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Shift in Sprint Review Mindset: from Reporting to Inclusive Ideation

Key Takeaways

  • Sprint Reviews tend to be geared toward engineering teams reporting to management, rather than fostering an environment of creativity, exploration, and continuous improvement.
  • Change agents starting a Sprint Review transformation should remain open-minded and focus on understanding the nuances of the organizational culture, while staying true to their own values and beliefs.
  • To establish data-driven change goals and metrics, focus on facts over opinions, avoid broad generalizations, and identify recurring patterns. Ensuring that the initiative is aligned with the organization's overarching business goals is a key success factor.
  • To encourage continuous growth, it's important to establish an improvement routine that moves forward with small but challenging steps, regularly educate the team about Sprint Reviews, and give them the skills they need to run them successfully.
  • To create a more inclusive and engaging Sprint Review culture, change agents should consistently look for opportunities to bring in a broader spectrum of internal and external stakeholders.

In many instances, Sprint Reviews seem to function primarily as a platform for engineering teams to report to management. And it's no wonder: reporting has been a fundamental approach for centuries. Yet, this is not why this practice was designed: Sprint Reviews should foster a dynamic environment of creativity, exploration, and continual refinement, where important product and overall business decisions are taken.

And you can feel the difference in a very distinct way. At the reporting Sprint Review you have a routine of the same participants going through the work done, often with praise or thanks at the end. No more, no less. At the ideation Reviews, you get to observe challenging discussions, rich takeaways, and behavioral changes. They are different because the product and its environment are changing. Such reviews may be followed not only by changes in product strategy, but also by updates to marketing campaigns, changes in sales strategy, new initiatives, or sometimes even creation of new departments. See how the influencing power differs?

In this article, we will explore the substantial mindset shift and routine change from a typical reporting-focused to interactive data-driven culture of Sprint Reviews.

Change Manager Mindset

Before we look at how to change the mindset of others, let's explore the mindset of a change agent. Joining a new organization or team is a lot like the traveler's experience: just as traveling to a foreign country can be an eye-opening and humbling adventure, so too can navigating a new organizational culture.

It's useful to remember that our brains are wired to expect things based on what we've experienced before: it's extremely helpful when the situation is similar, but it can also prevent us from being open to new but important nuances. The new corporate language, certain experiences and time spirits should be learned. There may be times when your attention can make a big difference. For example, you may share a seemingly mundane suggestion in a meeting, only to notice a distinct shift in the atmosphere of the room. It's like walking into a bad neighborhood in a new country and instinctively feeling like an outsider. The level of danger is different, of course, but in both cases it's important to investigate and learn from these new experiences.

Therefore, like a seasoned traveler, change agents should be extremely open-minded and strive to understand the culture they're entering, while not blending in and staying true to their values and beliefs. It's important to understand the value and function of the current Sprint Review processes, while resisting "it won't work in our environment" and other skepticism. In coaching parlance, they need to "meet the client where they are" before helping them move forward. They will have to observe, learn, and respect the existing norms before they can effectively lead the organization to change.

Now that we have talked about the change manager mindset, we are ready to move on to the organizational assessment.

Organization Assessment

Typically, I kick off organization assessment by conducting a series of interviews and group discussions with individuals in various roles. By adhering to the adopted practices of product discovery interviews, I  avoid general abstract questions and ask specifically about people’s experiences with Sprint Reviews, their preparations and takeaways. I am interested in the value they derived, how they applied this value in practice, what they found unhelpful, what was missing, and what was not asked. Observing a certain number of Sprint Reviews and getting first-hand experience is also important. When I notice distinct patterns and repetitive motives in the stories and situations I have collected, I know I have enough information to decide if the Sprint Reviews change would be timely and then move forward with implementing it.

One of the biggest challenges of organization assessment is how to make it as objective as possible and how to generate enough data to make evidence-based decisions on Sprint Review change. Fortunately, by today we have interviewing principles at our disposal that are proven to work well in similar situations: e.g. when making user interviews or sociological investigations.

