Questioning the end of sprint demo

Posted on February 1st, 2010 in Agile by siddharta || 2 Comments

Scrum prescribes this little ceremony at the end of the sprint called “the demo.” The idea of the demo is to show the stakeholders what was built during the sprint. What can be wrong with that?

The idea behind the demo

The idea behind the demo is to make progress visible. When the stakeholders see tangible progress in terms of working software they are more likely to have increased confidence in both the process and the progress. At the same time, if something could not be completed within the sprint, the demo makes it visible. By keeping the stakeholders in the loop, transparency and trust is increased.

So what could be the problem?

As I explained in my talk at Agile Bengaluru (Slide 13), one problem that we faced was we were too focused on building increments of software, and not nearly focused on putting it out into production and getting feedback.

We thought Scrum was about taking a piece of the backlog, and building it. Then take another piece, and build it. And so on, until the backlog is done. The thinking was “build increment, build increment, build increment.” Nowhere in the equation did we think about putting it into the hands of end users and getting feedback and changing the backlog.

Big mistake!

The demo reinforces dysfunctional behaviour

An end of sprint demo reinforces the “increment” notion. We do a demo not to get feedback but to show progress. “Here is what we built” we tell the stakeholders. Once the stakeholders are happy with progress (or not), we go back to building the next increment.

The demo is really too short to get any substantial feedback. Feedback, if any, is superficial – move this box there, change this colour.

Real feedback only comes when the end user uses the software in accomplishing real life goals. That takes time. Its not something that can be done in a small demo. Also note that feedback comes from the end user, not the product owner, not the paying customer. The only way to get this feedback is to put your increment of software out into production where real end users can use it.

Common sense?

It was a long time before I realised the mistake of not putting releases into the hands of the end user. When realisation hit, I slapped my forehead for overlooking such an obvious thing. “Duh, Stupid mistake” I thought.

However, talking to other teams, I realised that maybe its not so obvious after all. It looks like a lot of teams are focused on “build increment,” not so many on “release to end users and get feedback.”

Perhaps it’s time to get rid of the demo and replace it with a real release to end users.

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2 Responses to “Questioning the end of sprint demo”

  1. Bob MacNeal Says:

    The distinction you make about having a Sprint demo simply to show progress rather than to get actionable feedback is an important one. Thanks for reminding us!

  2. The biggest waste in software development » Silver Stripe Blog » Blog Archive Says:

    […] How often do you deploy to end users? No, I don’t mean “potentially releasable”. I don’t mean showing a demo. I mean actually releasing it so that end users can use it in day to day […]

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