Over the past couple of years I have been able to facilitate or observe many, many sprint review sessions. As you can imagine, many would be considered a success while others did not go so well.
Just about everything you need to know about how an Agile team is doing can be discovered by observing the sprint (or iteration) review session. More than any dashboard or metric, the sprint review will tell you…
How productive the team is. Through working product demonstrations the tangible results of the team are on display. First and foremost, if there is nothing to demonstrate during a sprint review it will be a flop. Awkward silence or defensiveness will often be the predominant theme if the team hasn’t completed their stories. Great agile teams are getting things done and this will be witnessed at the sprint review.
How healthy the team is. A good sprint review has a certain feel about it. It is a vibrant and celebratory event. If your sprint reviews are dreaded, sparsely attended, unorganized, or full of people “multitasking,” something unhealthy is probably happening on your team.
How engaged the product owner is. For the most part, the success of the sprint review will be a direct reflection on how well the product owner is engaging with the team. If the product owner is absent or disengaged throughout the sprint (especially during sprint planning), accepting completed user stories will be a challenge. The quality of user story authoring (especially acceptance criteria) will quickly become apparent during sprint reviews.
If you are a Scrum Master or a coach on an Agile team, here a couple of thoughts on how to bring your sprint review session to life:
Be the conscience of the team. Effective sprint reviews require effective daily standup sessions. Effective daily standup require an effective sprint planning session. Effective planning sessions require a well-formed product backlog. Don’t expect a good sprint review without doing the necessary work to have a good sprint review. If the team is struggling with sprint planning and story sizing, work with them until they are comfortable and proficient.
Coach as necessary. Teach or mentor the product owner (and the team) on the importance of their presence and engagement throughout the sprint.
Focus on the acceptance criteria. Pay special attention to the acceptance criteria, especially if your sprint reviews are lacking structure and direction. Read the story. Demo the acceptance criteria. Does the product owner accept the story?
Have the retrospective immediately afterwards. Thankfully, there isn’t a need to wait 6 months until the end of a project to have a “post-mortem” when things go poorly. We can immediately jump into a time of renewal when a sprint doesn’t go very well or gratitude when it does.
Celebrate something. Nothing brings more energy to a sprint review than successfully completing stories…well, other than food. Beyond celebrating a successful sprint acknowledge birthdays, anniversaries, or other life events happening on the team.