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What Happened to the Sprint Review?

29 June 2016

Natalie Warnert
Independent -

For those of us who are familiar with Scrum, we are also very familiar with the associated ceremonies:
  • Daily stand-up/Scrum
  • Backlog grooming/refinement
  • Sprint planning
  • Sprint retrospective
But wait! What's missing? Oh, yeah — the sprint review. I find that we focus so much on the other ceremonies that the sprint review is often either quickly glossed over on the way to sprint planning, combined with the sprint retrospective (e.g., review/retro or demo/retro meeting), or simply not done at all. Need a refresher on what the sprint review is supposed to be?

What is the sprint review, anyway?

The Scrum Guide states: "A Sprint Review is held at the end of the Sprint to inspect the Increment and adapt the Product Backlog if needed. During the Sprint Review, the Scrum Team and stakeholders collaborate about what was done in the Sprint. Based on that and any changes to the Product Backlog during the Sprint, attendees collaborate on the next things that could be done to optimize value. This is an informal meeting, not a status meeting, and the presentation of the Increment is intended to elicit feedback and foster collaboration." This breaks down into four distinct pieces:
  1. Review of the sprint (what happened, what didn't, obstacles, things that went well)
  2. Demo of the functionality delivered by the team during the sprint to the stakeholders
  3. Feedback from stakeholders on the demo and priority
  4. Preview of the upcoming sprint's docket and what to expect at the next review meeting
In many company cultures, though, everyone is so involved and ready to continue moving forward that they forget this important sprint review ceremony. Instead, items that were not completed are quickly moved to the next sprint without much review. The changes that happened to the sprint scope during the sprint are either written off as "unique circumstances" and "perfect storm" or "something that just had to be done" (fire drills, customer escalations, hair on fire). These may (and should) be retrospected on later, but often they are not talked through thoroughly at this point with the stakeholders.

The value collaboration portion is usually done as the team continues with sprint planning, but for teams like this everything is often deemed valuable and needing to be done, so there is not much collaboration. Demos, while existent, likely do not meet the Definition of Done. And a stakeholder preview is nonexistent, as are the stakeholders.

What really did happen to the sprint review?

What happened to the sprint review? What happened to the demo that made teams excited to show their new functionality? What happened to celebrating what was completed? Or lamenting what was not done but vowing to do better next time? What happened to the stakeholder preview, and what happened to the stakeholder's attendance?

It's not necessarily that teams don't do any of these things anymore, but they may have been absorbed into other ceremonies or changed. It is disappointing that they are lacking their own ceremony to laser focus on these very important conversations. After all, the main focus of the sprint is delivering valuable functionality, and when we are glossing over what we completed and what we did not, we are not taking the time to fully understand what our sprint scope looks like and make it transparent to stakeholders. We are likely not running at a sustainable pace and are missing other things along the way.

So how is this problem fixed? Simple — slow down! Take the time to review the sprint! The Scrum Guide recommends four hours for a four-week sprint, and two hours for a two-week sprint. My guess is teams that do not have a sprint review spend fewer than four hours in sprint planning, too.

Being efficient is the not the same as being effective, and often our perceived efficiency is not as efficient as we perceive it to be. What does this mean? The resulting effectiveness is much less than ideal, too. By slowing down and investing in this important ceremony, we will actually speed up in the long run. Teams will be more excited about the work they are accomplishing, more invested in the scope of the sprint, and more understanding of the consequences of adding scope and the value not realized when functionality is not completed. The same can be said for the other Scrum ceremonies that may get overlooked (cough — retro — cough).

Don't let your sprint review become a thing of the past!

Opinions represent those of the author and not of Scrum Alliance. The sharing of member-contributed content on this site does not imply endorsement of specific Scrum methods or practices beyond those taught by Scrum Alliance Certified Trainers and Coaches.

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