Why You Shouldn't Skip Your Sprint Reviews

 

Sprint reviews for marketing teams are severely misunderstood.

In my experience, it’s the Agile ceremony that has the greatest tendency to devolve into yet another status checkpoint among core team members, instead of a feedback opportunity with stakeholders. 

Reviews are, sadly, also the Agile meeting most likely to get skipped.

Since there isn’t always a finished “product” at the end of each sprint, the team may postpone or outright cancel the sprint review because they feel that they haven’t successfully completed a full project.

If the review does take place and stakeholders do attend to provide insights, team members also often fall into the trap of spending hours preparing their presentations, instead of focusing on value-adding work. 

This is a problem, because there's so much power and value in the sprint review waiting to be embraced.

When it’s working its hardest for the team, sprint reviews represent one of the most valuable meetings with stakeholders to get alignment. They're a chance to build team morale and get answers to crucial questions immediately instead of at the end of a 100-page email thread. 

Here’s how I’ve seen review meetings work wonders for both new and mature Agile teams, and why you might think twice before you take a raincheck on your next one. 

Boost Team Morale

First and foremost, I cannot understate the role of the review meeting as a way to empower the team. Being able to showcase completed work along with in-progress activities and ideas for experiments is a crucial aspect of Agile working.

The review forum is one important way for barriers between different groups in the organization to be broken in order to make way for full-on transparent working. So long, silos!

As a team member, being able to contextualize the work you’re doing and represent it in front of stakeholders during the review process carves out a space for aspects of the work to be clarified directly between interested parties without a mediator.

There’s nothing more freeing than having the right people together at the right moment to push a project forward with confidence. 

Crucial Stakeholder Touchpoint

Despite the fact that teams and leaders are working towards the same business goals, there's often a disconnect in their communication. In many cases, neither is getting what they need and there's a general lack of understanding about what each is working on.

Reviews have the potential to close this gap. 

The two-way visibility this meeting creates can strengthen the relationship between teams and their direct or indirect leadership by tackling each group’s why.

Leaders can share their motivations and expectations from the team. In turn, teams can provide insights collected during the execution process and pose burning questions, the answers of which will enable them to make more autonomous decisions.

At the end, both can leave with action items that can help their mutual goal of creating business and customer value over the next sprint period.

For example, after a review meeting, one leader I worked with was inspired to create a Trello board with her team and use it as an always-on communication channel. They agreed to update key information - such as top projects and analytics - at specific times during the month.

The team also benefited from this system by avoiding the fire drills that were created when new requests were sprung on them.

Learning Opportunities

Whatever way you choose to look at it, the agenda of the review meeting hides many opportunities for learning, both for the team and attendees. 

To kick it off, the marketing owner shares an overview about the sprint goal and progress toward business outcomes. 

During each team member’s quick show-and-tell, attendees can get caught up on the progress this team is making efficiently, without having to reach out to all team members individually. In this way, the upcoming sprint plan won't be held up by questions like, “What are you working on right now?”, “Did you think about this when you developed this asset?” and so on. 

If the team asks the right questions during the feedback portion of the meeting, they can also get an idea of whether they are meeting stakeholder expectations and how to continue doing so in the next sprint.

Shared understanding and, hopefully, alignment is created among the team and attendees in their orbit by quick conversations about any aspects of the work they might disagree on. 

To confirm, the marketing owner can reiterate the plan for the upcoming sprint at the end of the review, taking into account the new feedback shared from the attendees and team. 

Platform For Answers (if the right people are there)

It would be accurate to consider the review meeting as a venue where important questions of clarification, feedback, or priority can be raised. Beyond a show-and-tell, the sprint review is a way to problem-solve on the fly ahead of the upcoming sprint.

So, before the meeting, consider:  “What is the feedback we are hoping to collect?” 

For example, I’ve seen many teams present in-progress work and open the door to any and all types of comments by inviting stakeholders with the phrase “hey, give me feedback.”

Instead, a more winning strategy is to ask more specific questions like, “hey, this is where we think we should go but what have you heard from customers?” or “Is this in line with where the business is going?”

To get these questions answered, think carefully about your review meeting’s attendee list.

Are the right people in the room to answer the questions you need answered?

Sometimes sprint reviews can get bloated because many people may be interested in the team’s work. Yet, the actual purpose is getting feedback and making sure you’re rowing in the right direction. It’s not just about the audience, it’s also about what the team is hoping to get out of this time.

If you’re not sure about inviting a particular person or not, give them the choice. Add them to the calendar invite as optional and allow them to choose whether they attend the team’s reviews and how often.

If there's a bigger topic that bears a lengthier discussion, they might decide to connect with you outside of the review format to clarify it. 

Attending Another Team’s Sprint Review

If you’re collaborating with an adjacent team, there's a chance that you might get invited to one or more of their reviews over the execution process. If you’ve received an invite to another team’s review meeting, it means one of several things:

  • You are a stakeholder in this team’s execution
  • You have valuable perspective for this team
  • You are (or will be) this team’s dependency
  • You and this team share (or will share) common goals 

As an attendee, you have a different role to play than when you're hosting the review. Be prepared to answer clarifying questions and consider the work you’re doing as it relates to the work being shared in the team. 

Think critically about how certain activities interact and how you can help enable this team through information sharing, making connections and giving your insights, if relevant. 

Questions to Make Your Next Review More Effective 

So, before your team’s next sprint review rolls around, ask yourself:

  • Who needs to be at this meeting? Can these stakeholders make it?
  • What projects do I need feedback on to enable me?
  • What kind of feedback am I looking for?
  • How can I share results and in progress work without hours of prep? 
  • What new challenge do I want to share?
  • What new learning do I want to express to a wider group?
  • Are there any sprint reviews of other teams where I am needed?

Hosting the review, attending a review and participating in a review as a team member mean there are different roles you could be playing to make this Agile marketing ceremony a success.

If you want to explore either of these roles in greater detail with a Sherpa, explore your coaching path and discover how to make the sprint review your team’s favorite meeting yet.

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