Personal Development Goals in Scrum: “We are made, not born”

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Is there a place for Personal Development Goals in Scrum? Let me give you some insight in my train of thought, and an experiment I did a while back. In my career as a Scrum Master I have helped facilitate and guide a few Sprints. Creating a valuable Increment (and achieving the Sprint Goal) is the main pursuit. At the beginning of the Sprint, during the Sprint Planning, two questions are usually discussed:

  1. What is done during the sprint: what is the Sprint Goal?
  2. How is the Sprint Goal achieved: what are the estimates and prioritization of the Sprint Backlog?

Two other questions that I often point out to the Scrum Team during Sprint Planning are:

  • How does the Sprint Goal relate to the Product Goal? How does this Sprint fit into the bigger picture? This question can perhaps be summarized as the “Why?”. A reflection on the Product Goal by the Product Owner can give the team more focus on the added value of the Sprint Goal;
  • An important addition to the How-question is an evaluation of the current Definition of Done: what are the acceptance criteria of the Product Backlog Items? A well-defined Definition of Done assists the team in making accurate estimates.

So far so good. The “What?”, “How?” and “Why?” are very clear questions that are grafted onto the nature of the work that needs to be done to arrive at a valuable Increment. However, the emphasis is on the utilitarian, very much focused on the product. But it’s not just the product that grows with an increment.

Personal growth and development

The people in the team will also grow. They take their collective experiences with them and will also gain new experiences in the Sprint(s) to come. The underlying principles of Empiricism also apply to the knowledge and experience of the Scrum Team. We are made, not born.

Personal Development Goals in Scrum

In my opinion, a certain question is underexposed: Who is the Scrum Team?

  • What are their motivations? And are these aligned with the Sprint and/or Product Goal?
  • How exactly do they contribute to achieving the Sprint Goal? What qualities do they possess that are of added value in this Sprint?
  • How do they want to develop themselves during this Sprint?

People each have their own motivations, hopes, fears and ambitions. They hold their position based on their skills and passion and have their own vision of their discipline – and perhaps also of the product and the Sprint. Or perhaps they wish to be coached in applying the pillars of Empiricism (transparency, inspection and adaptation) in order to better master the process.

I am proposing there should be room within the Sprint(s) to sharpen skills and to gain additional knowledge. Could we include personal development goals in Scrum? By actually learning from practice, new insights can be gained. One of the characteristics of a self-organizing team is that they should have the freedom to experiment and choose (new) directions (Ockerman & Reindl, 2020).

Openness and transparency about the current (and future) knowledge and skills, provides the Scrum Team with insight into the status quo. The question is whether there is room within the Scrum Events to highlight these personal learning goals. As a Scrum Master, you could facilitate moments to reflect on these goals, to evaluate and inspect them, and then adapt them.

An experiment

To evaluate the impact of treating personal development goals during the sprint, I set up a small experiment. In a recent sprint, prior to the Sprint Planning, I posed the following question to the entire Scrum Team (both the Product Owner and the Developers):

“In addition to drawing up a sprint goal, I also want to ask everyone for the upcoming Sprint Planning whether they also have a personal (development) goal. Then we can take this into account during the Sprint – and also include it in the Sprint Retrospective (…).”

My goal was to ask every team member, during the Sprint Planning if they also have a personal development goal. After completing the sprint, during the Sprint Retrospective, we would reflect on this goal.

All team members shared their own development goal with the team during the Sprint Planning. The goals ranged from “evaluating the quality of the code”, to “being able to better manage stakeholders”.

We then discussed these learning objectives with all team members during the Sprint Retrospective. After the Sprint Retrospective, I inquired the team members about their experiences with drafting and evaluating the personal development goals.

Feedback, take aways and further development

As feedback I received the following points:

  • The team liked that this question was asked well before the Sprint Planning so that they could take their time to set a learning goal. A single team member needed more time to come up with a personal development goal;
  • One of the Developers had drawn up a learning objective that was closely linked to the approach for a technical solution for one of the PBIs. During the Sprint, this Developer had opted for an alternative approach and as a result the development goal could not be achieved properly. The Developer in question indicated that they took into consideration that the achievement of the Sprint Goal was more important than their personal learning goal;
  • The Sprint Planning was seen as a logical moment to discuss the personal development goals, the Sprint Retrospective as a good time to reflect on these goals;
  • Discussing the personal development goals was seen as a team effort, and not as something that should necessarily apply only to individual members;
  • Openly sharing the development goals was also seen as an element of accountability. One Developer voiced: “when I stated my development goal, I had the feeling that I really had to commit to it”;
  • It was suggested that during the Sprint the learning goals should be centrally accessible for the sake of transparency.

All in all a successful experiment, in which there is still room for optimization. I myself would like to make a few other additions in a new Sprint:

  • Linking one’s own knowledge and skills to the Sprint Goal: what can the team members do to contribute to achieving the Sprint Goal? With this I would like to appeal to their own knowledge and passion. With this I would stimulate the team members to think about how they want to utilize their skills – and implicitly think about knowledge and skills that they do not (yet) have;
  • I would coach the team members to use a tool like SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound) to set up their personal development goals. It’s easier to succeed when you have clearly defined objectives that are based in reality.

Final thoughts

It is far from my intention to amend the existing framework. The Scrum framework as is, is lightweight and versatile. But if there is room to include personal development within sprints, I would recommend to do so. If you can facilitate discussions about personal development, you can create situations in which team members can consciously make an effort to improve themselves. The importance of personal development cannot be understated, as it allows team members to become the best versions of themselves, giving them the skills and confidence necessary to navigate any situation. Making room for personal development can have positive effects on motivation, confidence, self-awareness and above all – a healthy work culture.


Ockerman, S. & Reindl, S. (2020). Mastering Professional Scrum (1st edition).

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