How to Run a Successful Sprint Review Meeting

A Sprint Review is a meeting that closes and approves a Sprint in Scrum. Value of this meeting comes to inspect the increment and adapt the Product Backlog accordingly to current business conditions. This is a session where the Scrum Team and all interested stakeholders can attend to exchange information regarding progress made during the Sprint. They discuss problems and update the work plan to meet current market needs and approach a once determined product vision in a new way.

This meeting is supposed to enable feedback loop and foster collaboration, especially between the Scrum Team and all Stakeholders. A Sprint Review will be valuable for product development if there is an overall understanding of its purpose and plan. To maximize its value, it’s good to be aware of the impediments Scrum Team could meet. We would like to share our experience with a Sprint Review, the most important problems and facts discovered during numerous projects run by our team from Grape Up. As one of our company values is Drive Change, we are continuously working on enhancing our Scrum Process by investigating problems, resolving them, and implementing proper solutions to our daily work.

“Meetings – coding work balance.“

It’s a hard reality for managers leading projects. A lot of teams have a problem with too many meetings which disorganize daily work and may be an obstacle to deliver increment. Every group consists of both; people who hate meetings and prefer focusing on coding and meetings-lovers who always have thousands of questions and value teamwork over working independently. Internal team meetings or chats with stakeholders are an important part of daily work only when they bring any benefit to the team or product. Scrum prescribes four meetings during a Sprint: Sprint planning, the Daily Scrum, a Sprint Review and a Sprint Retrospective. It all makes collaboration critical to run a successful Scrum Team.

A stereotype developer who sits in his basement and doesn’t go on the daylight, who is introvert doesn’t fit this vision. Communication skills are very important for every scrum developer. Beyond technical skills and the ability to create good quality code, they need to develop their soft skills. Meetings are time-consuming and here comes a real threat that makes many people angry – after a few quarters of discussions, you may see no progress in coding. You need to confront with opinions of your colleagues and many times it’s not easy. Moreover, you need to describe to the managers what are you doing in a different language than JavaScript or Python.

For many professionals, the ideal world would be to sit comfortably in front of a screen and just write good quality code. But wait… Do people really want to do the work that no one wants? Create functionalities no one needs? Feedback exchange may not help to speed up the production process but for sure can boost the quality and usability of an application. The main idea of Scrum is to inspect and adapt continuously, and there is no way to do it without discussion and collaboration. In agile, the team’s information flow and early transformation is the main thing. It saves money and “lives”!

A Sprint Review gives a unique chance to stop for a moment and look at all the work done. It’s an important meeting that helps to keep roadmap and backlog in good health together with the market expectations. This is not only a one-side demo but a discussion of all participating guests. Each presented story should be talked through. Each attendee can ask questions, and the Product Owner or a team member should be able to answer it. It’s good to be as neutral as it’s possible neither praise nor criticize. Focus on evaluating features, not people.

Our team works for external clients from the USA, and our contact with them is constricted by time zones. A Sprint Review helps us to understand better client needs and step into their shoes. The development team can share their ideas and obstacles, and what is most important, enrich the understanding of the business value of their input. Each team member presents own part of a project, describes how it works, and asks the client for feedback. Sometimes we even share a work that's not 100% completed to be sure we are heading into the right direction to adapt on the early phase of implementation.

"Keep calm and work": No timeboxing

A Sprint Review should be open to everyone interested in joining the discussion. Main guests are the Product Owner, the Development Team, and business representation, but other stakeholders are also welcome. Is there a Scrum Master on board? For sure it should be! This may lead to a quite big meeting when many points of view occur and clash with each other. Uncontrolled discussion lasting hours is a real threat.

The Scrum Master’s role is to keep all meetings on track and allow everyone to talk. Parkinson’s Law is an old adage that says "work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion." Every Scrum Master’s golden rule of conducting meetings should be to schedule session blocks for the minimum amount of time needed. Remember that too long gathering may be a waste of time. Even if you are able to finish a meeting in 30 min, but had planned it for 1 hour, it will finally take the entire hour. Don’t forget that long and worthless meetings are boring.

An efficient Sprint Review needs to keep all guests focused and engaged. For a 1-week sprint, it should last about one hour; for a 2-week sprint, two hours. The Scrum Master’s role is to ensure theses time boxes but also to facilitate a meeting and inform when discussion leaves a trace. There should be time to present the summary of the last sprint: what was done and what wasn’t, to demonstrate progress and to answer all questions. Finally, additional time for gathering new ideas that will for sure appear. The second part of the meeting should be focused on discussing and prioritizing current backlog elements to adjust to customer and market needs. It’s a good moment for all team members to listen to the customer and get to know the management perspective and plan the next release content and date. A Sprint Review is an ideal moment for stakeholders to bring new ideas and priorities to the dev team and reorder backlog with Product Owner. During this session, all three Scrum pillars meet: transparency, inspection, and adaptation.

YOLO! : Preparation is for weak

A good plan is an attribute of a well-conducted meeting! No one likes mysterious meetings. An invitation should inform not only about time, place, and date of the meeting but also about the high-level program. Agenda is the first step of a good Sprint Review but not the only one. To be sure that Sprint Review will be satisfying for all participants, everyone needs to be well prepared. Firstly, the Product Owner should decide what work can be presented and create a clear plan of the demo and the entire meeting. The second step is to determine people responsible for each presented feature. Their job is to prepare the environment, interesting scenarios, and all needed materials. But before asking the team for it, make sure they know how to do it. Not all of the people are born presenters, but they can become one with your help.

