Techniques For Improving Your Daily Scrum: When The Daily Scrum Isn’t Daily

The daily scrum is one of the most valuable practices that any team can use. Teams that are new to Scrum, particularly teams that are transitioning from a more traditional project management methodology can fall victim to less than stellar habits in their daily Scrum meeting.  The value that should have been derived from this simple, light-weight practice can be heavily diluted by poor habits. These habits then impact the team, the Sprint, the release, and the organization.  Good effective daily scrum meetings generally don’t just happen they take practice and discipline.  Effective Scrum teams grow into their daily scrum habits, based on some basic non-negotiable disciplines, through inspecting and adapting what works for them.

The heartbeat of the sprint, the daily scrum is a time-bound meeting of no more than 15 minutes. It is the smallest, tightest feedback loop built into the Scrum framework.  This meeting acts as a “work-centric” feedback loop that team members use to communicate and review Sprint progress, synchronize direction and focus, identify obstacles, and improve everyone’s level of project knowledge as they self-organize to meet the Sprint commitment.

The daily scrum is not a management reporting mechanism or status report.    This practice is about commitment and accountability by the team.  These meetings are run by the team, for the team.  They keep the team focused on the Sprint goal, and facilitate team collaboration and self-organization. The rewards to the team, the project and the organization are well worth the time spent.

This series of blog postings will describe some common “smells” that may indicate that your daily scrum is less effective than it could be;  and techniques teams can adopt to increase the efficiency and productivity of this important feedback loop. Not every team will want or need all of these techniques.  Choose what works for your team in a particular situation.

Before discussing those smells, however, let’s review the basic disciplines that every team should be following in their daily meeting. Then we’ll examine the first “smell” – when the daily scrum isn’t daily.

Basic Disciplines Of The Daily Scrum

Meet at the Same Bat-Time, Same Bat-Channel

Disciplines necessary for effective daily scrums include having the  team meet at the same time, in the same place every single work day. It’s a habit, there are no questions of when, where or who should be there.  Ideally you are working in a co-located team, with a workroom assigned to your team that has information on big visible charts posted on the walls.  The updated burn down chart showing the trend line of work remaining should be prominently posted, where the team can meet in front of it.  Everyone needs to be aware of the progress of the Sprint.

When you are working in a less than ideal environment – perhaps you are globally distributed, or management hasn’t found a work room for the team to use, or… the list can go on.  In each and every case though – agree on a time to meet every day, in the same place.  If you are using conference calls or other technology, ensure that the same conference call information is used each time and everyone knows what it is.

Answer the Three Questions

Each team member answers the same three questions – What have I accomplished since the last meeting?  What do I plan to do for the next meeting? What impediments are in my way?  The answers are not intended for management; this communication is intended for your colleagues on the team, so that they know what’s going on.  Keep your answers brief, specific, and relevant to the Sprint.  Further elaboration, if needed, can happen outside the daily scrum meeting.

The ScrumMaster attends this meeting as a team member, to understand what’s happening in the Sprint and to capture team impediments so that  she can begin working on removing them.

Stay Time-boxed and Focused

It’s important to maintain the discipline keeping the daily Scrum meeting to no more than 15 minutes.  Team members should stay focused on the three questions –  not on entertaining their peers, complaining about an organizational or policy issue, or just general bitching.    The ScrumMaster is there to coach team members on maintaining that discipline, and why it needs to be done.

When The Daily Scrum Isn’t Daily

The daily scrum is just that — daily.  This synchronization point is meant to increase the team’s communication and focus.  The team meets each day, discusses the day’s work, finds out  who needs help an. When teams don’t huddle daily, they risk losing the communication and focus necessary to build the right product  with the appropriate quality and meet their commitments.

Often this smell, moving the daily scrum to anything other than a daily meeting, is an indication that something else is awry.  The underlying problem may lie with misunderstanding the purpose  of the daily meeting and/or misunderstanding the discipline and simple practices that teams can and should adopt for themselves.

These misunderstandings may be rooted in larger issues; possibly there is dis-empowerment of teams to self-organize, or the daily scrum is being used as a status meeting for management, or there is significant upheaval around the Scrum implementation itself that is impacting team morale.  Start asking questions – why aren’t they meeting every day? What other problems do the answers point to? While we do want to address this symptom, we certainly don’t want to under-diagnose the situation by focusing only on the daily Scrum and miss the bigger picture.

The solution for this smell is easy. The team holds these meetings every day, and follow the basic practices.  Getting buy-in and agreement from team members around this solution may not be as easy. One way to start is by making this smell a focus of the next retrospective; asking the questions – how effective are our sync up meetings (if they aren’t held daily, they aren’t daily scrums, are they?)_ Why aren’t they daily? How can we make them more effective?  Facilitate the team in building working agreements on  when, where and how they are going to hold these daily meetings.  Be clear – less than daily is not an option.

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One comment on “Techniques For Improving Your Daily Scrum: When The Daily Scrum Isn’t Daily
  1. Ajie says:

    Hi,
    Thanks for this nice article. We figured out that standup meetings are great but needed improvement (they took a lot of time, de-focussed our colleagues and interrupted their workflows). Because of this we developed a SaaS tool to “automate” the daily standup meetings – with just a single email. If you like to take a look: http://www.30secondsmail.com.
    Best,
    Ajie

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