3 Ways Product Owners Can Help Their Teams 10x The Sprint Review

Pausing for celebration, achievement, and alignment

I kept a smile frozen on my face the entire time in what was clearly a train wreck.

Leadership showed up expecting me to inspire confidence. With infighting and attrition across the team, I had to prove that the time and money invested was paying off. After hearing me drone through user stories, management abruptly left, then pulled the plug on the whole project.

My quest to never repeat this debacle has paid off, and I’ve uncovered a few ways product owners can 10x their Sprint Reviews for maximum impact.

#1 Showcase the team as they share work done & what they learned

Fundamental to a great Sprint Review is recognizing the team and celebrating wins.

The Product Owner, while doing no hands-on work, improves execution by highlighting the engineer’s code refactor to improve performance; the designer’s UX pattern innovation; and the data scientist’s client journey data insights.

By showcasing the team and facilitating each in their presentation of their insights in jargon-free terms, the Product Owner invites leadership to share in the team recognition and celebration.

#2 Share progress against outcomes and why it matters

Product management’s biggest responsibility is owning the “Why” behind the work.

Through aligning with broader company strategy, the Product Owner sets the team’s work in strategic context as it sequences over multiple sprints. It reassures leadership the product owner is leading the team to execute strategically.

This sets the stage for what may be the most important part of the Sprint Review.

#3 Increase collaboration with leadership

In legacy Command-and-Control contexts, teams are there to do what leaders and management tell them to do.

Scrum depends on Servant Leadership and the resulting Psychological Safety, which are the prerequisites for Empiricism. In the evolved Servant Leadership model, management is there to serve the team through two main functions:

  1. Removing obstacles and setting the team up to succeed
  2. Reviewing the work and providing direction on how to better align with the organization’s larger concerns and constraints

Removing team barriers to success

Senior stakeholders — Managers and leadership — need help to understand and embody the qualities of Servant Leadership. They are typically among the busiest people in the organization, and need clear insight into exactly where their unique help is needed most. And stakeholders require continuous reminders about the obstacles that could be preventing their teams from delivering their best work. The Product Owner can help these stakeholders help their team by collaborating with the team and focusing their asks to not more than three crucial requests per Sprint Review.

Some common mistakes I’ve seen teams make is to either flood stakeholders with 15 requests, or to mention a blocker once, and simply assume it will get handled. The team can’t become passive with these requests — they need to restrict them to at most three, and keep them focused and front and center of every Sprint Review until they are comprehensively resolved.

By leading presentation of these three mission-critical team needs, and getting insight on the state of previous requests, the Product Owner invites effective acts of Servant Leadership from management.

Review & discuss how the work aligns with strategy & current reality

“It’s not that you need less management with Agile, it’s that you need better management.” — Marty Cagan

True Servant Leadership involves more than just removing impediments. Managers need to thoughtfully review and understand the work and discuss how well it aligns with the future. This is management’s decisive opportunity to share their insights and help the Product Owner and team review and adjust course as necessary, feeding those suggestions into the upcoming Sprint Planning for the next Sprint.

This is what makes Scrum so great and truly gets at the essence of agility and empiricism: using the Sprint Review to review and adjust course as necessary over rigidly following a plan.

In this evolved model, leaders no longer command their teams, and neither do Agile teams simply go off and do their own thing without any leadership input. It’s an active, mutually respectful collaboration aligned to the Sprint cadence and punctuated by the centerpiece Sprint Review event.

The Sprint Review offers a rich opportunity for mutually-rewarding learning and collaboration.

Product Owners who focus on the above three points will have the edge in maximizing the impact of their team’s work in delivering value for their organizations.

This piece originally appeared in Serious Scrum.

Thanks to Matt DiBerardinoWillem-Jan Ageling, and Paweł Huryn for great feedback & suggestions & Marty de Jongefor additional help & support.

Photo by Matthew Osborn on Unsplash


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