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The idea of running a sprint review meeting may be daunting for a newbie. What is a sprint review? What topics should you cover? What special facilitation techniques do you need to use in an agile environment?

In this article, I'll start with a brief rundown of a sprint review, its purpose, and how it differs from a sprint retrospective. Then, we’ll get down to brass tacks of how to prepare for and run a sprint review, including answers to frequently asked questions.

What Is A Sprint Review?

A sprint review is one of a series of “Scrum ceremonies,” or events, in the agile Scrum methodology. A sprint review is a working session that takes place at the end of a sprint. Attendees may include the Scrum master, product owner, product manager, and potentially other stakeholders.

Purpose of a Sprint Review

The purpose of the sprint review is real-time collaboration. To prevent your sprint review meeting from devolving into a press briefing, plan the meeting agenda in advance. The Scrum guide cautions against static presentations since this format is rarely more productive than an email.

Instead, the goal is to get the team together for a structured discussion of how the project is going, including whether sprint goals have been met and why. This helps you gauge whether the prior work period was successful.

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Sprint Review Vs. Sprint Retrospective

A sprint review shouldn’t be confused with a sprint retrospective (even though they’re easy to mix up!) Both are important parts of the Scrum process, and they’re the last two steps in the cycle, but the way you run them is different.

The short version is that a sprint review focuses on the product, while the retrospective meeting focuses on the process itself.

Imagine you’re nearing the end of the sprint, and you have something that resembles a cleared sprint backlog. You schedule a sprint review to check the progress your Scrum team has made toward delivery and iron out any remaining impediments.

For example, let’s say this sprint involved producing 10,000 lines of code for the app the team is working on. The sprint review meeting is the place to make sure the code is running and validated and that you’re ready to go live with it.

By contrast, the retrospective reviews the process you followed during the last sprint with the intent to improve operations during the next sprint. During the retrospective, you collect feedback about people’s experiences integrating into the team, communicating code changes, or whatever else affected the process. 

The retrospective is intended to be a kind of debrief where everybody can learn how to work together better, regardless of the product. 

Ask people how they feel and whether they have suggestions for the next round of work on your project. What would they like to see in the next sprint? Do they feel like they were working under the gun, or did they have too much time on their hands? 

It’s still tempting to blur the lines between a sprint review and a retrospective. If you’ve put together a sprint review, you already have everybody assembled, so why not do both things at once?

The Scrum guide discourages this, and if you have to do everything in a single session, you should clearly delineate between the two phases of your meeting to prevent bleed-through.

Here’s a quick primer on which topics belong in which meetings and when to veer off and refocus the scrum team when a retrospective threatens to break out during a sprint review.

Sprint Review or Retrospective?What’s IncludedWhat’s Not Included
Sprint ReviewWhether the product backlog items are finished
Why the product backlog items aren’t finished
New features and functionality of the product
Date the product can be delivered or a realistic release plan
How hard it was to meet the deadline
How bad people feel for missing the deadline
How it’s Julie’s fault we missed the deadline
How deadlines are a number and everybody should be more relaxed
Sprint RetrospectiveHow the communication between team members has gone
Suggestions for streamlining workflow and team processes
Ways to make development teams more agile
Success criteria and methodology for developing standards for realistic milestones
Problems with the product itself
Features of the current product
Plans for technical details or a template for specific objectives

How To Prepare For The Sprint Review

By implementing a system for collecting product feedback and sticking to it, you can effectively build a machine for continuous improvement. So, how do you get started with running a sprint review? Here are some tips to keep in mind:

  • Make sure everyone on the team knows when and where the review is happening, and let everybody know what their role in the review is going to be. The more time you give them to prep, the more productive your people will be when it’s their turn to brief the team on their progress.
  • Create a simple notes template to help you document meeting outcomes. Agile methodologies emphasize limited documentation, so don’t worry about getting too detailed here. It’s simply a way for you to keep track of action items related to the project.
  • Prepare for demos by soliciting topics in advance and setting up the virtual and physical rooms accordingly.

How To Run A Sprint Review For Digital Projects

Although you’re free to structure sprint reviews any way you want, there are good and not-so-good approaches. Here are some steps for running sprint reviews that most people following the Scrum method have found useful:

  1. Overview of progress and setbacks
  2. Debrief of what went well and what didn’t
  3. Development of a plan to clear roadblocks
  4. Feature demonstration.

1. Progress Overview

Go around the table and let everybody report how the product is going. Did they meet their sprint targets? If not, how close are they right now, and when will they be done? Don’t let the discussion sidetrack into reasons why a delay has happened. 

Focus on a straightforward reporting of progress (or lack thereof.) Discussions of why happen later, after everybody gets their reports done and you know how far along you are with the various project components.

2. Debrief

This is the part where the hows and whys of shortfalls can be discussed. Delve into this portion of the agenda after every team member has had a chance to speak, and you understand where every stage of the rollout is at the moment. 

Use the debrief to review the positive outcomes first. Note the project goals that went well, and try to assess how close things got to the deadline before they were ready. This gives you an idea of whether the tempo can go up a bit in the next sprint.

Next, look over the shortfalls, if any, and ask for input as to how the delay happened and when it will be cleared. Don’t come down too hard on the team here. If everybody effortlessly made their goals three days into a five-day sprint, it means you’re not setting big enough goals.

3. Roadblock Clearance

Anticipate what obstacles you might come across in upcoming sprints. These may be a small budget, a need for talent from someone outside your current team, a regulatory or reporting issue, or a change in market conditions that could impact product demand. 

The objective of this stage is to spot those roadblocks coming and plan to tackle them now, rather than after they cause a bottleneck in the days ahead. Use this information to update the product backlog, as needed.

4. Product Demonstration

This stage supplements your product overview with a demonstration of the key updates that shipped in the last sprint. More than anything else, it’s a chance to showcase the team’s accomplishments and foster good morale.

Sprint Review Meeting Agenda

Here’s a sample meeting agenda for your sprint review (with suggested time limits):

  • Introduction: review meeting purpose, recap agenda (5 mins)
  • Progress overview: status update by workstream (10 mins)
  • Debrief: review positive outcomes and analyze shortfalls (15 mins)
  • Roadblock clearance: anticipate upcoming obstacles and adjust product backlog (15 mins)
  • Product demonstration: review key accomplishments from the last sprint (15 mins).

FAQs About Sprint Reviews

For convenience, we’ve compiled answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about sprint reviews.

Plan Your Next Success

Planning and executing a successful scrum cycle takes a lot out of digital project managers. Now that you're a hero for boosting production by, let’s go with 300%, it’s time to plan your next success.

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By Sarah M. Hoban

Sarah is a project manager and strategy consultant with 15 years of experience leading cross-functional teams to execute complex multi-million dollar projects. She excels at diagnosing, prioritizing, and solving organizational challenges and cultivating strong relationships to improve how teams do business. Sarah is passionate about productivity, leadership, building community, and her home state of New Jersey.

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