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Sprint Review vs Retrospective - which one do you need, when, and why?

For teams new to the agile methodology, sprint reviews and retrospectives may appear to be identical.

But despite some key similarities, they’re very different. In this sprint review vs sprint retrospective guide, we’ll show you why they both matter — and how to get maximum value from each.

What is the main purpose of a sprint review?

A sprint review comes at the end of a sprint, by which point the Scrum team should have completed a potentially shippable product increment. The Scrum team and stakeholders meet to explore tasks completed throughout the sprint, and to determine if the objectives have been achieved.

Typically, a sprint review is informal and concise, despite still being comprehensive enough to offer valuable insights into results, performance, planning, etc.

What is the main purpose of a retrospective?

A retrospective follows the sprint review immediately, and focuses on how the Scrum team achieved its goals. The aim is to improve the development process overall, identifying opportunities to be more efficient and productive in the future.

How to run a sprint review

The following individuals should be present for an effective sprint review:

  • Scrum Master
  • Product Owner
  • Product Manager
  • Product developers
  • Developers from other projects
  • And any other stakeholders

It’s also great to have customer representation there too, if you can — some snippets of customer feedback will suffice, you don’t need a user I.R.L.

The typical sprint review agenda will be:

  • Make introductions (if this is one or more participants’ first time)
  • Product Owners should present the review’s agenda, so everyone knows their role and what to expect
  • Product Owners confirm completed tasks and those still unfinished -The developers should present the product increments completed by the end of the sprint and discuss any problems they’ve experienced (along with their solutions)
  • Product Owners should invite feedback from stakeholders, to gather honest insights into the product delivered
  • Finally, Product Owners should get stakeholder feedback for upcoming sprints, and feedback on the product backlog
  • Sprint reviews are best wrapped up on a positive note.

The length of a sprint review should be relative to the sprint’s duration. For example, one hour for a one-week sprint, or two hours for a two-week sprint, etc.

Post its wall

How to run a retrospective

Sprint retrospectives tend to include fewer participants, limited to:

  • Scrum Master
  • Product Owner
  • Scrum team

An effective retrospective follows this sequence:

  • The Scrum Master (or Scrum facilitator — whoever that may be!) asks the team to think about what went well throughout the sprint, and what they feel could be done better in the following sprint
  • Each person writes their own thoughts down on a Post-It note (anonymously, if possible) and then hands them over to the Scrum Master/fasilitator who puts them all out on display
  • The Scrum team votes on which ideas are most important to discuss, and then brainstorms ideas to resolve the issues raised — it’s important to actually follow up on ideas for improvement, you need to ‘walk the walk’, as well as ‘talking the talk’.
  • Improvements could have been implemented during the sprint already, but should be discussed “officially” during the retrospective.

Retrospectives should last between 60 and 90 minutes, based on a sprint running for two weeks. Meetings may be shorter or longer for sprints of different lengths.

Sprint reviews: pros and cons

Pros:

  • Gather vital, clear face-to-face feedback from stakeholders
  • Get visibility of work completed and work outstanding
  • Gain insights to inform the success of subsequent sprints
  • Teams learn more about the success of their own work and processes.

Cons:

  • Lack of structure can lead to meandering discussions
  • If stakeholders don’t understand the sprint’s goal, they may deliver unconstructive feedback.

Retrospectives: pros and cons

Pros:

  • Teams can identify solutions to problems before they affect another sprint
  • All team members can share their experiences and insights, boosting engagement and sense of ownership
  • Creates a clear plan for the next sprint
  • Identify risks to upcoming sprints and take preemptive action
  • Build trust between team members.

Cons:

  • Underestimating issues which appear minor could lead to bigger ones down the line
  • Team members responsible for certain problems could become frustrated if the issue is approached without tact
  • Implementing changes in working processes can disrupt teams’ routines.

The importance of running both at the right time

Understanding the sprint review/retrospective difference is crucial for getting the most out of each meeting. But why is it so important to run both at the same time?

Running a retrospective immediately after a sprint review empowers Scrum teams to reflect on work completed, learn from mistakes, identify more effective ways to achieve goals, and vent frustrations before running into the next sprint.

If days or weeks were to pass between the sprint review and retrospective, issues may be forgotten or undervalued. So, running both at the same time minimizes the risk of wasted time, money, and resources — creating happier, more productive workflows as a result.

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