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This blog has been produced in collaboration between Patricia Kong, Glaudia Califano and David Spinks.

In Scrum, the Sprint Review event is when the Scrum Team collaborates with stakeholders by inspecting the work that was completed during the Sprint and discussing how to move forward in a valuable way.

However, in our experience, it is rare that teams get the full value that they should from their Sprint Reviews. We and others have experienced Sprint Reviews more as performance reviews or demos that feel like one-way presentations from the team. The opportunity for Scrum Teams and their stakeholders to explore the current and potential value of products, market insights and technology trends that could be leveraged is often missed. 

We discuss in our book, Facilitating Professional Scrum Teams, how we’ve experienced numerous Sprint Reviews and found common reasons why Sprint Reviews are not as effective as they could be. In this blog, we share different ideas, challenges and facilitation techniques to help you and your teams have more effective Sprint Reviews, ones that are motivated by curiosity, valuable feedback and product innovation.

Involving the Right People

We are often asked for advice about what to do about stakeholders in Sprint Reviews who are disengaged or they do not actually contribute anything valuable. Perhaps it is that they are not the right stakeholders to have at the Sprint Review, and the real question is whether these people should be there at all. 

We advise Scrum Teams to really think about who should be at the Sprint Review. Some questions that can prompt a discussion on who should be involved include:

  • Who are the users of the product?
  • Who are the potential users of the product?
  • Who is purchasing the product, if not the actual users?
  • Who is investing in the product?
  • Who is helping the team work toward its current or future goal(s)?
  • Who can give input about the market?
  • Who understands the related technological landscape?
  • Who else would bring a variety of perspectives and experiences to the table, sparking creativity and innovation?

Once a Scrum Team identifies their stakeholders, they can devise strategies on how they should be engaged. For example, for some stakeholders, sending them a regular report might suffice. Others might need to be at the Sprint Review to give feedback on the product, or to update the team on the latest market or technological trends, whereas other stakeholders just need to be there to understand the progress being made towards the Product Goal. If there are many stakeholders in attendance, there may be the need for setting expectations around engagement and participation.

“I worked with one team who held their Sprint Review virtually, and they set clear boundaries on who was invited as a contributing stakeholder versus other attendees (internal colleagues) who were invited as observers only. They did this because in previous Sprint Reviews some of their internal colleagues were attending but obviously not always focused on the event, which could be distracting. Observers were asked to keep their mic and camera off, but they were encouraged to leave their thoughts on a virtual feedback wall. The members of the Scrum Team focussed  their engagement with the contributing stakeholders in real-time feedback discussions during the event itself.”

– Patricia Kong

Techniques to try

  • Stakeholder Mapping
  • Decision Matrices
  • Feedback Wall

From Passive to Participative

Having the right people part of Sprint Reviews is a good start, but is of low value if they are not engaged. Preparing for each Sprint Review is an important step in setting the tone of the event and this could include inviting stakeholders to consider how they will contribute value to the event.

“I worked at an ecommerce company that had been doing for some time. A typical Sprint Review involved the Scrum Teams showing the latest functionality in quite some detail. The event was fairly well attended, but after a demo very little else happened. Stakeholders and Scrum Team members left the room, and those who joined remotely simply said their goodbyes and left the call. There was no real feedback, no information was shared from the stakeholders, no discussion about user experiences, no discussion about long-term goals or new opportunities. I later discovered that the vast majority of stakeholders didn’t actually know why they had been invited to the event in the first place.

As a team we changed tact and decided to craft an invitation to the Sprint Review to the stakeholders that we would send to them prior to the event. The invite would include the Sprint Goal. We also included questions for the stakeholders such as, ‘What do you hope to get out of this Sprint Review?’ and ‘What valuable contributions or perspectives can you bring to the Sprint Review?’ In the next couple of Sprint Reviews, we would start the event by asking those present, including the team members, to pair up to share their answers to these questions. This act of asking everyone to actively think about how they could be valuable contributors and share intentions with each other helped everyone to feel more accountable and create a feeling that they had permission to contribute.

– David Spinks 

Rather than just demo-ing the latest version of the product, creating a collaborative learning space where stakeholders can actually interact with the product can be highly effective. One of the most effective approaches that we have used is to put the product into the stakeholder’s hands, get them to carry out a task and observe how they get on. Product intuitiveness, usability and fitness-for-purpose gets properly tested rather than these sorts of elements being left to subjective opinion. Questions can then be asked as a follow up such as: 

  • Was the product intuitive to use? 
  • Did they have a good experience? 
  • Does the product fulfil a need? 
  • How might the product be improved?

Another approach that we like to use is to get the stakeholders to think about the current state of the product, facilitated by asking them to respond to prompts individually and anonymously using sticky notes on a physical or virtual wall.

Techniques to try

  • Stakeholder Invite
  • Put the Stakeholders into the Driver’s Seat
  • Perfection Game
  • What? So What? Now What?

