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7 ways to strengthen sprint review feedback from remote stakeholders

Tricia Whenham
Posted by Tricia Whenham on Oct 31, 2019 6:00:00 AM
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“Criticism is the fuel by which the vehicle of success runs,” said philanthropist Oscar Auliq-Ice. That’s why sprint review is such a crucial step in Scrum. Because along with demoing the shippable part of your product and discussing challenges and breakthroughs with stakeholders, it’s also your chance for everyone invested in the development process to share the product feedback you need to keep your work on the right course.

None of this is news to any scrum team – it’s right there in the sprint review section of the scrum guide, from “elicit feedback and foster collaboration” to “agree to be open about all the work and the challenges with performing the work.” But as the number of distributed teams and organizations keep increasing, distance can add challenges that were never envisioned when the guide was written.

Take, for example, the scrum team whose stakeholders don’t work in the same office. Getting helpful feedback is always tricky, but add in a conference call and things tend to go a little sideways. Luckily, you can bridge the distance with a little effort and anticipation.

Planning your next sprint review? Here are 7 ways to make the feedback you get from your remote stakeholders more focused, useful and collaborative.

1. Take a time check

Running an effective meeting with remote people requires rethinking things you normally take for granted.

Time zones are a perfect example. Maybe it’s easy to keep tabs on your development team’s schedules, even when one or two people are calling in. But when other people from the organization, or your customers, get invited to attend sprint review, it can be easy to accidentally book the meeting at a time that just doesn’t work.

Before you schedule sprint review, use a time zone checker (here’s a simple one) to quickly see what time is good for everyone. And once you find something that works, hold onto it for dear life by booking a recurring meeting so no one else can snatch it up.

2. Greet and meet

Conference calls have come a long way. But even with better sound quality and visual cues like video, it can be hard to track the conversation in the room. This is especially true for sprint review, when everyone doesn’t always know one another well – especially if customers or other people outside your organization are dropping by to give feedback.

Try this – make a point to introduce yourself before you talk, whether you’re in the room or not. Giving extra clues can make a big difference for people calling in. And if everyone does it, no one needs to feel self conscious if there’s uncertainty about who’s speaking.

Remote stakeholder giving sprint review feedback

3. Hear the difference

It’s hard to give good feedback if the audio in the room isn’t up to snuff. And sprint review can pose some specific challenges – turning your back to the mic as you work on an interactive display or straining to hear the soft talker that every dev team seems to have.

Sprint review is more active than some traditional meetings. Everyone needs to be able to be heard, no matter what part of the room they’re in and whether they’re an experienced presenter or feel uncomfortable raising their voice. So make sure your audio conferencing system can handle it (here’s how Nureva audio systems deal with the challenges).

4. Say what you need

When it comes to feedback, being clear and specific pays. If you just leave it a free for all – asking “Any comments?” – you may find your team dragged down a rabbit hole full of issues that have nothing to do with your sprint.

Plus, if you only make vague requests for feedback, people who don’t often come to sprint review may not feel open to sharing their ideas. So the input you get could be skewed toward the most extroverted and opinionated people – and you’ll never know what insights you’re missing.

Instead, explain from the start exactly what feedback you need and what you’re going to do with it. This may seem basic, but unless your sprint review always consists of the same people, the reminder is well worth it. Then, ask for feedback from specific people, especially those who won’t readily volunteer it. And don’t leave it until the end, when feedback fatigue has set in – pace out the prompts at different times to keep the vibe collaborative throughout.

Sprint review feedback gathering

5. Watch your language

Communicating feedback can be hard enough, but take away context clues like facial expression and body language and misunderstandings can rise. When people are distributed (and video feeds aren’t always the clearest), choosing words carefully is even more important.

As you facilitate feedback gathering, keep the possibility of miscommunications front of mind. Ask for clarifications when you think something might be missed, and encourage the rest of the team to do the same. Be particularly careful when people are giving feedback in a second language. A little prevention is worth a ton of headaches later on if wires get crossed.

6. Get visual

When some people are in the room and some are remote, it can easily create a division that affects the quality of feedback you receive. One way to level the playing field – go visual. Sticky notes have long been a tool to collect a broader range of feedback from people in the room. Now that you have remote people to consider, take advantage of digital collaboration tools, like Span™ Workspace, with digital sticky notes that make it easy for people to add comments and questions and post them to a shared canvas.

By offering another way to give feedback, you’ll receive a wider range of responses than you would if you just asked for verbal responses. And you’ll avoid the dreaded groupthink that can plague agile ceremonies. You can still get everyone to verbally elaborate on their stickies, but the starting point for the discussion will be there.

Be sure to choose a tool that lets a wide range of people participate, so there’s no roadblocks with inviting customers to your sessions. Span Workspace subscriptions include an unlimited number of free guest accounts, so collaboration can extend beyond your team.

Span Workspace for sprint review feedback

7. Flex your demo plans

You’ve heard of GIGO – garbage in, garbage out. Well, it holds true beyond computer code. If your stakeholders don’t have a really good chance to see the increment at work, the feedback they’re able to give will reflect that.

Demonstrating stories effectively is one thing when everyone’s in the room. Adding remote people is another level of complication. Consider whether you have the right setup to deliver a good remote demo or whether you need to send out anything ahead of time.

If you’re using digital collaboration tools, you can make things simpler by putting everything you want to share – from burndown charts to bug tracking stats – on the same cloud-based canvas. You can demo your completed stories directly in that canvas by screen sharing and then ask for sticky-note feedback as well. Keeping everything in the same place eliminates the need for remote participants to switch from application to application.

Adapting processes to the new distributed reality isn’t just an issue with sprint review. Whether you’re doing story estimation or daily stand-up or retrospectives, the growing number of remote workers is prompting agile teams to adjust – to act, well, more agile – to keep their collaborative drive going even at a distance. But the more investment you make in strengthening teamwork, no matter where you are, the bigger the payoffs will be.

Topics: Agile Remote Work Scrum Sprint Review