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What do you consider to be the most important scrum event and why?

What do you consider to be the most important scrum event and why?


Welcome to part 1 of our scrum master interview questions series where John McFadyen answers common questions asked of scrum masters in interviews and client engagements.

This is one of my favourite questions to receive in training courses, but I am surprised that this is an interview question.

Each team, organization and scrum master generally has their own preference for a particular scrum event, but I would be surprised if the general response to this wasn’t the sprint retrospective.

Why the sprint retrospective?

Why is the sprint retrospective so important? Because the sprint retrospective focuses almost exclusively on the continuous improvement element of scrum and agile.

I would go as far as to say that even if a team did away with scrum completely, but simply committed to taking time, every few weeks, to meet and discuss what went well during the sprint and what areas need improvement, you would still have a high-performing agile team.

By taking time out to deliberately seek out opportunities for improvement, you are going to see gains across all the other areas of scrum as a natural consequence. The team will be better at planning, they will improve their daily communications, and the quality of products and features they build will improve.

Sprint Planning versus Sprint Retrospective

Some people may think that the sprint planning event is more important than sprint retrospectives, but I would disagree.

There are many ways that you can solve the planning element, and tools such as KANBAN empower teams to remove the element of sprint planning and sprints in favour of a backlog that provides the team with insights into what the most valuable work is and pull on that work as they progress.

The backlog will already be ordered in terms of value and importance and as such there would be no need for a sprint planning event at all. The combination of scrum and Kanban, without sprint planning, is known as ScrumBan.

So, sprint planning is only one of the ways in which an agile team can decide the priority of work, so that is why I would value a sprint retrospective above a sprint planning event.

Daily Scrum versus Sprint Retrospective

A daily scrum is important in helping the team maintain alignment with what is currently being built, what will happen in the next 24 hours, and what might stand in the way of progress.

It’s useful in helping everyone stay on course and focused on the most important work.

Some teams choose to do away with a daily scrum and make use of KANBAN to help everyone stay on track with how work is flowing through the system and commit to having individual meetings as and when needed to ensure that problems are solved and that teams are aligned.

A developer may go straight to the product owner, as they draw work from the backlog, for some insights into what might be the most valuable element of the work to be done or to gain a deeper understanding of the problem that needs solving.

I recommend daily scrums, but I have also witnessed teams get by just fine without them, so that is why I would value the sprint retrospective above the daily scrum.

Sprint Review versus a Sprint Retrospective.

A sprint review is a valuable event where the scrum team meet with customers, end-users, and product stakeholders to demonstrate what has been built and receive feedback on whether the product increment meets stakeholder expectations or whether they need to go back to the drawing board.

Rapid feedback loops, from customers and product stakeholders, is central to the agile manifesto and principle of customer interactions above contract negotiation, and so it is incredibly important for a team to achieve high performance.

That said, there are several ways in which developers can engage with customers or product stakeholders to understand whether what they are building meets and exceeds expectations. In many agile environments, the team are encouraged to have strong relationships with customers and engage with those customers as and when necessary.

So, it would be very close between the sprint review and the sprint retrospective, but I would still choose the sprint retrospective because it offers us the opportunity to explore our processes and systems to understand how we could be more effective in delivering greater value to customers and product stakeholders.

It also allows us to explore feedback from customer engagements and seek out ways to improve the customer experience, in alignment with creating an environment where the team can thrive and excel.

What a sprint retrospective is really about.

The sprint retrospective is really about the team coming together and having very honest, open conversations about the things that most matter to the team.

Because the sprint retrospective seldom involves stakeholders or people from outside of the team, there is a great degree of psychological safety and each individual on the team is encouraged to be open and honest about where they are lagging and what can be done to improve that.

The team are deeply committed to identifying a single opportunity for improvement and using the time between retrospectives to test that hypothesis through an experiment or an implementation of the idea, and then coming together to explore whether gains were achieved.

  • What is good?
  • What is not so good?
  • What are the things that we can tackle to improve?
  • What elements of our process need to be explored?
  • Which systems are working, and which are failing us?

The team will explore anything from systems and processes to skills and behaviours. It doesn’t have a fixed agenda in terms of priority. The team are simply identifying what needs improvement and committing, as a team, to doing what is necessary to resolve the problem or exploit the opportunity.

Sprint Retrospective Summary

So, although each scrum event is important and the scrum framework works great when each event is treated with equal opportunity, if I had to draw down on which of those events is the most important to the development of an agile team, it would hands down be the sprint retrospective.

About John McFadyen

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