as that goal is for the team, I observed side effects from having this goal for the team.

  • team not committing to more work if they’re not confident in finishing a story before the end of the sprint
  • sliding in work in/around sprint
  • bugs aren’t pointed, so let bugs fly and pick them up after completing the priority story

These behaviors are detrimental to productivity in the first case as team members are using the clean sprint rule to hide behind not picking up more work, especially “not hurting the team”.

A peer gave me feedback exactly on this. I caught off guard as I loved having the simple rule, I could not find a way to change during the goal period because of abuse. I want to spend time to reflect on how to improve this goal given this known side effect.

Improving Goal

After a year of having this rule, ideas that come to me as I consider last year’s performance and this year’s goals:

  • change rule of “clean sprint” to: X% of work in “done” column
  • only allow sprints to be “dirty” X% of time
  • no more than X dirty sprints in a row
  • can have dirty sprint if current sprint does more work than:
    • last sprint
    • average of last X sprints
  • complete “core stories” to consider sprint clean
    • sprint is clean if the stories carried over are new to the sprint and the next sprint’s priorities

These are things I am considering for the team.


Having simple and clear goals for the individuals on my team and the team in general helped guide their performance over the last year. Considering the improvements over the year, I am proud of the team’s results.

Velocity Chart for first Fourteen Sprints

Now I have to ask: “Can we do better?”

I believe so. At the same time, following the same rules may not produce the same or even desired result. I know there’s a better way and we can build from current experience to get there.

As I contemplate past and upcoming individual and team goals. I wonder if I have to start doing more studying to see what are the best practice in this area. I feel my engineering background helps and I am coming to an area where different knowledge and practice would help me think of better solutions.