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Improving the Sprint Review with Liberating Structures (Variant #1)

August 27, 2019

In this series of posts, we 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.

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.

Inspecting the increment

Inspecting the Increment during a Sprint Review

The Agenda in a Nutshell

Start the session with briefly re-iterating the purpose of the Sprint Review. Invite the Product Owner to explain the purpose of the Sprint as captured in the Sprint Goal. Use 10x10 writing to get everyone’s thinking started about the previous Sprint. Encourage stakeholders to inspect the Product Increment by doing a Gallery Walk. Allow everyone to share their experiences, insights, and lessons learned from the previous Sprint with the UX Fishbowl. Use Min Specs to (re-)clarify the purpose of the product and define what is absolutely essential to have a successful new Sprint. As an energetic closing activity, Mad Tea helps to reflect on the Sprint Review and share ideas for moving forward.

In total, this format for the Sprint Review will take about 2 hours.


  • 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’;
  • 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;
  • Make sure you have sufficient index-cards for 10x10 Writing, markers & pencils, and flip charts for the Gallery Walk.

Getting started with 10x10 Writing (15 min)

With 10x10 Writing, you ask the participants of the Sprint Review to complete 10 sentences in 10 different ways. It’s not a problem if they can’t come up with 10 different ways — it’s about generating as many options and ideas as possible. You can decrease the number of sentences to shorten the timebox.

By using 10x10 Writing during the Sprint Review you can rapidly engage everyone in generating thoughts, ideas, and insights. The outcome might be immediately useful to shape next steps, thicken understanding of the present context, or reflect on/respond to current ideas, opportunities, or challenges at hand.

The sentences used for 10x10 writing are not set in stone. You can find inspiration here, examples to use for a Sprint Review are…

Examples of statements to use for 10x10 Writing

Examples of statements to use for 10x10 Writing

Gallery Walk (15 min)

Gallery Walk is a way of taking any content and inviting participants to first arrive at their own conclusions & interpretations of it. In the context of the Sprint Review, you can display the material you want the stakeholders to inspect. For example, have different devices available on which the participants of the Sprint Review can inspect the state of the product increment. Invite the stakeholders to quietly walk around — imagine being in a museum — and study the material and/or use the product devices.

Afterward, give them the following prompts:

  • What confuses you the most?
  • What do you feel strongest about?
  • What is most insightful for you?

Ask the stakeholders to answer these questions in small groups, discuss the things that stand out the most with the group as a whole.

A crowded Gallery Walk during the Liberating Structures Immersion Workshop in Amsterdam, May 2019

UX Fishbowl (35 min)

The outcome of 10x10 writing and the Gallery Walk provides input for the UX Fishbowl. Fishbowls consist of an inside circle of people with direct experience with a challenge of interest to those in one of the outer circles. The inside circle shares experience based around a common challenge while the outer circle listens. In alternating rounds, the outer circles generate questions they’d like to ask the inside circle. By focusing strongly on listening and asking questions about experiences, you can use UX Fishbowls to create an environment where people can learn together (rather than get solutions imposed on them).

“By focusing strongly on listening and asking questions about experiences, you can use UX Fishbowls to create an environment where people can learn together.”

This makes the UX Fishbowl ideally suited for the Sprint Review as well. It gives the opportunity to gather feedback on the Increment, the Product Backlog and how everyone is collaborating around the product development endeavor as a whole.

First, identify the topic for the fishbowl (based on the outcome of 10x10 writing). This could be a topic regarding the state of the increment, collaboration amongst the Scrum Team and stakeholders, or ideas for future development.

Arrange a circle of 5 chairs in the center, occupied by 5 stakeholders and/or members of the Scrum Team. Arrange the other chairs and people into an outer circle of satellite groups. The inner group shares concrete examples with each other (not with the outside group). After 10 minutes, the outer circle can formulate new questions for the inner circle which they discuss in the next round.

UX Fishbowl

A UX Fishbowl in full-swing

Min Specs (25 min)

While UX Fishbowl triggers conversations about past experiences, Min Specs has a more forward-looking perspective. In the context of this Sprint Review, Min Specs is used to re-iterate the purpose of the product being build and to define the objective for the upcoming Sprint and the related Product Backlog items.

Possible invitations to use are…

  • The product we’re building exists in order to… (this helps clarify the purpose statement)
  • What work must we do the upcoming Sprint to help us achieve the purpose?

If you don’t have a purpose statement yet, use Nine Whys to clarify this one first. Afterward, form smaller groups and ask everyone to individually generate a list of all the work the Scrum Team could do the upcoming Sprint. In groups, combine the lists and make it as complete as possible. Next, test each item against the purpose statement. Remove items if you see ways to achieve the purpose without them. Strive for minimalism. With the entire group, share insights.

With Min Specs you’ve clarified the work that’s absolutely necessary for the upcoming Sprint, taking the overall purpose of the product into account. During the upcoming Sprint Planning, the Scrum Team can refine this in more detail.

Mad Tea (20 min)

Mad Tea is an energetic, fast-paced exercise that helps gather feedback on the Sprint Review itself and provide input for the Retrospective afterward. Ask everyone to create two concentric circles and to form pairs with the person standing directly across them. In every short order, everyone completes the sentences you give them. After two minutes, the outer circle moves two persons to the right, while giving the person they skip a high-five. When everyone is facing a new person, you give them the next sentence to finish.

Examples of sentences are…

  • If we do nothing, the worst thing that can happen for us is…
  • A courageous conversation we are not having is…
  • An action or practice helping us move forward is…
  • Something we need to research is…
  • A bold idea I recommend is…
  • A question that is emerging for me is…
  • Something I plan to do is…

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.

Mad Tea

Mad Tea during the PSM II class in Bali


By using this format for the Sprint Review you’ll achieve its purpose: 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 Liberating Structures ensure it’s done in such a way that everyone is continuously involved & engaged. Shaping the next steps becomes a joint effort as well.

Why don’t you give it a try during the next Sprint Review? We’re always eager to learn from your feedback!

If you consider this format interesting, check this public Trello board for other examples of Liberating Structures to use within the Scrum events.

Interested in learning many different Liberating Structures in an intense 2-day workshop? Check out our agenda for upcoming Immersion Workshops. If you’re aiming to join, book early — they are exceptionally popular. Or join the Dutch User Group to learn more about Liberating Structures.



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