Sign saying propane tanks are not allowed in store.

Sometimes no is the right answer and sometimes it is not!

I have been asked many times whether it is “ok” to include work that is not complete in a demonstration/sprint review.  The simple answer is that is a bad idea 95% of the time. If the answer is no most of the time, what would the default answer to “yes”?  The only good reason to demonstrate an incomplete user story is when feedback is needed or desired to allow the team to progress and the people participating in the demo are the right people.  Allowing the team to progress is not the same demonstrating progress …we have discussed the definition of bad. Occasionally I have seen the need to show progress for reasons of organizational politics.  Not a great reason, but sometimes you have to do what is necessary to stay employed. Both of these reasons should be RARE. I have a rule: I do not spend money that is older than I am — demo’ing incomplete stories should be at least that rare.  An unasked question that is even more important when the “can I demo incomplete work” question is asked, is how can you demo incomplete work items and stay safe. (Note – Generally when people ask if they can demo incomplete items they already have or are going to do it anyway and are looking for absolution.)  

Demo’ing Incomplete Story Safety Checklist

  1. Don’t Do It (I might sound like a broken record, but it bears saying again)
  2. Demo incomplete items separately from complete items.  Make sure the two categories don’t mix to reduce the possibility of confusion.
  3. Make a strong statement that the work item is incomplete and that the demonstration is to gather information not to try to talk people into accepting the work.
  4. Timebox the exercise. Everything in agile is timeboxed!  If a long discussion is needed, schedule a separate session with only those that are needed.  
  5. Tell people what type of feedback you need. Being specific about what you need will help to keep the conversation bounded. You will be more apt to get what you need if people know what you want.
  6. If you don’t get the information you need, ask specific people in the room directly.  Do this only if you don’t get it after telling people what you want.
  7. Don’t let anyone talk you into declaring a piece of work done if it doesn’t meet the definition of done the team has agreed upon.

While demonstrating incomplete items is fraught, the process can have value if done very carefully.  Demonstrating incomplete items can generate feedback that exposes risks, impediments and changing priorities. What it should not be is a backdoor to blow up the process.