June 28, 2021

How To Run A Sprint Review, Online?

Developers at a Sprint Review

Ever since Christiaan and I shifted our focus towards product development — in specific, the Scrum Team Survey — the Sprint Review became an important recurring event. It’s important because the Sprint Review contains an element we can’t go without. It’s our oxygen, our fuel, and the #1 ingredient every recipe needs… Of course, I’m talking about feedback from real users! Only the users of our product can determine if the features we build are useful & valuable. Together with the users, we inspect the work that has been done to date and we determine what next steps make sense based on what was learned.

In this blog post, we explain the purpose of the Sprint Review and what changes in an online setting, and we share the outline of a session we hosted recently.

The Purpose Of The Sprint Review

Although my hunch is that our average reader is familiar with the purpose of the Sprint Review, it doesn’t hurt to reiterate it briefly. The description below is from our paper “Scrum — A Framework To Reduce Risk And Deliver Value Sooner”. Check the paper for full context and an overview of the purpose of the Scrum framework itself.

The Sprint Review happens at the end of a Sprint, before the Sprint Retrospective. Its purpose is to inspect the work that has been done to date and to decide what next steps make sense based on what was learned from that. The Sprint Review is at least one moment during the Sprint where the people building the product and the people that have a stake in it gather to inspect the outcomes of the Sprint. Together with current market conditions, organizational changes, budget, and timeline, they decide on the next steps together.

Sprint Reviews should take no more than four hours for a Sprint of a month. The shorter the Sprint, the shorter the Sprint Review tends to be. The output of the Sprint Review consists of adjustments to the Product Backlog based on what was learned. This may include new ideas that emerge during Sprint Reviews, discovered bugs, changes to items already on the Product Backlog, or re-ordering the Product Backlog itself. In a sense, 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 and potential Sprint Goals for coming Sprints.

For Sprint Reviews, a one-way presentation of what was done by the Developers does not constitute ‘inspection’. Actually inspecting the increment means trying it out together and giving feedback. We prefer to describe Sprint Reviews as ‘feedback parties’ instead of ‘demos’. Sprint Reviews should not be the first time that a Product Owner sees what the Developers have done. Instead, the Sprint Review is an important and repeating moment where the Product Owner invites stakeholders to inspect the product together.

Sprint Review

The purpose of the Sprint Review is to inspect the work that has been done to date and to decide what next steps make sense based on what was learned from that.

What’s Different With An Online Sprint Review?

Obviously, the purpose of a Sprint Review remains the same. What might change is how you achieve the purpose. How do you facilitate an online Sprint Review in such a way it’s still a feedback party? How can you inspect the product together with your stakeholders? How can you keep everyone engaged and prevent the session from becoming a boring presentation?

While we prepared our first Sprint Review, these were some of the questions we discussed. In hindsight, our simple conclusion is that an online Sprint Review is similar compared to an in-person session. It’s actually much easier to facilitate! With an in-person Sprint Review, it’s always challenging to inspect the product together with your stakeholders. You can bring some testing devices, but it quickly breaks the flow of the session. With an online review, everyone already uses a device: a laptop, computer, tablet, or phone. So it’s much easier to have them try the team’s (software) product and share their findings on different devices. The feedback can be easily captured on a virtual whiteboard like MuralMiro, or Google Slides.

Similar to in-person workshops, facilitate the Sprint Review with Liberating Structures. It ensures that all voices are heard, that everyone is continuously fully engaged, and the participants can develop new ideas together. All you have to do is use the right tools. Because Liberating Structures are fundamentally about breaking down large-group interactions into smaller groups, you need tools that allow you to create subchannels or breakout rooms easily. Tools like ZoomMicrosoft Teams, and GotoMeeting are recommended.

How We Facilitated An Online Sprint Review

In the past months, we hosted multiple online Sprint Reviews ourselves, each time to gather feedback on our product, the Scrum Team Survey. These sessions always took max 1 hour and were attended by 15–25 participants. While designing the session, we took the “4Cs Map” into account. An instructional design and delivery model that is based on how human beings naturally and normally learn. Connection helps participants connect to the topic at hand, the concept includes new information, concrete practice allows participants to use it, and the conclusion wraps everything up. Check this article by Sharon Bowman for a detailed description of this concept.

In the following paragraphs, we explain in more detail how we used the 4Cs Map for our Sprint Review. In addition, check the recording of the session and the Google Presentation we used as a guideline and to capture the outcome.

A recording of the Sprint Review we hosted on May 7, 2021

Connection

We started the Sprint Review by asking the participants to answer the following question: “What is something we should always keep in the survey, regardless of how the survey evolves over time?”. This question was already shared 10 minutes before the official start of the review. It gave the participants that joined early something to think and talk about. It allowed everyone to get their thinking started about the Scrum Team Survey. The answers were captured in a Google Presentation and were used in the kickoff of the session.

Concept

In this part, we explained the Product Goal, past Sprint Goals, and future Sprint Goals. The Product Goal is key because it describes the direction we have in mind for the product. It clarifies what we want to achieve in the upcoming months. The past Sprint Goals are the steps we’ve already taken to move closer to the Product Goal. Some of these goals were fully achieved, others changed or were not completed. The future Sprint Goals are the steps we’ll most likely take in the upcoming Sprints. It’s mostly used as a conversation starter. Based on the feedback we receive during the Sprint Review, these goals might already change. In total, the concept part took about 10 minutes. We did most of the talking and gave the participants the opportunity to ask some questions.

Concrete Practice

Now that we shared information about the state of the product, it was time for our participants to actually use it. In this session, we asked for one volunteer to try out new features while the other participants watched and took notes. We offered the volunteer detailed instructions for what to try. For each step, the reviewer was encouraged to share their thoughts out loud. What is it that they’re thinking, seeing, feeling, and noticing? While the reviewer used our product, everyone else actively listened & observed. After about 10 minutes, we moved all the participants into breakout rooms to share findings and ideas. Back in the main channel, we discussed important insights and updated our Product Backlog accordingly.

Conclusion

As part of the conclusion, we reiterated the Sprint Goals we have in mind for the upcoming Sprints. Based on the gathered feedback, some of these goals are already updated and refined. We also shared the data we collected about the Scrum Team Survey. For example, how many people have used the survey, what number of users don’t complete the survey, and what’s the conversion rate? This data helps us draw a conclusion on the progress we’re actually making in achieving the Product Goal. After briefly discussing the data, the 1-hour timebox expired and we closed the Sprint Review. Similar to an in-person session, we always hang around for another 15 minutes for an “after-party”, socialize, catch-up, etc.

Metrics

During our Sprint Review, we always bring real data about the Scrum Team Survey to share and discuss with the participants.

Closing

In this blog post, we explained the purpose of the Sprint Review, and what changes in an online setting. In short: nothing much changes, the online variant actually offers a couple of big advantages! We also shared a real-life, practical example of how we facilitated an online Sprint Review for our own product, the Scrum Team Survey. We hope it’s useful and offers you inspiration for your Sprint Review. As always, we’re eager to learn from your experiences as well. So feel free to share them. Let’s learn and grow, together!