The Sprint Review is an excellent opportunity for stakeholders and the Scrum Team to collaborate on the state of the Increment and to discuss future trends which might impact the Product Backlog. Part of this collaboration relies heavily on the ability to ask questions to trigger the right conversation. I have noticed that stakeholders find it very challenging to ask questions during Sprint Reviews, which results in seeing demos and clapping for the performance of the Scrum Team.
Next to the challenge of asking questions, I have also noticed that managers and stakeholders attending the Sprint Review find it difficult to find the balance between asking challenging questions and Respecting the mandate of the Product Owner. In this collaboration, most managers, therefore, need to support and challenge the Product Owner and the Scrum team, without dictating what to do next.
In this post, I share a few questions you, as a manager - or any other stakeholder, can ask Product Owners and the rest of the Scrum Team to support them in doing the right thing.
When will it go live?
Most organizations are used to big releases where it takes anywhere between six to twelve months for new functionality to go live. And we are only talking about the development process here, without even considering everything that happens before that. Organizations, therefore, are looking for ways to accelerate software delivery (see 15th Annual State Of Agile Report by Digital.ai). Asking this question during a Sprint Review challenges the PO to focus on going live instead of piling all the changes for a big bang release. At the same time, this question also challenges the Developers to find creative solutions for Product Backlog Items (PBI) to deploy to production faster and more often.
Who are we developing for?
Teams usually have many stakeholders and different customers in different phases of the customer journey. This makes it challenging for the Product Owner to clarify which user benefits are delivered by which PBI. The PO has the accountability to involve multiple stakeholders and to make these interactions transparent. The key is to find synergy between the benefit for the user and the stakeholders' perception. By focusing on who you are building for, the PO can involve the corresponding users and stakeholders in an earlier phase and co-create a future solution with them in advance. Additionally, it helps the developers to really interact with the users and develop solutions with the value it delivers to the user. As a result, new insights might emerge that a certain solution can be useful for multiple stakeholders as well.
Why are we doing this now?
The emphasis of this question lies on the word “NOW”. Based on my experience in the field as well as during my Scrum courses, most teams have hundreds of items on the Product Backlog and probably enough work for years to come. This makes it really important to make a conscious decision about why we focus on one Product Backlog Item and not on the others on the Product Backlog. Being open about the reasons and the context of this choice is very important to keep stakeholders and users satisfied and involved.
Most confusion and discussions happen because it is not clear why choices have been made. This question should challenge the Product Owner to make their choice more transparent.
What is the value?
“The Product Owner is accountable for maximizing the value of the product resulting from the work of the Scrum Team” - Scrum Guide 2020.
The PO usually does this by continuously ordering the Product Backlog to represent the value of the Product. This means that the PO needs to be able to state WHAT value is, and how this should be measured. It is also important for the PO to make this ordering and the value it delivers transparent to the rest of the organization.
Stakeholders and users have many wishes which are represented as a PBI on the Product Backlog. This makes it difficult for the Product Owner to determine which PBI delivers the most value. The value an item delivers is of course based on certain assumptions made about the Product. Asking this question will help the Product Owner communicate these assumptions
How does it relate to the Product Goal?
Delivering value is one thing, delivering the right value is another. A Product Backlog Item might deliver much value but at the same time not contribute to the Product Goal. It is important for the Product Owner to be transparent about the relation between the value of the PBI to the Product Goal.
Despite that individual PBI’s deliver value, in this case, a statement I like to use is “The interest of the organization trumps the individual interest”. This question helps the PO to keep its focus on the “bigger picture” and to avoid losing sight of where the organization is heading. Asking this question in a Sprint Review also allows the attendees to gain insight into the Product Goal. This makes the PO more credible and makes it clear that she knows what she is doing 😊
How often is this functionality used?
In addition to making assumptions about delivering value, an assumption is only validated when it is in the hand of the users. In the same way, assumption about the usage of the product needs to be validated as well. Although the Product Owner has the mandate to decide what delivers the most value, it is good to challenge the PO on the usage. A study performed by Pendo estimated that around 80 percent of product features are “rarely or never used.” This question not only helps the PO to think about usage when delivering but also helps her to think about this in advance.
How do we measure success?
More than the other question about delivering value, this question challenges the Product Owner, even more, to determine how to measure success. The study by Pendo I referred to before, shows that Product leaders see themselves as highly data-driven. As a result, a Product Owner needs to think about how to measure success. This will help the Product Owner to build a mechanism to make the value delivered transparent, inspect the outcome and adapt future steps on the Product Backlog.
There are of course a lot of other questions you can ask to support the Scrum Team, however, these 7 questions I have found to have the most value to me. I’m curious to hear your thoughts about them and what kind of questions you usually ask in the Sprint Review to support the Product Owner and the rest of the Scrum Team.
Special thanks to Erik de Bos for the review :)
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