Sooner or later a Scrum Team finds itself in the situation that the Product Owner is not available for the Sprint Review. They ask themselves what to do: Reschedule the Sprint Review? Or just skip it?
Rescheduling the Sprint Review
The Sprint Review can be rescheduled if the Product Owner would be available sometime soon, like on the same day or the next day.
Scrum Events should take place on the same time and same place, to reduce organisational overhead. Everyone should keep this in mind. Rescheduling should be an exception. Especially if rescheduling the Sprint Review leads to rescheduling all following events like the Sprint Retrospective and the Sprint Planning.
Skipping the Sprint Review
What happens if the Scrum Team just skips the Sprint Review? The Scrum Guide says:
[E]ach event in Scrum is a formal opportunity to inspect and adapt something. These events are specifically designed to enable critical transparency and inspection. Failure to include any of these events results in reduced transparency and is a lost opportunity to inspect and adapt.
The Sprint Review is the time and place to inspect the “Done” Increment to generate feedback for the further product development. If you miss this “opportunity to inspect and adapt”, it can cost you dearly.
What could be better alternatives to rescheduling or skipping the Sprint Review? Here are some suggestions.
Decouple from the Sprint Review
A Scrum Team shouldn’t depend completely on the Sprint Review to generate feedback for the product. The Agile Manifesto says:
Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project.
Means that the Product Owner (or even stakeholders) should work with the team on a day-to-day basis and provide feedback continuously. By doing this the Sprint Review’s topics shift from using the software to working on product strategy. The whole Scrum Team gets a shared understanding where the product needs to go. That leads to appropriate decisions, even if the Product Owner isn’t available.
However, this doesn’t make the Sprint Review obsolete. It just reduces the blow radius of a Sprint Review that doesn’t take place or if the Product Owner can’t attend the meeting.
Okay, so the Product Owner isn’t there. But maybe he can join the Sprint Review via phone call or video conference software? The latter enables visual presentation or even using the software remotely by sharing mouse and keyboard input.
If you have stakeholders that wish to join the Sprint Review, make sure everyone has the same experience and ability to provide feedback.
Hallway Sprint Reviews
As a equivalent to hallway usability testing the Scrum Team can invite specific or even random people to its Sprint Review. This can be appropriate if else there would be no one present except the Development Team, not even stakeholders. Guests should use the software and asks questions to the Development Team. Any feedback is better than no feedback.
You will even be surprised what people come up with. Inviting random people can be a refresher for any Scrum Team’s Sprint Review. Try it!
The Scrum Master’s Responsibilities
However, this alternatives are addressing the symptom, not the cause of the problem. If the Product Owner is regularly unavailable, in the Sprint Review or throughout the Sprint, it’s the Scrum Master’s responsibility to work with the Product Owner and the rest of the organisation to find a appropriate solution. How this can be done, is another matter. But both the Product Owner and other persons in charge should be made clear that any lost opportunity to inspect and adapt can mean serious harm to the product and customer satisfaction and therefore a harm to the company as a whole.