Repeat after me: Retrospectives are not demos!

Published September 7, 2015 by David Horowitz

What's the difference between a sprint review, a sprint demo, and a retrospective? For beginners to scrum (and even for some who are more experienced), it can be hard to tell them apart. But they are distinct, and if your scrum team is to succeed, it is critically important to understand the differences.


Let's start with what the sprint review is not. It's not an opportunity to pass acceptance criteria, or to get sign off from stakeholders. In fact, if that's what you're using the sprint review for, you might be stuck in "mini waterfall" mode.

Instead, the sprint review is a chance for the team (including the product owner) to have a conversation with stakeholders about what the team accomplished during the sprint. The sprint review is product focused -- in fact, the output of the sprint review is usually a modified product backlog based on the feedback the team receives from the stakeholders at the meeting.


Simply put, there is no such thing as a "sprint demo" in scrum. Don't believe me? Go ahead and try to find it in the Official Scrum Guide. It's not there!

In practice, however, many teams refer to the sprint review as the sprint demo, and the two terms have become somewhat interchangeable in the real world. But words matter, and the review is more than just a demo. A demo implies a one-way street, from me to you. In a demo, I show you what I've done. But a sprint review is more than a one-way demo: it's a collaborative conversation. In fact, while a demo is generally a part of the sprint review, it shouldn't be its focus.

Remember, Demo = Presentation. Review = Collaboration.


Notice that up until now, I haven't mentioned the word "retrospective". That's because the retrospective is separate and distinct from the sprint review. Unlike the sprint review, which is an opportunity to have a conversation with stakeholders around what you've built, the retrospective is a chance to look inward at yourselves: what worked well, what didn't work well, and how can we improve?

In other words, the retrospective is introspective. It doesn't focus on product, but instead is a chance to improve our process, our relationships, our culture. In fact, while product may come up in the retrospective, its only circumstantial to the conversation, and not its centerpiece.


...make it this:

Sprint Review = Conversation about product

Sprint Retrospective = Conversation about ourselves

Sprint Demo = Doesn't exist 🙂

Finally, if your scrum team is distributed, or has just a single person working from home, you need more than just a conference call to run effective retrospectives. 

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