Most teams are fumbling their sprint reviews

Amneet Bains
Amneet Bains
5 min read
What's the challenge with sprint reviews, and why do so many antipatterns creep in? Here's why it happens, and four things we can do about it.

For years, Agile and Scrum have promised teams a better way to work. 

One of the main mechanics is the sprint review – a ceremony that, when done right, gets everyone aligned on objectives and progress. 

Yet, many teams still find these meetings fraught with antipatterns. Why?

The Challenge with Sprint Reviews

Sprint reviews need to achieve open communication, engagement, goal alignment, and clear expectations.

Teams struggle because they're juggling multiple complex elements in real-time, and a misstep in one can offset the rhythm of the rest. 

These four areas – open communication, engagement, goal alignment, and clear expectations – are common culprits for inefficient sprint review meetings.

Communication during sprint reviews embodies the principle of transparent and timely information exchange - a cornerstone of Agile methodology. 

The intent isn’t merely to talk but to foster mutual understanding and clarity among all involved. 

Within the Agile framework, continuous dialogue is essential.

Yet, many fall short. 

Developers, perhaps apprehensive of early criticism, often withhold feedback until the review, breaking this rhythm. This latency not only stalls potential solutions but allows minor issues to compound. And while Scrum promotes collective credit, the sprint review sometimes becomes a singular show, with figures like the Product Owner taking center stage, overshadowing the team's collaborative ethos.

Engagement signifies an active, energetic involvement of stakeholders and teams. 

The essence of a sprint review is this dynamic exchange, where each voice enriches the discussion.

Yet it’s common for reviews to be bustling with attendees yet echoing in silence. Collaborative spaces become one-sided narrations, diluting the collective wisdom and dampening this engagement with monotony.

Goals in Agile must be clearly defined and collaboratively set. They should ensure every effort contributes to the sprint's overarching objective. 

These goals anchor actions, providing both direction and purpose.

But when they’re not reinforced and revisited, we lose focus. 

Driven by their innate curiosity and innovation, developers occasionally chase exciting detours, sidelining the sprint's main objectives. While such 'side gigs' might seem beneficial in isolation, they risk the sprint's focused trajectory. The ambiguity that often surrounds the term “done” exacerbates this. Presenting unfinished tasks under the guise of completion not only misleads stakeholders but erodes trust in the process.

Expectations, when met and managed, ensure sprint reviews are purposeful, relevant and actionable. But there are all kinds of ways expectations can mismatch between stakeholders.

For example, when there’s a general lack of understanding of the purpose of a sprint review meeting, they might be treated as approval sessions. Or developers might delve unnecessarily into granular details, or fail to set the right context, obfuscating the main points that need discussing.

So, what do we do about it?

I’m going to share four principles I think every team should embrace. Of course, there are more. I want to focus on those which are most fundamental, but I’d love your feedback, so feel free to share your ideas with me.

1. Open dialogue

In Agile, communication needs to be characterised by an ongoing exchange of ideas, feedback, and insights that fuel progress. 

For sprint reviews to be effective, this culture of open dialogue must be ingrained in everyday interactions, not reserved for set ceremonies. 

For leaders, it’s absolutely essential that we’re creating an environment where there’s absolute safety in sharing concerns and challenges.

This is how we minimise friction. 

Open dialogue acts as a preventive measure, catching and addressing issues before they balloon, and ensuring that the sprint review remains a space for constructive reflection and not last-minute firefighting.

Finally, we have to start by making sure everyone’s on the same page. Achieve this with a concise, context-rich sprint report.

If you use Jira or Linear, you can use Stepsize AI to automatically generate a sprint report with the perfect amount of context and detail to use at the start of every sprint review.

2. Active, democratic engagement

Reviews have to be dynamic, breathing spaces with two-way feedback loops.

Too often, it’s a one-way flow of information. 

Instead, teams need to run reviews which are interactive by nature.

In the worst case, sprint review meetings might involve one person – the same every sprint – running through a presentation. Really, the sprint review is an opportunity for a live, interactive demo. Pass the keyboard around. Let people discuss in real-time and invite immediate feedback. 

A sprint review is a democracy, a collective space where a junior developer's insight is as valued as a senior stakeholder's perspective. This shared ownership ensures that the product isn't just technically sound but holistically aligned with user needs and business objectives.

3. Define, Reiterate, and Stick to Goals

While it's common to set goals, the real challenge lies in revisiting and realigning them in real-time. 

Distractions are generally aplenty. What seems like a minor sidetrack today can snowball into a significant detour tomorrow. Hence, teams must continually anchor themselves to their defined objectives.

This doesn't mean stifling innovation. It means ensuring that any deviations serve the larger purpose. 

Regular check-ins, not just with internal teams but with stakeholders, ensure that the course remains clear and consistent. It's not just about reaching the destination, but ensuring the journey is purposeful and in line with the vision.

If you’re using a tool like Stepsize AI, you’ll automatically be reminded of sprint goals – and shown how each sub-project contributes to it – in your sprint report to get you started.

Here’s a simplified version of what that looks like.

4. Clarify expectations

Clarity isn't just the act of explaining but ensuring understanding.

For sprint reviews to be effective, teams must ensure they're not just speaking but are being understood. This involves setting the context right at the outset.

A quick recap can align everyone, bridging any gaps since the last interaction. 

Striking a balance between depth and accessibility ensures that discussions remain productive. 

By continually aligning on terms, objectives, and progress, teams can ensure that sprint reviews remain focused, relevant, and above all, collaborative.

Rounding up

The success of sprint reviews isn't just in their execution but in their preparation and follow-through. 

In the Agile spirit of continuous improvement, we can use these ideas to adapt and elevate the standard of these reviews.

And doing so lets us make substantial competitive gains.

I think every great sprint review starts by getting people on the same page about what matters.

That’s why I’ve built Stepsize AI with my team.

Stepsize AI observes everything happening on your Jira or Linear board. It develops context about your projects and goals, and forms connections between tasks, activities and more.

The result is super accurate, automatic weekly sprint report with the perfect amount of context and detail to kick off your sprint review meeting.

You can create your team’s first report for free. I’d love to know what you think!

Never trawl through Slack, Jira or GitHub for updates again.

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What's the challenge with sprint reviews, and why do so many antipatterns creep in? Here's why it happens, and four things we can do about it.
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