8 Ways to Run a Bad Sprint Review

Amneet Bains
Amneet Bains
6 min read
Recognise these sprint review antipatterns? Here's what to watch out for and how to run a great sprint review that gets everyone engaged and has actionable outcomes.

Sprint reviews play an indispensable role in the Agile process.

The most important outcome of a sprint review meeting is alignment.

Without an effective sprint review, you’ll end up out of sync and pulling in different directions when it comes to product development and commercial goals.

At their worst, bad sprint reviews can be counterproductive in various ways, including…

  • Confusion and misalignment
  • Reduced morale
  • Missed opportunities for course correction
  • Mismatch of product with market needs
  • Misaligned stakeholder expectations
  • Revenue losses

So we better be sure we’re getting our sprint reviews right. Let's explore eight primary ways I see teams making mistakes in their sprint reviews, and how to avoid them.

Way 1: Neglect continuous feedback

Feedback delay is a common antipattern where developers hold back their input until the sprint review.

When we hold back our feedback, crucial insights and alarm bells get missed. That hurts the product and the software development lifecycle.

What to do instead: 

Promote a culture of continuous feedback. Encourage team members to communicate openly throughout the sprint and not just during reviews.

When we have a healthy dialogue, issues that arise get addressed in real time. That makes for a better team environment, too. 

And crucially, it aligns with the Agile principle of rapid, flexible response to change.

Way 2: Suppressing Team Voices

Sometimes, the same team members dominate the conversation. It has the unwanted effect of overshadowing others. 

We end up with a skewed perspective and missed opportunities to hear important feedback and insights. And it doesn’t make for a healthy team, either, since it makes overshadowed teammates feel overlooked and undervalued.

A team at a sprint review

What to do instead: 

Ensure that all voices are heard. How do we do this? It starts with good human leadership. We have to use our skills as leaders to, first, create a space where everyone feels safe to share openly. That’s going to mean there’s no fear of belittlement or personal attack. Second, we run our reviews using systems that encourage participation by design.

When everyone has a say, you get richer feedback and better collaborative solutions.

Way 3: Misaligning Expectations

There are a few ways we can misalign the team with stakeholders. Some of the biggest ones include treating the review as a mere approval process, getting bogged down in granular detail, or assuming knowledge.

What to do instead: 

Clarify the sprint review's purpose and set expectations right. Recap context and avoid diving too deep into technicalities without explaining them first.

Clear communication and setting the right expectations ensure that everyone is on the same page. This leads to more productive reviews and better alignment between technical and commercial visions.

I’d always suggest using sprint reports which clearly state sprint goals and key projects to keep everyone aligned.

Stepsize AI offers a great way of generating context-rich yet concise sprint reports effortlessly.

Stepsize AI Sprint Reporting tool

The tool analyses your issue tracker to generate digestible updates on the progress of teams and projects, every week.

Right now, it works with Jira and Linear, with more tools to follow.

These weekly reports have the perfect amount of detail and context to get everyone aligned in a few glances, without lifting a finger.

Here’s a link to Stepsize AI. You can also have a go at generating your first report for free – all you have to do is integrate your issue tracker in a few clicks.

Way 4: Handling Feedback Badly

Feedback doesn’t do its job both when it is delivered poorly, or received poorly. We can deliver feedback badly in all kinds of ways. The most obvious is being unhelpfully critical, and not delivering feedback in a way that opens a constructive dialogue. We might also overdeliver and overcommunicate, or hyperfocus on things that don’t matter (i.e. they are not strategic conversations, they’re too in-the-weeds).

Conversely, we might not always receive feedback in that same spirit of openness. It’s only human, but it’s a challenge of the human condition that we have to keep under control in our agile ceremonies.

What to do instead: 

As Agile leaders, feedback delivery can be coached. Encourage others to offer actionable feedback tied to sprint goals and focus on relevant sprint progress. If feedback needs practical coaching, try conducting workshops.

Way 5: Passive Engagement

Passive attendance and chronic underattendance are signs of low engagement. When stakeholders don't actively participate, our review just isn’t as effective.

A software engineer attending a sprint review remotely

What to do instead: 

Design reviews that actively involve stakeholders. Include interactive sessions like hands-on product testing and Q&A. 

It’s a good idea to avoid the temptation to follow a rigid format every week. That’s how we fall into unhelpful rhythms which have the potential to bore people or encourage the same mental patterns.

When we get everyone involved, we benefit from diverse feedback, new perspectives and better team dynamics. That’s essential for continuous improvement in the agile tradition.

Way 6: Presentations Over Demos

When teams lean heavily on slide-based presentations instead of live demos, they inadvertently distance stakeholders from the visceral, real-world experience of the product. 

Static slides, no matter how well-designed, can't capture the dynamic nature and usability of a developed feature or improvement.

What to do instead: 

Encourage demos. This "show, don’t tell" approach lets stakeholders engage directly with the product. 

Interactive demos immerse stakeholders in the product environment, providing a tangible sense of its look, feel, and functionality. This firsthand experience elicits richer, more contextual feedback. Stakeholder insights will then stem from actual user experience. Live demos often reveal nuances that might not be evident in a presentation slide. 

Remember, the objective is to bridge the gap between technical implementation and commercial vision. While presentations have their place for communicating data and broad overviews, demos put the product at the forefront, emphasising its real-world value.

Way 7: Distracting with Side Gigs

When developers focus on tasks that aren't aligned with sprint goals, it can derail the entire sprint.

What to do instead: 

Make sure there’s a clear process for addressing emerging tasks or issues. 

Start with a dedicated time during daily stand-ups for exactly this kind of thing. If something seems valuable but isn't aligned with the current sprint goals, log it for future consideration, possibly in a 'parking lot' or a product backlog. When the urge to divert arises, the team should evaluate the urgency and relevance of the task. If it's deemed critical, prioritise its inclusion through a mini review session involving key stakeholders. This ensures transparency and consensus before altering the sprint's trajectory.

When teams get this right, they get the best use out of their of time and resources. Addressing deviations in a structured manner avoids haphazard shifts in direction. When everyone understands and agrees on a deviation, it avoids derailing projects in a chaotic way. In the end, we safeguard the sprint’s integrity and communicate better as a team. 

Getting everyone on the same page with a sprint report either before your sprint review, or at the start, is a great way to get people focussed on sprint goals regularly.

Stepsize AI’s sprint reports start with an overview of sprint goals, so this is a great way to align everybody effortlessly.

AI Agile Tool for Sprint Reports

Way 8: Showcasing Unfinished Work

While occasionally there's value in showing incomplete work, regularly presenting work that's "done-ish" undermines the principle of "Done."

What to do instead: 

Prioritise showing work that's genuinely complete. Only present unfinished work if it offers significant insights.

This approach maintains the integrity of the sprint review and provides stakeholders with a clear picture of actual progress.

Rounding up

Sprint reviews are pivotal to the success of any Agile project.

Avoiding these pitfalls makes sure that these sessions remain productive and achieve their main goal – alignment.

Every good sprint review should be supported by concise, context-rich sprint reporting.

We’re building Stepsize AI for this exact purpose. By monitoring what’s happening in your issue tracker (currently, the tool works with Jira and Linear), it uses proprietary AI to intelligently create sprint reports with the perfect amount of detail.

Use these to uncover the perfect level of detail, get aligned on sprint goals, review progress at a glance and spot red flags.

You can get your first sprint report for free – try it here.

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

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Recognise these sprint review antipatterns? Here's what to watch out for and how to run a great sprint review that gets everyone engaged and has actionable outcomes.
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