Does Scrum hold up to scrutiny? - The Sprint Review
I’m going through the complete Scrum Guide (2020 version) and turning it inside out. Hoping to find a satisfying answer to the question: “Does Scrum make sense?”
I started with “Purpose of Scrum” and “Empiricism”. I came to the conclusion that the premise of Scrum is sound. Then I looked into the Scrum Values, which can indeed bring the pillars of empiricism to life.
Then I discussed the Scrum Team. And I wondered how often a Scrum Team and its stakeholders work in an environment where all Scrum Values can be upheld, the team has no hierarchies and everyone understands the Scrum theory well enough to use the framework effectively.
The fourth topic was the Developers, who should own the What, How, and When to achieve a Sprint Goal. And the last two weeks I wrote about my issues with the Product Owner and Scrum Master accountabilities and asked if they aren’t too prescriptive.
I am more positive about the Sprint, the Sprint Planning and the Daily Scrum. I believe the Scrum Guide 2020 makes very clear how they serve empiricism. Let’s now see if they continue this with the Sprint Review.
The premise of the Sprint Review
From all the events, the Scrum Guide 2020 has the fewest words to describe the Sprint Review. Even the 15-minute Daily Scrum needs more words. This is remarkable, as the Sprint Review is the oldest of all Scrum events. It was the only event that already existed when Scrum started, in the early nineties.
The Scrum Guide 2020 has the following purpose for the Sprint Review:
“The purpose of the Sprint Review is to inspect the outcome of the Sprint and determine future adaptations.” - Scrum Guide 2020
This begs the question: what is the outcome of the Sprint? The Sprint Review section only tells you it is the result of the work of the Developers or/and what was accomplished in the Sprint. You need to look beyond the Sprint Review section to better understand what this is. For instance, the Sprint Planning section discusses:
the Scrum Team commits to achieving the Sprint Goal
the Developers achieve this Sprint Goal by building an Increment
The previous version of Scrum always stated that the participants of the Sprint Review would inspect the Increment. I find it confusing that this is now removed from the Sprint Review paragraph. On the one hand, I do understand that the Sprint Review is more than a demo. On the other hand, inspecting the Increment should be a vital part of the Sprint Review. The Scrum Guide even says so in the Increment paragraph (which I will tackle later). So why do we have vital information about the Sprint Review outside of this paragraph?
The Sprint Review is the only Scrum event that mentions stakeholders as participants, together with the Scrum Team. This highlights how important the event is. It is the only formal inspect and adapt Scrum event that has people outside of the Scrum Team playing an active role.
This event touches upon all four values of the Agile Manifesto:
At the Sprint Review, you have the interaction with individuals, including your stakeholders. It is here where you inspect working software (the Increment) and collaborate on what you learned to understand what to do next. Where you discuss what has changed and how to respond to this.
No other Scrum event is touching all bases of the Agile Manifesto as the Sprint Review does.
Scrum Team and stakeholders are expected to collaborate during the Sprint Review. The Scrum Guide makes clear that this event isn’t a presentation. It is a ‘working session’.
review what was accomplished in the Sprint
review what was changed in their environment
inspect progress towards to the Product Goal
collaborate on what to do next
may adjust the Product Backlog
Let’s unpack this a bit.
Changes in the environment
So, what are “changes in the environment”? Is this clear to anyone reading and trying to grasp the Scrum Guide? I would argue it is too vague. The previous version of the Scrum Guide (2017) might have been too prescriptive, but at least it brought some clarity. It discussed possible changes in the marketplace, potential use, timeline, and budget. Replacing this with “changes in the environment” doesn’t help clarity.
I had the luck of learning Scrum before the 2020 Guide. How is this with people discovering it now? When they read the Sprint Review section, do they easily understand what it entails?
Progress towards the Product Goal
The Product Goal is the long-term objective of the Scrum Team. It helps them and their stakeholders to make decisions. The Sprint Review serves as the moment where they assess the progress towards the Product Goal and determine what they best can do next to maximize their chances to meet the Product Goal.
This clarifies the Sprint Review is not only about inspecting what was done but also very much about looking further than the Sprint. Not by discussing and creating detailed plans, but by adjusting the Product Backlog and clarifying what the Scrum Team can best work on next.
Length and timing
The Sprint Review is at the end of the Sprint. Only the Retrospective comes after it. This position at the end of the loop is logical because the Sprint Review is where you wish to inspect the results from the Sprint to adapt and determine what to do next.
A month Sprint is timeboxed to be 4 hours max. Shorter Sprint obviously would typically have shorter Sprint Reviews. That said, I argue that Scrum Teams with two-week Sprints and Sprint Reviews that take no more than 30 minutes often miss out on important topics. These events are often a demo or a presentation only. And this is not making the best of the Sprint Review.
In my experience, the Sprint Review is often misunderstood. It should be the moment where the Scrum Team and stakeholders meet and collaborate to discuss the journey of the product. But often it is merely a demo or - worse - a presentation.
The Scrum Guide is clear about how stakeholders should play an active part in the Sprint Review. In fact, the short Sprint Review section hints at this four times. Nothing is brought to light more than the importance of the active participation of the stakeholders.
But what I fail to understand is the fuzziness of what the Scrum Team presents to the stakeholders: “the Sprint outcome”, and “reviewing what was accomplished”. Previous versions of Scrum mentioned inspection of the Increment, a vital part of any Agile approach. At other places in the Scrum Guide you can still find this information, but why is it lacking in the Sprint Review section? This puzzles me. And, in my humble opinion, I think this harms people’s understanding of what a Sprint Review should be.