Let’s review several of them:

  • Ask for facts and not opinions. Opinions can be very subjective and it’s hard to judge them avoiding cognitive biases of both people who ask and answer questions. E.g. Once I was told that user feedback had a significant impact on product roadmaps. When I asked for specific instances of when and how this happened, I was given only one example to prove it. It’s normal for the human brain to overgeneralize, add our subjective perspectives, and it’s our job to dig into what actually happened.
  • Avoid generalizations and ask for details. For example, if a person says it was difficult to give feedback, ask how they tried to do it to understand what they really mean by giving feedback. Also ask what happened next to get a more complete picture.
  • Look for patterns: What are common challenges in all of your respondents' stories? What happened frequently? We should check that the problem is not occasional, but systemic before addressing it. A good example of a pattern might be:for a year, there have been no changes to the product roadmaps based on the results of the Sprint Reviews.

When you are observing the Sprint Reviews, it’s important to define the areas you’ll pay attention to before you enter the room and reflect on the same list afterwards. For example, when documenting what the climate was, you may describe that there was an atmosphere of fear. Then, you document what observations brought you to this decision: e.g, it felt like a fearful environment, because when reviewing bugs, the team was in the "defensive" position naming excuses A and B and there was no search for new solutions.

Another example can be that you noticed the inclusive environment: representatives of the leadership team, engineers from other teams and users asked questions and gave feedback at the end.

Here are some key areas that I focus on when listening to the stories of the interviewees and examples of questions you can ask:

Investigation area Question Examples
Stakeholders, their personas, how different they are for different teams
  • Who are the stakeholders, both internal and external, of the product (or current functionality under review) being developed?
  • Who attended the last Reviews and how the attendees list was defined?
Sprint Review Impact 
  • When was the last time when the pivotal decision was made based on the Sprint Reviews results?
  • What was that decision? How do you define "pivotal"? (you can also give examples if they struggle to answer)
  • What were the changes implemented after the last Sprint Review based on its results?
Product Success Criteria
  • What metrics were reviewed at the last Sprint Review? Do you do it every meeting? How did you use them? (e.g. user retention metrics or net promoter score)
Sprint Review Climate
  • Can you describe a Sprint Review with the best atmosphere you took part in? And the worst one?
  • What is something you don’t talk about explicitly at the Sprint Review, but it influences the climate? E.g. certain recommendations on how it should be held or the tradition of another meeting, predecessor of Sprint Review?
Recent experiments
  • What experiments have already been conducted, and what were their outcomes?
  • What colleagues initiated these experiments? (I would surely interview them as well)
  • What features did the successful experiments have?
  • What arguments do people use to resist change or experimentation?

When conducting the assessment, it’s important to gather enough information to align your Sprint Review change initiative with organization strategy. We ensure that the timing is in line with the prevailing "currents" within the organization and supports the business strategy. For example, it may not be best to involve stakeholders in a department that is about to be reformed, or to start with the team that is about to take on a new function.

Goal-setting. As soon as we conducted the first iteration of Organization Assessment, it’s time to set change objectives. Our objectives should be based on the Assessment results. We're data-driven in how we make decisions. It's the only way we know that it's not just the change we think is important, but the change that will drive significant business value and be worth pursuing.

Moving on, let's address the next crucial stage of the process: establishing the direction and motivation for change.

Charting the Course: Rational and Emotional Factors in Change

Change theory suggests that successful change depends on two factors: rational reasoning and emotional motivation. As Daniel Kahneman articulated in his book Thinking, Fast and Slow, System 2, the rational mind, may decide that we go to the gym every Monday, but it's System 1, the emotional mind, that may choose Netflix instead of the gym after a long day at work.

The rational goal is often to develop a Sprint Review practice where stakeholders and the development team can inspect and adapt their work in a safe environment, reducing the risk of waste. Understanding emotional motivation is just as important. We need to identify what drives colleagues and stakeholders to embrace change. Let's explore some examples based on common motivations I've encountered:

Role (persona) Needs (rational drivers) Motivation (emotional drivers)
Software engineers
  • Deeper understanding of customer needs (especially learning priority use cases)
  • Early user feedback on the functionality before it’s released
  • Reduced risk of technical debt
  • Feeling connected to the business value they are bringing
  • Having fewer meetings to "sit through"
  • Having fewer bugs to hold up the release and ruin all the plans
Product management
  • Cross-team dependencies are handled more effectively
  • Less release risk (rather than planned bug fixes)
  • More predictability and therefore less tech debt
  • Fewer meetings that add little value and require a lot of effort to get into the deep technical details
  • Let the new functionality help them be more effective in their daily work.
  • Have less surprises in how the functionality changes


