Leveraging the Sprint Review to simplify your stakeholder management

Sprint Review Oct 7, 2019

Unhappy stakeholders can make your job as a Product Owner impossible. Your stakeholders may start to undermine you and work against you.

To prevent this from happening you need to manage your stakeholders.

Stakeholder management is essential to succeed as a Product Owner. Delivering value in a complex landscape of stakeholders with unique interests is difficult. It’s not something that comes natural to most people.

I am enjoying stakeholder management more and more. I no longer consider myself to be ‘managing’ my stakeholders. Instead, I try to involve them as early and often as possible.

I try to understand and use their valuable insights. Collaboration makes my job easier and the results are better as well.

The crucial event for involving your stakeholders is the Sprint Review. If you consider the Sprint Review to be just a demo, you are missing out!

I will now show how you can best involve your stakeholders in the Sprint Review.

Sprint Review is not about the demo, it’s about the feedback

I’ve explained before why you should never call the Sprint Review a demo. Sprint Reviews should be highly interactive and collaborative. During the Sprint Review you receive feedback on what you’ve delivered.

At the end of the Sprint Review I always ask my stakeholders if they are happy with the value we’ve delivered. If they are not happy, I will ask follow-up questions to find out why not.

When they are not happy, there is something we can learn. It is valuable input for our retrospective. We can perform great as a team, but if our stakeholders are unhappy then something is terribly wrong.

Did we not work on the right thing? That would be strange, as I always involve my stakeholders in the decision what to do next.

I will now explain how you can use the Sprint Review to help decide what to do next.

Using the Sprint Review to decide what to do next

At the end of the Sprint Review, I show our Product Backlog and Roadmap. I ask my stakeholders: if there is one thing we should do next, what should it be and why?

Usually this will be the next big thing at the top of the Product Backlog. If stakeholders disagree, then we try to reach agreement during the Sprint Review.

Postponing the decision what to do next is not an option. Working with multiple competing priorities will just result in everybody getting what they want later.

We need a single big thing because each Sprint has a single Sprint Goal. The Sprint Goal serves the business by speeding up time-to-market.

This only works if you convince all stakeholders that focusing on a single thing at a time is the best approach.

When doing multiple big features in parallel you create the illusion of progress: everyone is busy, but nothing gets finished. You no longer control priority. When you don’t choose what to prioritize, then the choice will be made for you.

So before the next Sprint starts we have a clear commitment from everyone on what we should be doing next. This serves as valuable input for crafting a finalized Sprint Goal together with the Scrum Team during Sprint Planning.

Share obstacles to delivering value to create common understanding

Every Sprint my team is transparent about the challenges we encountered and how we resolved them. There might also have been obstacles we were not able to overcome, then we are transparent about these as well.

By being transparent about challenges and obstacles, we create common understanding.

Our stakeholders will better understand the context the Scrum Team is operating in. If a feature is delayed, they will understand why instead which decreases the chances of them becoming angry.

Being transparent about obstacles and challenges works in favor of the Scrum Team. Sometimes there are organizational issues that are slowing us down. The Sprint Review is an opportunity to tie these organizational issues to value being delivered later.

As a consequence you can turn important business stakeholders into your ally to help resolve organizational problems. These stakeholders may use their power to ensure these issues get fixed as soon as possible, so they can get what they want sooner.

I also expect stakeholders to be transparent about their obstacles or challenges to get value from what we deliver.

When we build a feature, it may be that we missed something that makes it less valuable. Our stakeholders can explain this to us and increase our business understanding.

Next Sprint we may use this information to immediately fix the issue that was addressed. And for future Sprints we might already make the right decision as we have a better understanding of the business domain.

Involve your stakeholders instead of managing them

Keeping your stakeholders happy is essential to succeed as a Product Owner. Unhappy stakeholders will work against you and make life difficult.

The Sprint Review is a crucial for involving your stakeholders. You should do the following things during the Sprint Review to collaborate with your stakeholders successfully:

  • Ask for feedback on the value delivered. If they are unhappy with the value you have delivered, there is an opportunity to inspect and adapt.
  • Decide during the Sprint Review the single most important thing to do next. By doing this you obtain commitment from your stakeholders on the most important thing to do next. By focusing on a single thing you will speed-up time-to-market and you are able to control priority.
  • Be transparent about obstacles and challenges. Possible resulting delays will be easier to explain and digest. If organizational issues are slowing you down, powerful stakeholders may become your ally to help resolve them.

The best way to keep your stakeholders happy is to stop managing them and by working together on the same team. Disagreements are easier to resolve when everybody is working towards the same goals.