How to Give a Great Sprint Demo

Exciting. Entertaining. Do these words describe your sprint review meetings? Or are boring and unfocused more accurate?

I can’t believe how many times I’ve come in to coach a team and they’ve been surprised when I actually expected to see a software demo in the sprint review meeting. As the agile principle says, “Working software is the primary measure of progress.” Let’s see some software!

Why are so many agile teams so hesitant to do demos? Why are demos so lifeless? Sometimes, the team’s not actually done. That makes a demo awkward. Other times, they can’t communicate what they did to the stakeholders; they don’t speak “business.” But most often, they simply don’t know how to give a good demo.

So, how do you give a good demo?

Here are a few tips:

  • Focus on value. You’ve defined what done means for the story (right?), so focus your demo around proving that you’re actually done. Show that the product increment does what it actually is supposed to do. Explain why it matters. Use realistic scenarios and data. Explain the context—what comes before and answer for the user.
  • Start with the demo in mind. Don’t wait to think about the demo until you’re done with the story. You might be able to write tests that double as demo scripts. And it’s best to plan your demo for a story while it’s fresh in your mind, before you move to the next story.
  • Prepare. Don’t ad lib. Think through an interesting scenario to prove that you’ve satisfied the core acceptance criteria. Create any necessary test data. Use tools like Watir if necessary to get your app into a state where you can start an interesting demo.
  • Practice. Run through the demo at least once. When you’re getting started, you might want to grab a trial version of Camtasia and record yourself giving the practice demo. Painful, huh? That just means you need to work on it.
  • Tell a story. Center your demo around a realistic user solving a real problem. The point is not just to show that the software works, but to show that it’s valuable.
  • Keep it short. If you work on your stories one at a time and get them accepted when they’re ready, you don’t need to exhaustively cover all your acceptance criteria in your demo. Instead, focus your demo on what’s interesting and what’s valuable about each feature.

The sprint demo should be the most exciting part of Scrum. It’s when the team gets to show everyone all the value they’re delivering. That’s worth investing a little time to do well. You may find that previously disinterested stakeholders start coming just for the show.

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