Sprint Reviews: at scale and remotely

In the turbulent era of remote work, now is the perfect time to explore unconventional approaches to sprint reviews. Our strategies have proven to be invaluable in scaling our heavily distributed team, enabling us to maintain and even enhance efficiency and productivity. This article will shed light on some of our practices and routines that have provided a safe and easy environment for continuous experimentation. This isn't about replicating textbook formats; rather, it's about sharing our unique experiences in the hopes of inspiring you to refine your own practices further.

Always look for ways to (re)view it better :)

What’s this challenge about?

Transitioning from a small startup to a growing company wasn't without its challenges, especially when it came to our sprint reviews. We were no longer a small group of scrum teams working on a single product, nor did we have just one product owner (PO) who knew every single detail.

The challenges we faced were threefold.

Firstly, we needed to identify the appropriate stakeholders to involve.

Secondly, deciding which delivered functionalities to review became increasingly complex.

Lastly, it was crucial to maintain engagement, even when our experiments with varying formats and content didn't pan out as expected.

Fortunately, we discovered a range of strategic and tactical approaches that helped us navigate these challenges effectively.

Innovational Formats we found the most efficient

  1. Internal Sales Pitching: Our exploration into innovative formats began quite serendipitously. Once, while training for a sales pitch, I discovered a wealth of information that was taken for granted by the Sales team but was revelatory for the rest of us. Consequently, Yura, one of our strategic thinkers, proposed a novel idea: internal sales pitching. This concept proved to be a huge success, and brief presentations by Sales representatives became a regular part of our reviews. We asked them to treat the internal team as potential clients and dive straight into product pitches. It was incredibly insightful to observe how they marketed the updated functionality, addressed user pain points, and what they emphasized to attract interest. However, these sales pitches are intended to supplement, not replace, the investigation of authentic user behavior and interviews. They help align and shape product marketing and foster deeper connections between Sales and Development teams. This approach has illuminated and prevented many high-level misunderstandings.
Observing through the Lens: Like peering through a camera lens, firsthand experiences often offer us the richest details and deepest understanding. However, when we're forced to perceive reality through another's lens - an experience further distorted by our own perspectives - our understanding can become muddled and incomplete.

2. Returning to the Roots: On occasions when we didn't have any user-facing deliverables to review, we utilized sprint reviews as a platform to garner feedback on older functionalities. It's crucial to revisit our foundations and challenge the status quo. This format also required preparation from Sales, Product Owners, and Customer Success Managers, as the aim was to identify aspects we hadn't thoroughly investigated or customers had used in unforeseen ways. However, I believe it is critical to have the a routine to review the key metrics of your product discovery - such occations may be just a good complementary activity.

3. The one on the surface. Live Testing: Once, during a retrospective of our sprint events, the team suggested having stakeholders try out the new functionality during the review and comment on their actions as they progressed. For example, they might answer questions like, "How did you/the user react to these functionalities? Was the workflow smooth and clear? What questions did you/they ask on the fly? How would you sell this functionality? Did the customers you were selling to explain why this was important to them in the way we expected?" Liberating structures provide a lot of ready formats to try out in this direction. However, it is important to test it and align with both development team and the stakeholders and users about the format beforehand: what may sound fancy in the description, can become a useless meeting in your context.

It's important to note that such on-the-spot reviews cannot replace early stakeholder involvement in the development process.

Our experiences with these diverse formats taught us that it's beneficial to brainstorm the format of each review, challenging ourselves to find the most efficient way of gathering feedback and evaluating the results of the iteration. The more we stepped outside the traditional sprint review structure, the more intriguing the results became, leading to bolder outcomes.

With any review, it's crucial to utilize a variety of information delivery methods; relying solely on text/presentation is not recommended. However, sending a concise presentation as a follow-up to all participants is a useful practice.

The more interactive the delivery, the deeper the understanding.

Another important point is that experimenting too much and overwhelming people is also not a good option: what we are striving for is eventually finding an effective routine  ocassionally replaced with experiments.

But it's not just about the event format. The preparatory routines, supporting events, and practices we'll discuss next are equally critical.

Laying the Foundation for Sprint Review Experiments

In most organizations, departments such as Sales, Customer Success, Business Development, among others, seldom intersect with development teams. Even in companies where Product Discovery is highly developed, there often exist untapped opportunities to extend and deepen this collaboration. However, instances of their interaction can yield unique insights, eliminate waste, and foster innovative collaboration routines, enhancing the overall efficiency and synergy of the organization

However, it doesn’t mean we can’t boost collaboration and organize tasks that will unite Dev teams with the business ones. It will serve as our foundation for the next steps towards a broader cross-functionality setup.

Let me give some examples:

  1. Extended Acceptance Testing Sessions: You can facilitate extended acceptance testing sessions with two or three Sales representatives and loyal clients. Invite them to the review and ask them to share their testing results. For instance, Sales could discuss how the new functionalities will impact their sales approach and how they will benefit from it. Users, on the other hand, could share how these changes will affect their current workflows.
  2. Collaboration with Customer Success Managers: Particularly in B2B businesses, Customer Success Managers can reduce their daily workload by collaborating with those who have tested the functionality they're about to present to clients. After release, they can also work together to review and re-prioritize automated test cases.
  3. Partnership with Marketing: Marketing professionals can pair with Development team members to prepare materials for upcoming campaigns and brainstorm ways to track user activity more effectively.

The key takeaway is this: even if we're not on the same team, we can actively collaborate on initiatives that provide mutual benefits. Experience shows that when you communicate closely with other departments, you will eventually find opportunities to initiate collaborative practices. If you are now thinking that this applies only to startups, I should write that it worked also in a big corporate environment: yes, it was a different setup and different approach, but the direction worked out.

Breaking Down Silos

In order to avoid the creation of silos, it's essential to diversify the participants in all events and ensure that multiple people from each team are informed. If knowledge is confined to a single representative from a department, it could create a bottleneck and hinder self-organization.

Consider your organization as a large social network where each person has connections across the organization, able to find the right person to assist with their challenges when needed.

We ultimately have the power to define the role of Sprint Reviews within our organization. They can be viewed as challenging events or, conversely, as opportunities that harbor innovative potential. As your team grows and your product evolves, you'll always have room to experiment with the format and engagement of your team members.

What's vital is that you forge your own path, continually brainstorm with your team, build long-lasting relationships, and collaborate closely with all types of stakeholders.

Best of luck with your experiments! And don't forget to share your outcomes - we're all in this together.