Agile Goal Setting With Scrum

At last week’s Agile Manager’s Support Group, our very own Laura Powers, goddess of biz dev here at Agile Learning Labs, wowed us all with an exercise in personal goal-setting adapted from the basic framework of scrum. Laura knows a thing or two about meeting goals, having recently completed her first marathon.

She started the evening off with some pretty sobering statistics from Mark H. McCormack’s What They Don’t Teach You At Harvard Business School: In a survey of Harvard Business School grads, 84% had no goals at all; 13% had goals; and only 3% had written goals. Five years later, the grads with unwritten goals had earned twice as much as their goal-less peers, but those with written goals earned 10x more.

Now, one could argue correlation rather than cause, but I know myself that grand, amorphous goals never come to anything, but that plans that include incremental steps do. And this is where scrum comes in. Laura led us through creating a rough backlog of goals, using the Goddard List by way of example. Mine started with “Sail solo from San Francisco to Hawaii” and “Sell 1M copies of my mystery novel, Shooting Stars.”

Then Laura did something even more interesting: she asked us to think about stating our goals as user stories, ie: “As a sailor I want to sail from San Francisco to Hawaii so that I can experience being utterly alone and self-reliant in the middle of thousands of miles of water.”

She described how we might task out our stories, arrange them into sprints, and even use friends and family to form a support team for sprint demos and retrospectives.

Chris and I plan to sit down together and use Laura’s method for planning our financial goals (I’m keen to buy a house one of these days), and personal goals (I’ve got my sailing thing, and he has a Mustang in the garage that hasn’t seen pavement in 10 years). We’ll let you know how it goes!

I can see uses for this method in business. What a great way for an HR department to help support employees’ career development paths, complete with reporting and accountability, for example! If you’d like Laura to do her thing at your user group, drop us a line at

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