  • It's much more satisfying to be able to tell the developers directly what works and what doesn't, without having to listen to explanations of why something doesn't work

There's another thing to consider - the motivation of you and your team. I often look for successful and inspiring stories of change that the organization has already overcome and look for external examples. In the book Switch: How to change things when change is hard by Dan Heath and Chip Heath, there are examples of people making extraordinary changes, such as overcoming age-old superstitions about childcare in Vietnam. As someone who has experienced profound social change firsthand, these stories resonate with me and cheer me up in the most challenging times. They remind me that change is not only possible, but achievable with persistence and the right tools.

I encourage you to find something that will keep that spark of interest in your eyes and the eyes of your team. It's usually a long journey and it's better to enjoy it.

Implementation: from Small Steps to a Show-Case Environment

When conducting interviews and discussions with my team members and other parties involved, I transparently communicate that I am investigating the opportunities for a Product Review change. This open dialogue attracts interest and invites others to join. I am also looking for the teams with the most favorable environment to try the most disruptive and risky experiments.

Once I make sure the change is timely and I feel I know the people well enough, I start implementing the change. When practicing effective Sprint Reviews in various environments, I’ve found the following process universal:

  1. Sprint Reviews Workshop. This begins with a brief overview of Sprint Reviews practice as an integral part of user centric development and evidence-based culture. I explain their function, possible formats, and openly share my personal experiences, including both notable successes and significant failures. You can also consider watching or reading about some good examples to discuss together. Following the theory, we brainstorm as a team on our first step towards improvement – something that's manageable yet slightly challenging in their context. As ideation may be difficult for the teams at first, I usually prepare potential first steps in advance, drawing ideas from the team members' needs and pain points. I position them as examples of what can be done next, and it usually starts lively discussions.
  2. Individual and Team Coaching: This aims to enhance presentation skills and broaden the toolset required for Sprint Reviews. It's essential for each team to be able to explain their work to non-technical individuals, understand their user and customer personas, manage potentially toxic comments, work on expectation setting, and establish an awareness of their teammates and stakeholders' interests.
  3. Feedback loop as a team routine. Having the habit of implementing the improvements from the previously collected and sorted feedback, asking how to present better and who can be invited is extremely beneficial. Like any routine, it saves energy while enabling continuous improvement. From time to time, consider organizing retrospectives dedicated to Sprint Reviews. Moving forward with each of the next small but challenging steps has to become a habit.
  4. Celebrate Small Victories: Acknowledge your team's accomplishments and spread the word within other parts of the organization. Balance these celebrations with learnings from failed or less successful experiments. These small wins don’t only motivate the team but also contribute to building the momentum for the change across the organization.

Now, we've reviewed the flow - as you can see, I haven't mentioned any specific activities, just the direction and the procedures for finding the next step. I do believe that it's important to treat each team and organization differently and to be driven by the data from their environment. However, I also notice that many teams find it difficult to come up with their own ideas of how to move forward. Therefore, I have prepared examples that have worked well in practice to inspire their creativity:

Action Format ideas Recommendations
Training the presentation skills
  • Give a list of things to try and let people choose what they'd like to use.
  • Ask what examples from other teams have been useful, and brainstorm what can be tried.
Use peer pressure:if you ask the group what to choose, there is a greater chance that the fear will be overcome and something will be chosen. Once one of your team members chooses to try something new, others are likely to join in.
Collect feedback at the end of the Review about how the meeting went
  • Interactive exercises (e.g. use a Troika exercise and invite observers from another team to provide feedback at the end of the meeting, and then switch to repeat the exercise at their Sprint Reviews)
  • Specific questions (what are you taking away from the meeting, what was most useful for your future work and why, what could we live without, etc.) 

Gathering feedback is important; you can insist on it, but let your team choose the ways that work best for them.

