3 Things to Observe in a Sprint Review

For many leaders, the sprint review (or demonstration) is one of the few chances they have to see their direct reports functioning with their Agile team and to witness the outcome of their work. My recommendation would be to attend as many sprint review sessions as you can. Everything you need to know about the health of an agile team can often be revealed by observing this session.

Building on the post, “A Managers Guide to Attending Agile Team Events,” when you do attend a sprint review, what you should be looking for? What are the characteristics of an effective sprint review? How should you respond if something seems amiss?

From my experience, effective sprint reviews have the following attributes:

Connection. One can observe if the team is moving as one unit and just how well the members of the team are interacting with each other. Is one role or person particularly quieter than another? Does the relationship between developers and testers feel collaborative or contentious? Many of the best sprint reviews I participated in have a celebratory feel to them. The team collectively feels they are working on something meaningful and making significant progress towards the product vision. Hopefully, you sense this vibe.

Conversation. The conversations in a sprint review should revolve around the product backlog and specifically around the value users should be receiving by finishing items in the backlog. This happens best when the team focuses on the acceptance criteria while they are demonstrating delivered value. The acceptance criteria is often the “script” for the demo. Otherwise, the demonstration tends to wander, making acceptance of the user story as complete quite challenging. Healthy conversation from the product owner about what’s on the horizon for their product is also a good sign.

Completion. Similarly, I have experienced some painful sprint reviews when the team is obviously not ready to demonstrate a completed story. For a story to be done, it should be in a state of potentially releasing it into production today should the product owner deem it ready. If this is not the case, something is amiss.

If you are not seeing these attributes during the sprint review, I would suggest, with a spirit of growth and empathy, the following conversations (in this order):

  1. Talk to the Scrum Master. Ask about their perception of team dynamics and health. Ask about the last team retrospective and what they decided to improve for the next sprint (Is the team able to self-heal or not?). Ask if there if the team is working towards a “definition of done.”
  2. Talk to the Product Owner. Ask about their vision and if they feel the right team is in place to bring the vision to reality. The product owner role can be quite challenging and without an amazing team, near impossible.
  3. Talk to your direct report. In private, ask their thoughts on how things are going and what they would suggest to improve the current condition of the sprint review. Ask how you can support them and if they have everything they need to build and test with craftsmanship.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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4 thoughts on “3 Things to Observe in a Sprint Review

  1. Thanks for the helpful blog post! In the Conversation paragraph it says “The conversations in a sprint review should revolve around the product backlog” and my understanding has been the Sprint Review should be focused on the *Sprint* backlog items done in the sprint being reviewed, so as to inform *Product* backlog item planning and prioritization for subsequent sprints. Is that your meaning?

    • Thanks for the kind words Paul (and for reading the blog)!

      Your understanding is spot on. Review the sprint backlog and adjust the product backlog based on the conversations and outcomes of the review. I should have written that more clearly.

      • Thanks for the clarification – glad we’re on the same page. Seems the Product Backlog (and near-term planning) would be most influenced by things NOT demonstrated as done in the Sprint (inferred from your Completion paragraph).

        • I agree and would also add the sentences from the Scrum Guide: “The entire group collaborates on what to do next, so that the Sprint Review provides valuable input to subsequent Sprint Planning.” and “The result of the Sprint Review is a revised Product Backlog that defines the probable Product Backlog items for the next Sprint. The Product Backlog may also be adjusted overall to meet new opportunities.” ref. http://www.scrumguides.org/scrum-guide.html#events-review