Sprint Review, a Feedback Gathering Event: 17 Questions and 8 Techniques

The Sprint Review is a feedback gathering event. You better listen carefully…
The Sprint Review is a feedback gathering event. You better listen carefully…

In this post, I’ll clarify the intent behind the Sprint Review. It’s not about applause or reports. It’s a feedback gathering event which has to be properly prepared. Here are 17 questions and 8 techniques on the what and how to ask for feedback in product development.

Scrum teams struggle on a regular level with Sprint reviews:

  • They are presenting their increment and are waiting for applause, but they shouldn’t.
  • They are reporting to management to sign off their increment, but they shouldn’t.
  • They are unprepared and try to wing it, but they shouldn’t.

What should they do? According to the Scrum Guide, what goes into the Scrum Review is the increment and the product backlog. The increment is the sum of all work for the current sprint accomplished plus the value of all increments of previous sprints. It’s the current state of the product. What comes out of a sprint review is an adapted product backlog. To adapt the product backlog, the development team and the product owner present the increment to stakeholders to receive feedback. That’s it: The whole purpose of a sprint review is to get feedback to adapt the product backlog. I see the sprint review as a feedback gathering event.

Applause is undeniably some kind of feedback, but not a good one. Based on the strength of the applause at the end of the presentation, you might get an idea of how enthusiastic the stakeholders are. But what exactly are they so enthusiastic about? Was it the product that they liked or just your presentation? Maybe they only applauded to be polite? If they were indeed enthusiastic about the product, what exactly was it about the product that they liked? There’s nothing wrong with a good applause at the end of a presentation. But applause is not enough, at least not to get feedback to adapt the product backlog.

Reporting to management is also not the purpose of a sprint review. Again, there’s nothing wrong with reports for management, but it’s just not the purpose of the sprint review. There are other and better ways to report to management.

How do you get feedback within a sprint review? My advice is to prepare the sprint review to maximise and direct the feedback you want to gather. Maximising is done by choosing appropriate techniques to gather feedback. The direction of the feedback comes from choosing appropriate questions. Maximising means efficient feedback gathering (do the thing right). Directing means effective feedback gathering (do the right thing).

Questions to gather the right feedback (effectively):

  • Ultimate Question: On a scale from 0 to 10, where 0 equals “unlikely” and 10 equals “likely”, how likely is it that you’d recommend this product to friend or colleague (real or imaginary) of yours? Why would you give that number? (cf. Net Promoter System)
  • Perfection Game: On a scale from 1 to 10, where 1 equals “imperfect” and 10 means perfect, how perfect do you think this product is? If you didn’t give a 10, what would it take for this product to become a 10? (cf. Perfection Game in The Core Protocols)
  • Amazon Review: Imagine that this product is purchasable on Amazon. How many stars would you give? What review would it get from you?
  • Imagine: How would you use this product?
  • Personal Product Use: Would you use this product for yourself? Why? Why not?
  • Longtime Product Use: Would you use this product for the next 5 years? Why? Why not?
  • Tryout: Please use the product for 2 minutes and verbalise whatever comes to your mind. Within those 2 minutes, what do you experience?
  • Story: Can you please share a story how you would use this product at home or at work?
  • Feeling: With one word only, how do you feel about this product? Why is that
  • Car: If this product were a car, what car would that be?
  • Smell: If this product had a smell, what smell would that be? Why did you choose this smell?
  • Single Change: If you could change only one thing about this product, what would you change? Why is that?
  • Eliminate: Imagine one product feature can/should be eliminated, which one is this for you? Why did you choose this feature?
  • Love: What’s your favourite feature or characteristic about this product? Why is that?
  • Hate: What do you hate the most about this product? Why is that?
  • Comparison: From which other product on the market could we learn from? Why is that?
  • Headstand: How can we make this product really bad? What should we do to make this a nightmare of a product? Follow-up: Now how can we avoid doing any of these actions? What should we do instead of these actions?

Techniques to gather the feedback right (efficiency):

  • Sticky notes: Let stakeholders write down the answers to a question on post-it notes. Limit the answer to one per post-it note. Let all stakeholders write down their answers first without revealing them to others. Depending on the question asked, this can take 2 to 5 minutes.
  • Shout outs: Ask stakeholders to shout out their answer, one after another. You can limit the number of shout-outs you’ll collect. Take notes on a flip chart.
  • Writing a Message: Let stakeholders write down their answers in silence. Depending on the time available, let them write it down in form of a letter (long), email (a couple of lines), Facebook update (rather short), or tweet (short; 140 character).
  • Fist2Five: Let stakeholders find their answer in silence. Let them show that they’ve found their answer by putting a fist on their chest. Then count down “3, 2, 1, now!” On “now!” the stakeholders should hold up 0 to 5 fingers with one hand. For every stakeholder, shout out their answer. Note the result on a flip chart or whiteboard, e.g., 1 x 3 fingers, 4 x 4 fingers, and 2 x 5 fingers.
    • Follow-up activity Investigation: Ask each stakeholder why they gave their answer. Or ask only the stakeholders with the lowest and highest amount of presented fingers.
    • Follow-up activity Debate: Ask the stakeholders with low finger answers to pair with the ones with high-finger answers. Let the pairs debate their different views for a couple of minutes. Afterwards, let the pair shout out a summary of their debate.
  • Thumb Voting: Let stakeholders give their answer by showing their thumbs in 3 directions: thumb up (positive), thumb to the side (neutral; undecided; meh.), thumb down (negative).
    • Follow-up activity Investigation: Ask each stakeholder or only the ones you are interested in (for example, only the negative or undecided ones) why they gave their answer.

Hint: With most of these techniques, the actual finding of the answer is done individually and in silence. No discussion and collaboration is desired. The reason is that we want the answers from all stakeholders, not only from the dominant ones, to maximise different options and perspectives. (cf. “Brainstorming Doesn’t Work; Try This Technique Instead” by Rebecca Greenfield)

Sprint Review Questions & Techniques Matrix
Sprint Review Questions & Techniques Matrix (click to enlarge)

Here’s a matrix that shows which questions I find work best with which techniques.

(1) With reduced range of 0-5, so that it can be done with a single hand. That technique done with both hands is just horribly confusing for the facilitator.
(2) The stakeholder who tries out the product writes the message themselves. Or she is paired with a note taker who writes down everything the stakeholders say to him.

If you find something valuable in here, please try it out and post a comment about what you experienced. In case you know about other questions and techniques, please share them in the comments. Thanks.

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About Bernd Schiffer

Bernd Schiffer is consultant, trainer and coach for Agile Software Development in Melbourne, Australia. Learn more about him on his personal homepage, have a look at his company Bold Mover, or contact him on Twitter, Google+, Facebook, XING or LinkedIn.

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