When used correctly, the Scrum Sprint Review is the perfect opportunity for stakeholders and Scrum Teams to collaboratively inspect product increments and adapt the Product Backlog, as necessary. By working hand-in-hand, the Scrum team and the stakeholders can determine what could be done in the next Sprint to optimize the value of the next increment of the product.
The problem is, the Sprint Review is often anything but a collaborative meeting. Instead, it is a chore to be checked off a list as teams and business stakeholders sleepwalk through the process of what Gunter Verheyen calls, “mechanical Scrum.” Here are some signs that your Scrum Sprint Review isn’t as effective as it should be, and what you can do to fix it:
Your organization calls the Sprint Review “the Demo”
If you refer to the end of Sprint event as a “Demo,” most likely all that’s happening is a highly constrained demonstration of the product backlog items that your team completed during the Sprint. Instead of a collaborative, “inspect-and-adapt” event, a Sprint Demo is often treated like a dog-and-pony show; at best, the Scrum team will get a few pats on the head before the Product Owner asks if anyone has questions or feedback, waits through a few seconds of awkward silence, and dismisses everyone.
What you can do about it: Stop calling it a Demo. If that’s the name of the event on the calendar, change it. It may seem silly, but the name means something, and it sets expectations for what’s going to happen during the event. If it’s a Demo, that’s all that anyone expects. A “Sprint Review,” however, sets expectations for a broader scope—so match that expectation with an event that goes beyond demonstration and engages everyone in constructive criticism and collaboration about what to do next.
There’s no collaboration
At best, stakeholders only pay attention to the one or two stories that affect their line of business—otherwise, they tend to check email and do other work for the remainder of the event. And if they give feedback at all, it’s likely limited to new requirements they suddenly think of. Some of these new requirements may be mere whims, unsupported by market research or feedback from actual customers; others may be the result of nitpicking, because they feel that “feedback” means “finding fault.” Either way, the Product Owner’s job is to jot that “feedback” down, which essentially turns them into an order taker—not a collaborator: “Thank you for your order, please pull forward to the next Sprint Review window.”
What you can do about it: Get stakeholders involved throughout the Sprint, not just at the Sprint Review. Remember: the stakeholders and the team must collaborate to make a Sprint Review successful. During the demonstration of completed work, go beyond simply showing the software in action; let the Product Owner explain how each completed product backlog item relates to the organization’s mission as a whole. And make sure you’re discussing all the other things that the Sprint Review should cover, which brings us to…
The team doesn’t talk about its challenges
Many teams gloss over any Product Backlog Items that weren’t completed during the Sprint, focusing solely on what is completed and can be demonstrated. But in doing so, they never address the systemic issues that prevent the team from accomplishing its goals.
What you can do about it: The Product Owner should explain what Product Backlog items have been completed, and which ones weren’t finished—and why. All stakeholders should know what constraints the team is laboring under, and how they can help clear up those systemic problems. The Development Team should talk about what went well during the Sprint, surface any problems they ran into, and then discuss how they solved those problems. This discussion may trigger new PBIs for future sprints by pointing out any technical debt that was incurred to get the product into a shippable state. While the “what went wrong, what went well, what we could do differently” discussion is typical for Sprint Retrospectives, it can also be valuable in Sprint Reviews to identify and clear up roadblocks beyond the team’s control.
There’s no discussion of the Product Backlog as it stands
If Sprint Reviews don’t cover what’s remaining in the Product Backlog, stakeholders will be left in the dark about how much effort is required to achieve the organization’s goals. This can lead to dangerous misconceptions that result in publishing unrealistic release dates.
Adding new requests comes at a price—and without transparency, stakeholders are often surprised to learn how deep the backlog remains, even after many Sprints of extensive development work.
What you can do about it: The Product owner should talk about the state of the backlog: How much work is left? How much is new since last time? How does that affect timeline and budget? How does it align with the marketplace for the next expected release or feature set?
The cure for almost any ill in an agile environment is more communication and valuable feedback. Make sure you are getting the most out of your Sprint Review by going beyond a demo and including all of the elements recommended in the Scrum Guide.
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