Sprint Review – What’s in a name?

Since we started using Scrum, something that has been difficult is getting people to use the correct name for the Sprint Reviews. Now, I should explain that this is not the same issue as the one that comes up in the Scrum certification exam about using existing names for Scrum events in order to try and make the change smoother (bad idea!). This is about people not fully understanding why the events are named as they are.

People seem to insist on calling them ‘Sprint Demos’, something which seems innocuous enough on the surface.  After all, half of the review is set aside for the demo of what has been ‘done’ during the last sprint.

The problem, though, is that people forget that it is just half of the review. In other words by focusing on the demo aspect you miss 50% of the meeting and information! The review is intended to show the stakeholders, and other interested parties, just what has gone on in the last sprint:  what was the sprint goal; what noteworthy things have happened in the last Sprint; what stories were on the Sprint forecast; and of course the vision on the future – what is the team expecting to pick up in the next sprint?

All of this information is missed when you focus purely on the demo aspect of the review.

And, as we found out a while ago, focusing purely on the demo can have other implications.

We had a team working on a new product for the site. There were a lot of technical challenges that had to be overcome in order to bring the project to production and these stories were the main focus for the first Sprints. And so there was very little to demonstrate – there was a lot of work ‘done’ by the team, but nothing that could be shown on a big screen. And so the team took the decision to cancel the Sprint review.

I had a chat with the Scrum Master for the team about why it was cancelled, and it quickly became apparent that they were struggling with the question ‘How can you have a sprint demo when there is nothing to demonstrate’.

We discussed that it’s not a ‘Sprint Demo’, but a ‘Sprint Review’ and all of the connotations that come with it.  The team had been working so hard over the Sprint in order to finish the stories, they made big advances in removing technical obstacles to the project and there was plenty that could be communicated to the stakeholders. All of this was rather important in ensuring transparency to those outside the team.

The review was rearranged for the following day and was one of the best that we have had since starting Scrum.  A large turnout, with people standing in the doorway so that they could hear the progress the team made. The team had a very good presentation about progress, from the technical back end to the design for the front end, and there were lots of questions and ideas that came from those present that the team could take into the following Sprint.

Ever since then, that team has never made the mistake of calling a ‘Sprint Review’ a ‘Sprint Demo’, and that review in particular is used as an example of why we need to stick to the standard Scrum naming in the future!