January 8, 2020

Create A More Engaging Sprint Review With This String Of Liberating Structures

Do you frequently find yourself in Sprint Reviews that only consist of a PowerPoint presentation? Or entirely without users, customers and other stakeholders present? Or bored out of your wits because it keeps turning into a huge group conversation where people talk over others or keep revisiting topics that have already been addressed?

For such an important part of the empirical process made possible by the Scrum Framework, the Sprint Review often receives the least attention in how it is facilitated. Our experience, as well as that of Scrum Masters we meet, is that the Sprint Review often takes the shape of a demo — nothing more. And this wastes a huge learning opportunity. In this post, we offer an alternative.

“For such an important part of the empirical process made possible by the Scrum Framework, the Sprint Review often receives the least attention in how it is facilitated.”

In this series of posts, Barry Overeem and I share our favorite strings of Liberating Structures for Scrum Events. In this post, we share the design for a Sprint Review. All the strings are freely available on this board in Trello. For the sake of readability, we will focus this post on the flow and considerations behind the string. For detailed step-by-step instructions and timings, please take a look at the Trello-board. Check out our other posts in this series here.

The purpose of the Sprint Review

When designing a string, it is hugely important to be clear on the purpose. For the Sprint Review, the purpose is to inspect the increment that was created during the Sprint as well as to adapt the Product Backlog based on new insights, ideas, and changes that result from this inspection. The Sprint Review is about answering the question: “Based on what we learned this Sprint, what are the next steps?”. This provides valuable input for Sprint Planning.

Examples of Sprint Reviews
Make your Sprint Reviews massively interactive and engage all those minds in the room.

The Flow In A Nutshell

  • After the opening, we’ll use Impromptu Networking to clarify what people are expecting and hoping for during this Sprint Review;
  • We then create an opportunity for inspection of the increment and other relevant topics, together with stakeholders, during a Shift & Share
  • We use What, So What, Now What to debrief insights from the inspection and identify important adjustments that need to be made;
  • Based on the insights and adjustments resulting from the earlier steps, each person is given the opportunity to formulate personal next steps for how they will support the Scrum Team during the next Sprint as well as their work together;

Preparations

  • Find a close-able space that is big enough to comfortably move around in, preferably without tables or other objects obstructing the interactions between individuals. This emphasizes that this will be an interactive session, not ‘sitting around a meeting table’;
  • The best way to completely drain the energy of the group is by turning on JIRA — or a similar tool — on a projector and start going through Product Backlog or individual items. Instead, we like to decorate the room with materials that evoke memories of what the team is working on, effectively turning the entire room into an ‘extended brain’. This includes the Product Backlog, the Definition of Done, the Sprint Goal, the Sprint Backlog, work agreements (if you have them), the Product Vision and whatever else is helpful;
  • Although Scrum Masters can certainly facilitate the Sprint Review, there is nothing holding others back from facilitating. Since the Sprint Review is particularly important for the Product Owner, as he or she will be sharing the increment with stakeholders, it makes sense for him or her to also play a role;
  • Prepare and pick hosts for several stations of the ‘Shift & Share’. You can leave a few open for other topics that pop-up. Also bring sufficient devices — like smartphones, tablets, and laptops — to inspect the product on;

1. Welcoming everyone

Whenever you bring a group of people together, make sure to start by clarifying the purpose of your time together. While also making sure to announce this up front (in invitations and e-mails), start by reiterating the purpose of the Sprint Review (see above) as well as the purpose of this Sprint as captured in a Sprint Goal.

2. Impromptu Networking (15 min)

In order to maximize the opportunities for shared learning, we want to the Sprint Review to be a highly interactive and engaging event. That is why we’re going to start with Impromptu Networking. This is an excellent Liberating Structure to get the thinking started and clearly signal that interaction is both encouraged and necessary.

In three rounds, participants partner up with someone else and take 2-minute turns to respond to the following invitation:

“Based on the Sprint Goal, what questions, expectations, and considerations come to mind? What else?”

As the rounds progress, invite participants to note patterns, similarities, and differences. After the three rounds are completed, ask the group to briefly share the most important patterns they noticed.

The invitation for Impromptu Networking specifically ties the conversation to the Sprint Goal. If you find yourself in a Scrum Team without Sprint Goals, you can also ask ‘Based on the Sprint’. But keep in mind that working without Sprint Goals makes it very hard to work empirically and effectively as a Scrum Team.