In our team, we help each other with preparations to the Sprint Review. We work in Poland, but our customers are mostly from the USA. Not only the distance and time difference is a challenge but also language barriers. If there is a need everyone can ask for a rehearsal demo where we can present our work, discuss potential problems, and ask each other for more details. We’re constantly improving our English to make sure everything is clear to our clients. This boosts everyone’s self-confidence and final receipt. Team members know what to do, they’re ready for potential questions and focus on input from stakeholders. This is how we improve not only Sprint Reviews to be better and better but also communication skills.

"Work on your own terms": No DoD

“How ready is your work?”. Imagine a world where each developer decides when s/he finished work on her/his own terms. For one, it’s when the code is just compiled, for others it includes unit tests and it's compatible with coding standards, or even integration and usability tests. Everything works on a private branch but when it comes to integrating… boom! The team is trying to prepare a version to demonstrate but the final product crashes. The Product Owner and stakeholders are confused. A sprint without potentially releasable work is a wasted sprint. This dark scenario shouldn’t have happened to any Scrum Team.

To save time and to avoid misunderstandings, it’s good to speak the same language. All team members should be aware of the meaning of the word “done”. In our team, this keeps us on track with a transparent view of what work really can be found as delivered in a sprint. Definition of Done is like an examination of consistency for a team. Clear, generally achievable, and easy to understand steps to decide how much work is done to create a potentially releasable feature. This provides all stakeholders with clear information and allows the planning of the next business steps.

It is a guide that dictates when teams can legitimately claim that a given user’s story/task is "done" and can be moved to the next level - approval by the Product Owner and release. Basic elements of our DoD are; the code reviewed by other developers, merged to develop branch, and deployed on DEV/QA environment, and finally properly tested by QA and developers with the manual, and automation tests. The last step comes to fixing all defects, verifying if all the Acceptance Criteria are met, and reviewing by the Product Owner. Only when all DoD elements are done, we surely say that this is something we can potentially release when it will be needed.

"Curiosity killed a cat": don't report progress

Functionalities which meet requirements of Definition of Done are the first candidates to be shared on the Sprint Review. In the ideal Agile World, it’s not recommended to demonstrate not finished work. Everything we want to present should be potentially releasable… but wait! Could you agree that an ideal Agile World doesn’t exist? How many times external clients really don’t know how they want to implement something until they see the prototype.

Our company provides not only product development services but also consulting support. We don’t limit this collaboration to performing tasks, in most cases we co-create applications with our clients, advise the best solutions, and tackle their problems. Many times, there’s is no help from a Graphic Designer or a UX team. That happened to us. That’s why we have improved our Sprint Review. Since then we present not only finished work but also this in progress. Advanced features should be divided into smaller stories which can be delivered during one sprint. Final feature will be ready after a few sprints but completed parts of it should be demonstrated. It helps us discuss the vision and potential obstacles. Each meeting starts with work “done” and goes to work "in progress". What is the value? Clients trust us, believe in our ideas but at the same time still, have final word and control. Very quickly we can find out if we’re moving in the right direction or not. It’s better to hear “I imagined it in a different way, let’s change something” after one sprint than live with the falsified view of reality till the feature release.

"As you make your bed, so you must lie in it": don't inform about obstacle

Finally, even the best and ideal team can turn into the worst bunch of co-workers if they are not honest. We all know that customer satisfaction is a priority but not at all costs. It is not a shame to talk about problems the team met during the Sprint or obstacles we face with advanced features. Stakeholders need to know clearly the state of product development to confront it with the business teams involved in a project; marketing, sales or colleagues responsible for the project budget. When tasks take much more time than predicted, it’s better to show a delay in production and explain their reasons. Putting lipstick on a pig does not work. Transparency, which is so important is Scrum, allows all the people involved in the project to make good decisions for further product development. A Product Owner, as someone who defines the product vision, evaluates product progress and anticipates client needs, is obligated to look at the entire project from a general perspective, and monitor its health.

One more time, a stay-cool rule is up to date. Don’t panic and share a clear message based on facts.

We all want to implement the best practices and visions that make our life and work more productive and fruitful. Scrum helps with its values, pillars, and rules. But there is a long way from unconscious incompetence to conscious competence. It’s good to be aware of the problems we can meet and how to manage with them. “Rome wasn't built in a day”. If your team doesn’t use a Sprint Review but only a demo at the end of the sprint, just try to change it. As a team member, Scrum Master or Product Owner, observe, analyze and adapt continuously not only with your product but also with your team and processes.

Pro Tips:

  • Adjust the time of a Sprint Review to accurate needs. For a 1-week Sprint, it’s one hour, for a 2-week Sprint give it two hours. It is a recommendation based on our experience.
  • Have a plan. Create stable agenda and a brief summary of a Sprint and share it before meeting with everyone invited to a Sprint Review.
  • Prepare yourself and a team. Coach your team members and discuss potential questions that can be asked by stakeholders.
  • Facilitate meeting to keep all stakeholders interested and give everyone possibility to share feedback.
  • Create a clear Definition of Done that is understandable by all team members and stakeholders.
  • Be honest. Talk about problems and obstacles, show work in progress if you see there is value in it. Engage and co-create the product with your client.
  • Try to be as neutral as it’s possible nor to praise or criticize. Focus on facts and substantive information. 
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