How to deal with a Sprint Review if the Product Owner is not available

Ok, let say that the Product Owner has been available and helping the Scrum Team 100% of his time, worked closely with those implementing the “how” part of the solution, refined the backlog at least twice a week, maintained the delivery dates and pressure away from the team and taught the company about the importance of prioritising objectives and business value.

The whole Scrum Team has been truly focused on resolving all the user stories, removing obstacles and making sure the Definition of Done (Definition of Done) was achieved.

The day has finally arrived, guys are really anxious as in less than half an hour all the new features that will fly the imagination of the stakeholders are going to be on the “air”.

The room is ready, there is on each chair a piece of paper with a very attractive timetable as well as a brief description of every coming activity. The Scrum Master has brought a great game to break the ice, as today, there will be several important people coming to the Sprint Review. All the Scrum Team members are anxiously waiting for a great session with positive feedback as well as the chance to disseminate the benefits of the new solution to the rest of the organisation.

They also brought sweets and biscuits to warmly welcome the guests and got a high number of mobile and tablets to test the mobile version.

On the previous day, Product Owner and Scrum Team tested the different features to ensure that not only they were pre-approving them but also making sure that everything was in order and  ready to go.

Emotions and expectations are truly high and you can feel in the air the energy and optimism as a result of the hard work carried out during the last 2 weeks plus all the duties done during the previous sprints. They really want to see how the new features will change the customer lives to perpetuity.

Suddenly, 10 minutes before staring the Sprint Review the phone rang and the news were not encouraging…. the Product Owner has had a personal issue(*) and not able to come.

Just a quick remind you… this is not a mediocre Product Owner who puts another activity in front of a Scrum ceremony, I am talking about something really unexpected.

What should we do? Should we cancel the Sprint Review for the next day? Should we call it off until the end of the coming Sprint? or Should we do it another day with less people?

The Scrum Team starts panicking!

The answer is no to all of them.

Cadence is a core principle in Agile; here teams are self-organized, responsible, accountable and should take ownership of their problems in the same way as they do with features.

As Scrum Team We want to be able to demonstrate what We have created and get feedback So we can continue delighting our customer”

All right, it is possible to carry forward the ceremony, however, the acceptance criteria for the Sprint Review means that all user stories have to be accepted/rejected by the Product Owner.

Ups!! Then we should re-think the approach…

As Scrum Team We want to be able to demonstrate what We have created and get feedback So we can continue delighting our customer”
Acceptance criteria:

  • Show the creative solution to the problems the customer/stakeholders were experiencing
  • Get the user stories accepted or rejected based on the Definition of Done and the Acceptance Criteria of each feature

To overcome this situation, you would need someone to temporarily take over the role of Product Owner. But beware, he is not a Product Owner Proxy! It is human being who will not be sent to hell for taking these decisions, has the knowledge and expertise needed in the field and power to approve the stories.

In some strong hierarchical organizations there is a Chief Product Owner (or someone with a lot of years of experience)… take him! Another Product Owner is also a good choice.

Got that person on board and carry the Sprint Review as originally planned.

But be careful!

Perhaps you would need to take more notes than usual or even filming the meeting to be able to capture all the product feedback, as otherwise, it will be lost later during the hand over to the absent Product Owner.

But you can tell me here… what if there is nobody to take over the Product Owner?

If there is no one who can temporarily fill the gap, it would be possible for the Scrum Team to introduce all the finished User Stories to the stakeholders. Obviously, they can’t approve them and they should be placed on hold -without going into production-.

It is important at all times to keep the motivation high and capture as much feedback as possible. As the Product Owner is not available, you would not get as many questions as usual so you must pay especial attention to emphasize and maximize the feedback.

Finally, if the day after the Sprint Review the Product Owner is still absent, the Team start the Sprint by taking the coming highest priority user stories on the backlog -having in mind its velocity-. This means exactly the same priority that was left by the Product Owner as the team does not have the power to change it.

Thank you for listening,
(*) No Product Owner were harmed during the writing of this article.

Thanks for listening,

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