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Goals vs. Systems - The Agile Context

August 16, 2017

You may be familiar with the debate on Goals vs. Systems. Some scholars suggest that systems are more useful than goals. I think both Goals and Systems are both useful and necessary. I think it is less useful to pit them against each other. Both concepts support each other. Perhaps the title of this blog should read “Goals and Systems” rather than “Goals vs. Systems”.


Goals are things that we want to achieve in life. The “be”, “have”, “do”, “see” type things.


A system is a set of principles or procedures according to which something is done. It implies organization or method of doing things.


People who set goals achieve more than people who don’t. Paradoxically, many people set goals and never achieve them. The distinction is that just setting goals is not enough and we need to act on them diligently. Establishing a system helps in acting on the goal.




In the Agile (Scrum) context, it is very useful for a team to set themselves a clear goal for the sprint. Once a Sprint Goal is established, it is equally important to follow a system for achieving that goal. That system comprises of practices such as Backlog grooming, Daily stand-up, Sprint Review and Sprint Retrospective. These practices create attention and spur action.




  • During the Sprint planning meeting, make sure the team sets a Sprint goal for that sprint. The Sprint Goal is more than just selecting the backlog items for the Sprint. Express the Sprint Goal clearly in a short sentence that outlines business value from doing work on the selected backlog items.

  • Follow the systems of Scrum without skipping any practice. Have daily stand-up’s every day and visit the Sprint Goal once every few days to orient effort towards desired outcome. Discuss the status of the Sprint Goal at the Sprint Review meeting. Discuss and fine tune the systems approach to achieving the sprint goal during the Sprint Retrospective.


Further reading


  1. Forget About Setting Goals. Focus on This Instead by James Clear

  2. Goals vs. Systems by Scott Adams

  3. Sprint Planning Meeting by Mike Cohn



Hope you found the Article useful. We would love to hear your feedback.


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