Casual talks with Individual stakeholder after the sprint review to gather more open feedback
  • A "water cooler" or "coffee" type of conversation usually provides the environment for the most openness. You can also ask to jump on a short call or text to ask specific, work-related questions based on the results of the sprint review.

Talk to different people; do not make routines for such calls so people keep sharing feedback within the Review meeting. This is rather a "quality check."

Creating a Demo Presentation Template
  • Document the current meeting structure and see what other parts can be added. For example, context, next steps, orreturn on time investment assessment may be the first candidates.

Let the team choose the tools they feel comfortable with; don't insist on innovative tools - that can come later, and it's important not to let the inconvenience of using them discourage experimentation (for example, it's better to have the next steps documented in a shared PowerPoint presentation than to insist on Miro and not have them documented at all).

When collecting feedback, ask explicitly about the new parts that have been added: this is a way to measure success and, almost always, increases the team's confidence in the new experiments, inspiring them to do more.

Trying out interactive formats or their elements
  • Consider a more interactive approach to your meeting structure. You can use for inspiration or try out:
    • Inviting your stakeholders to try the functionality for the first time right at the Review meeting and then analyze the results
    • Going through the user flow from different user persona points (you can do breakouts and then merge the results)
    • Liberating Structures like Conversation Cafe
Start with the structures that feel safe enough for the team to try. Listen carefully to what can go wrong and brainstorm ways to mitigate those risks. If you work for a large organization, ask your colleagues if they have tried anything and how it went. Experiment with new formats on a smaller scale or with internal stakeholders first.

Broadening the Circle: Inviting New Participants

Taking the leap towards a more open and collaborative review process involves expanding the circle of participants. This isn't merely about boosting numbers, but rather about integrating diverse perspectives to foster a richer and more fruitful discussion.

Consider inviting other internal stakeholders. Are there teams working on related functionality or willing to engage with your work? Their insights can be invaluable. Similarly, bringing in "observers" can be beneficial. Look for open-minded individuals who can provide valuable, skillfully communicated feedback. Don't forget the other decision makers in your organization: who might be interested in the functionality you're demonstrating? Maybe the marketing team would like to know more details, maybe customer success can help validate the workflow with early adopter customers, maybe sales can run your demo for several potential customers. Many companies have Reviews open to the entire organization; maybe this is an option for you too.

Now that you have experimented with Sprint Reviews with new internal participants, it may be a good time to consider inviting external stakeholders. Each company chooses its own working product discovery tools, and these may be some usage metrics or user interviews - not necessarily should there be externals at the reviews. However, especially in the B2B space, users and customers are often important invitees. Done well, Sprint Reviews can be one of the tools to upsell and generally strengthen your relationship with customers. When they see how their opinions are heard and how they can influence the product, it's easy to become a loyal user and promote it internally.

Here are a few more recommendations:

  • Continue to ask your team members for recommendations on who to invite. If you are successful and have candidates, take some time to learn about them and, if you can, check in with colleagues who have worked with them. With your team, review the personas they belong to, read their LinkedIn profiles, and understand their work pain points and interests.
  • As you build this diverse participant list, prioritize stakeholders who are not only interested but also open to change. It's crucial to foster positive associations with these initial experiments.
  • When extending invitations, remember to align your agenda with the invitees and ask about their expectations. If certain expectations aren't feasible, be transparent and communicate that up front.
  • Don’t avoid small talks and introductions when you have newcomers at your Review. You can and you should keep it short, but establishing a personal connection and making people feel safe is essential.

Engaging users and other external stakeholders often requires a significant amount of preparation and follow-up. Remember, the goal isn't merely to gather feedback; it's to make these individuals feel invested in the experiment. Be grateful, show them the success their feedback has contributed to, follow up with them, and ask for their ideas, not just their opinions.

Moving away from a reporting culture in Sprint Reviews is like creating a beautiful mosaic. Each piece – from understanding your organization's culture, to empowering your team with the skills they need, to engaging new stakeholders – plays an important role. It may seem overwhelming at first, but by addressing each aspect one at a time, mindset and culture change becomes manageable. As each piece finds its place, a bigger picture emerges, revealing a vibrant, creative and collaborative environment. My wish for you is that this journey, step by step, shapes into a masterpiece that reflects collaboration and innovation.

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