Secret Confessions of a Product Owner: Stretch Goals vs. Consistency

 An Open Letter to the Development Team...

An Open Letter to the Development Team...

Secret Confessions of a New Product Owner

Stretch Goals vs. Consistency

Many people will argue that being a Product Owner (PO) is the toughest role on a Scrum Team.  Since that is the role I am currently in, I will wholeheartedly agree. :)

During a recent Sprint Planning event, the Development Team (Dev Team) committed to doing a Product Backlog Item (PBI), but labeled it as a “Stretch Goal”.  My “scrum Spidey-sense” immediately went into overdrive.  The resulting conversation went like this:

  • PO:  “What does it mean that you are committing to a “Stretch Goal”.  Isn’t that just work that you commit to doing?”
  • Dev Team: “Well we really want to get that work done for our Customer, but we are not sure if we will have time to get to that?  Things will have to go perfect with our other PBIs in order for us to get to this work.” 
  • PO:  “When is the last time things have gone perfect with all of our PBIs during a Sprint?"

Awkward silence…

Everybody is working with positive intent.  We are a team focused on making our Customer happy in every interaction.  As the Product Owner, I am accountable for setting Customer, Stakeholder, and Organization expectations.  This consumes at least 50% of my time per sprint when I am doing it properly.  Here is how I shared that with the Dev Team:

  • PO:  “First off, thank you for wanting to do more to our Customer.  That attitude is why we are a great team.  Our Customers will benefit from that attitude.  Here is what is most important to me as a Product Owner:  Consistency. 
  • PO:  “Consistency will enable me to focus expectations for everyone involved in our Product.  And because they have seen how good we are at delivering on our commitments, they know they can count on us making good on our commitments.” 
  • PO:  “Consistency will allow us to PLAN FEARLESSLY.  I would prefer that you focus on the PBIs we commit to and not waste any time or energy on the “Stretch Goal” items. 
  • PO:  “Finally, I want our mindset to focus on what we can do and celebrate every success along the way.  I want to avoid us ever saying something like “Wow, we did a lot of great work, but we didn’t get to the stretch goal”.  Do you see how that could deflate the Development Team? 
  • PO:  “I would much rather you come to me on day 7-8 of the Sprint and let me know that the team is likely to have a day of capacity they didn’t anticipate.  I will LOVE that conversation.  You mean, I get to ask the team to focus on something else because everything else you committed to is done?
  • This is a watershed moment for any Scrum Team.  We have finally found our TRUE VELOCITY!

Dev Teams:  Make sure you understand what the Product Owner wants you to produce.  Make sure you understand what they will accept as “done”.   

Want to be a better Software Engineer, Architect, or Developer in an Agile organization? Make sure to check out the upcoming Certified Scrum Developer® training on Feb 19-21 to help you become the be Development Team member possible.  Here are the learning objectives and the certification requirements.  

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Product Owners:  Remind the team that consistency is what you are after.   Consistency will allow the PO to make the best possible decisions to support the Customer which, in turn, supports the organization.

Questions or Comments?  Feel free to start a conversation in the “comments” section or email me at

Want to experiment more with Consistency?  Check out this video from @ChristianAntoine about Perfection vs. Consistency

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About the Authors:

Christian Antoine, CST, CSP, CLP, S@SP, PMI-ACP®  Certified Scrum Trainer and Agile Transformation Coach with the Collaborative Leadership Team.  Working with Agile since 2008, Christian has 20+ years of diversified experience in the medical device, finance, healthcare, securities, international law, and agricultural industries.  Christian consults, trains, and coaches teams and companies on Agile at all levels of the organization. He enjoys helping others see there is a different way to approach work, at a sustainable pace, and get outcomes to delight customers. Prior to Collaborative Leadership Team, Christian worked for Medtronic, Hollstadt & Associates, and Computer Science Corporation (CSC).  A graduate of St. John’s University, Christian resides in Golden Valley, MN with his wife Megan, and children, Madeline, Ellen and Eli.

Tom Auld is the Product Owner, COO, and Agile Coach and Trainer for the Collaborative Leadership Team (CoLeadTeam). CoLeadTeam is the premier Agile Consultancy providing certified and customized training classes, enterprise coaching, and individual mentoring that will set up your organization to reap the benefits of Agile and Scrum. Connect with Tom on LinkedIn or follow him on Twitter @CoLeadTeam & @tcauld.