Capturing Important Feedback

Having a general open discussion following a demonstration of the product is not the most inclusive way of facilitating a Sprint Review. It might suit some people perfectly fine, but other people may need more time to reflect and gather their thoughts, or they might be reserved, or find it difficult speaking up in front of a group. There could be groupthink, or dominant personalities, or loud voices that skew the feedback and direction of the discussion. There are potentially many valuable ideas that go to waste or other problems, simply because of the way the session is facilitated. It is also important that both Scrum Team members and stakeholders know that ideas are appreciated. If what people raise goes unacknowledged then this risks demotivating people from sharing any further ideas that could spark creativity or raise new opportunities. 

Allowing everyone to capture their thoughts on sticky notes individually and in silence that are then stuck in a shared space, followed by some time for everyone to individually review the content before starting any discussion is one technique to give a more equal opportunity for thoughts to come out, emphasising the content and not from who it came from.

There are times during a Sprint Review when people get stuck on an idea and cannot move on, hindering being open to other perspectives and ideas. One way to mitigate this, is to allocate someone to record what is being said in real time, and in a way that is visible to all, such as on a big white board in front of the group or a shared virtual space if the Sprint Review is carried out online. When people can see that their thoughts and ideas are being captured then they feel more listened to and they are also more likely to move on and listen to other ideas.

Techniques to try

  • Silent Writing
  • Chartwriting

Deciding on What Action to Take

Not all feedback at a Sprint Review is possible to take forward. So, how does a Scrum Team decide on what feedback is valuable and what next steps to take?

It is important that how decisions are made is transparent. In Scrum, the Product Owner has the final say on the Product Backlog order and content, and they can do so in isolation and without consultation. While this does not break any Scrum rules, it may be seen that any feedback is pointless as the Product Owner will always follow their own agenda anyway. At the other extreme, if every decision requires unanimous buy-in from everyone involved, it can take a lot of time to build consensus and discussions can often result in stalemate. 

To mitigate these risks, a team and its stakeholders can agree on some lightweight rules for making decisions. For example, if more than a certain percentage of users find a feature difficult to use as part of the feedback, the team will automatically work on trying to improve it. Or when deciding what action to take, this could be done through a vote, which can be facilitated in a number of different ways.

Making decision-making processes clear and encouraging everyone to have input into decisions, helps with engagement and shows everyone that their opinion is valued.

Techniques to try

  • Decision Rules
  • Roman Voting
  • Fist of Five

Facilitating Ongoing Reviews

Scrum’s Sprint Review has perhaps become the place most synonymous for reviewing and getting feedback. However, taking additional review and feedback opportunities even more regularly can be beneficial in rapidly changing conditions and environments.

“I was involved in the design and launch of a new Scrum.org training class. Part of this involved running beta-testing classes with real students. Every class involved learning about what worked well about the class and what didn’t, generating new ideas to evolve it for the next test. Things would have moved considerably slower had we waited to the end of a 2-week Sprint to look at the class reviews and feedback from the students and discuss it with the stakeholders for the product (this included people from, sales, marketing, communication, courseware, other trainers etc.)” 

– Glaudia Califano

Having a formalised regular cadence of one month or less where a Scrum Team reviews, gathers and assimilates feedback on its product in our view is a sufficient minimum. Agility can be enhanced further by facilitating more regular reviews. This could be as soon as something is finished, or even earlier when there is value in discussing something in progress as it takes shape. Facilitation of these reviews should be lightweight, it could be done by anyone on the team, and it might only involve one or two key stakeholders for the item in question, with other stakeholders brought up to speed in the formal Sprint Review. 

By getting even earlier feedback, the team gets even earlier validation on whether what it is doing meets stakeholder expectations, reducing the risk of building the wrong thing. Conversations at the formal review should then actually be easier and potentially more valuable, as they can shift from being less about what functionality has been built and how it works, to whether it is solving the problem it is expected to, greater focus on emerging empirical evidence, and deciding on what should be done next.

Techniques to try

  • Facilitate regular informal reviews
  • Take turns facilitating

Conclusion

The Sprint Review should be facilitated in such a way to drive towards the purpose of the event – that is to collaborate on validating the current value of the product and to decide on what direction to take it next. Whether discovering new information about customer behaviour or their expectations, market or technological trends, or how the product is being received, great Scrum Teams and their stakeholders utilise the Sprint Review and other ongoing inspection and adaptation opportunities to put themselves, their product and their organisations at a competitive advantage.

 

For more facilitation ideas, check out our book: Facilitating Professional Scrum Teams: Improve Team Alignment, Effectiveness and Outcomes, part of The Professional Scrum Series published by Addison-Wesley Professional and has almost 100 ideas for you to add to your facilitation toolkit.

Feature image by RDNE Stock Project on Pexels

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