3. Shift & Share (40 min)

Now that everyone has had the opportunity to get their thinking started about what they are looking for in the Sprint Review, we can start the inspection. Instead of a presentation or a demo by the Development Team, we instead use a Liberating Structure called Shift & Share.

There are 3 to 7 stations — depending on the number of participants. Each station focuses on a relevant area of the Increment to be inspected — like a related set of PBI’s — or other relevant topics — like release planning, market conditions or product vision. Stations are equipped with whatever devices are helpful to perform an inspection of the product on, like smartphones, tablets, laptops, and specialized hardware. Each station has a host who takes responsibility for starting the conversation, guiding inspection and gathering feedback. Other participants distribute evenly across the stations. Every 7 minutes, the groups rotate to the next station while the hosts remain with their station. Continue until all groups have visited all stations.

The 7-minute timeboxes are based on our experience. You can increase the time-box if you have fewer stations or when the group agrees that this allows for better inspection, but we recommend against changing the timeboxes in between. A variation you can experiment with is to allow participants to pick a selection of the stations they’d like to visit in a limited number of rounds.

“Shift & Share is a good approach to shift from statically presenting a “Done”-increment to a more hands-on approach where stakeholders actually explore working software.”

Shift & Share is a good approach to shift from statically presenting a “Done”-increment to a more hands-on approach where stakeholders actually explore working software. We usually invite stakeholders to write feedback on special ‘feedback cards’ that are available at each station — but this is just one idea on how to gather feedback.

Sprint Reviews
A Shift & Share with stakeholders in progress (top-left and bottom-left). In the other pictures, ideas from the Sprint Review are being updated or added to the Product Backlog together.

4. What, So What, Now What (30 min)

After inspecting the increment and other relevant topics during the Shift & Share, now is a good time to make sense of the insights that emerged from this. Instead of a group conversation, we’re structuring this interaction with a Liberating Structure that is tailored for debriefing a shared experience; What, So What, Now What.

In small groups, ranging between 4 and 6, participants reflect on what they learned from the Shift & Share and what this means for the Product Backlog and the next Sprint. This is done during three consecutive rounds of sense-making, each starting with a moment of individual reflection followed by a brief 5-minute conversation in the small groups. The invitations for each round are:

Round 1: “What have you seen, heard or observed during the Shift & Share? What facts or patterns stood out the most?”
Round 2: “So, what does this mean to our work together in this and future Sprints?”
Round 3: “Now, what adaptations to the Product Backlog or our release plan make sense? What needs to be added, removed or re-ordered?”;

The invitations for What, So What, Now What are structured so that they focus first on gathering the facts (round 1), then trying to make sense of what they mean (round 2) and finally deciding on the next steps (round 3). This allows our decision to be more based on actual experience and data, and less on personal opinions and judgments. After three rounds, invite the small groups to share their most important findings with the whole group. The Product Owner can adjust the Product Backlog transparently based on insights or capture objectives for the next Sprint. If you have the time, you can do intermediate debrief with the whole group in between rounds. We do recommend to keep these short to prevent it from turning into a group conversation that goes on-and-on.

What, So What, Now What
Doing What, So What, Now What at CITO

If big topics emerge, you can use 1–2–4-ALL to dig deeper. Or schedule a time during the coming Sprints to work on them if they are not urgent enough to impact the Sprint Review.

5. 15% Solutions (20 min)

Now that we have identified important objectives for the next Sprint, as well as made necessary adjustments to the Product Backlog, it is time to close with what each participant can contribute individually to their work together. For this, we use a Liberating Structure called 15% Solutions.

Individually, people take a couple of minutes to write down their action steps according to the following invitation:

“What is your 15% Solution to help advance our work together on this product? What is something you can do without needing approval from someone else or resources you don’t have access to?”

When everyone is done, give participants the opportunity to briefly share and refine their personal 15% Solutions in small groups of 2–4 participants. We have often found that, by actively engaging everyone with Liberating Structures like this, people are better able to formulate how they can contribute. Stakeholders may offer to invite other stakeholders, join a refinement workshop with developers or be available for feedback. Optionally, you can collect the 15% Solutions and make them transparent somewhere — for example, next to a Scrum Board.

Closing

Close the Sprint Review by reiterating the purpose as well as the highlights that emerged. This is also an excellent opportunity to thank everyone who participated in the inspection and encourage them to join again for the next Sprint Review. If you'd like to learn more about using Liberating Structures, it is highly recommended to join a Liberating Structures Immersion Workshop. These are intense and very experiential 2-day learning experiences where you participate in over 20 different structures. Read more here about the workshop we host twice a year in the Netherlands.

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