Steve – a ScrumMaster and the hero of our story
Michael – another ScrumMaster for a different team
Doug – a member of Steve’s team
James – a member of Steve’s team
Fred – a member of Steve’s team
Paula – the Product Owner of Steve’s team
Steve and the team are starting to reduce the rate of production support interruptions. The team is starting to collaborate more, but Steve notices that team members are still sometimes surprised by what others are doing. Wasn’t that what their Daily Scrum (also known as Daily Scrum Meeting or Daily Standup) was supposed to inform them on? Steve goes back and checks his trusty Scrum Sources:
- Daily Scrum should happen first thing in the morning.
- Team members answer three questions: What did you do yesterday? What will you do today? What are your obstacles?
- The ScrumMaster runs the meeting.
- Daily Scrum is held with all participants standing.
- Daily Scrum should last no more than 15 minutes.
It is easy to lose sight of what Daily Scrum is for
As far as Steve can tell, the team is doing all these things. Unsure of what to do, he calls his friend Michael, a ScrumMaster for another team, and asks him to come and watch the team’s Daily Scrum.
At 9:15 am, Steve walks around to everyone’s desk and reminds them it is time for Daily Scrum. At the start, he assembles everyone in front of the team’s Sprint Backlog, then reiterates the three Daily Scrum questions and directs each team member to answer them. Often, the answers include ticket/bug tracker numbers. After many of these answers, the team breaks into discussion on how to solve the problem(s) identified. When that happens, some team members play with their phones and don’t pay attention. Steve, as ScrumMaster, tries to rein discussion in and re-engage everyone with the meeting. He notices Doug stroll in 10 minutes after Daily Scrum has started and doesn’t acknowledge this as a problem. As well, James is working from home, so has phoned in to Daily Scrum, but other team members aren’t paying much attention to the speaker phone. Steve shares with Michael later that neither issue is new, but have been persistent problems for at least the last week.
Michael attends Steve’s Daily Scrum, observing quietly in the background. He comes back and attends each Daily Scrum for several days to get a true sense of what is going on. Beyond what Steve has told him about the above issues, he also notices:
- James often couldn’t hear what was going on;
- Several team members checked in only long enough to give their reports, then returned to their phones;
- Fred would often give so much technical detail in his report that most of the team nodded off after the first minute, especially Product Owner Paula, who couldn’t understand anything Fred was saying;
- The whole thing would often last over 20 minutes daily, due to the lengthy discussion and problem-solving that surrounded each update; and,
- Most team members couldn’t tell if the team was on track to meet the Sprint Goal.
Michael asks the team what they think the purpose of Daily Scrum is, but there isn’t a clear consensus: some think it is for reporting to management (through the ScrumMaster), others think it is to help Steve resolve their impediments.
Dysfunction in the Daily Scrum
Michael sits down with Steve and talks about the things he noticed:
- In directing the team, Steve was missing the chance to engender self-organization and ,instead, was implicitly giving team members permission to disengage. Also, the team members don’t all understand the true purpose of Daily Scrum:
- The team doesn’t understand that Daily Scrum is intended for their own benefit as team members, not as a management reporting tool.
- Stuck on the phone, James was never an effective participant, since the team made no effort to ensure his voice was heard, nor did they ensure he could hear them.
- Discussion around each update isn’t supposed to be part of Daily Scrum.
- Fred needs to understand most of his audience will get lost if he goes into too much technical detail.
The Purpose of Daily Scrum:
❖ to coordinate among team members
❖ to check progress towards the Sprint goal
❖ to discover obstacles that the team faces
Daily Scrum = Active Listening
Daily Scrum is all about active-focused listening – taking the time to understand what team members are saying, as opposed to focusing on what it is you will say in your own update. Active listening is hard to do well and doesn’t come naturally to most of us, but is an essential part of succeeding with Scrum. The good news is, with some help and practice, anyone can become great at active listening.
Michael suggests to Steve that he focus his efforts on promoting active listening within the team. To do this, he suggests Steve:
- Explain and emphasize to the team members the purpose of Daily Scrum.
- Step back from trying to direct Daily Scrum and let the meeting run itself – act as a facilitator instead of a manager.
- Remind team members that discussion should wait until after Daily Scrum, allowing those who are not interested in a specific issue to return to their work.
- Improve the Daily Scrum questions by changing from what team members “did”/”will do” to “what did you complete?”/”what will you complete?”
Mark’s Note: I prefer the word “complete” because it puts the emphasis on completing small pieces of work daily. Clearly, some days you will complete one thing and start another. It helps avoid the problem of a team member saying “I worked on XXX” three days running. In addition, this “complete” isn’t a stay-late commitment but a best-efforts commitment.
- Help team members empty their minds by suggesting that they write down notes before Daily Scrum, readying their minds to listen instead of worrying about what they’re going to say when their turn comes. These notes can be short – even just a couple of words reminding themselves of what needs to be said.
- Encourage team members to limit note-taking to the names of who they want/need to talk to after Daily Scrum. It is impossible to be actively listening if you’re writing notes.
- Warm up with any activity that forces the team members to focus. It can be as simple as passing a football from person to person (in random order), to more complex “Improv” activities. The key is to find a variety of activities that require focus and engagement from the team.
- Engage remote team members and ensure they’re kept front and center. This can be as simple as moving the phone to the centre of the team or as complex as creating a puppet of the absentees to remind the group of their presence in the discussion.
- Communicate that Lateness on a regular basis is disrespectful to the team and sends the message that one individual’s needs are more important than those of the whole. A ScrumMaster should investigate when a team member is habitually late, as there may be an unrevealed valid reason, and either find a way to move the Daily Scrum to accommodate those needs or help the individual understand the importance of arriving on time.
- Practice privately just before Daily Scrum with team members who need help. E.g. Fred might need help to find the right level of appropriate detail; another team member may need support to raise their voice.
Steve takes Michael’s advice to heart and implements his suggestions. After only a week, he finds a noticeable improvement. Team members have a much more effective Daily Scrum, which now lasts around 15 minutes, and are much more knowledgeable and aware of what others are working on. A few weeks later, collaboration starts to noticeably improve.
By keeping these principles front-of-mind and guiding their team toward them, ScrumMasters everywhere will be well on their way to facilitating successful Daily Scrums.
Scrum by Example is a narrative-style blog series designed to help people new to Scrum, especially new ScrumMasters. If you are new to the series, we recommend you check out the introduction to learn more about the series and discover other helpful articles.
Did you enjoy this article? Want to learn more? Sign up for our newsletter and stay updated on all our new content and our latest courses and events.
Mark Levison has been helping Scrum teams and organizations with Agile, Scrum and Kanban style approaches since 2001. From certified scrum master training to custom Agile courses, he has helped well over 8,000 individuals, earning him respect and top rated reviews as one of the pioneers within the industry, as well as a raft of certifications from the ScrumAlliance. Mark has been a speaker at various Agile Conferences for more than 20 years, and is a published Scrum author with eBooks as well as articles on InfoQ.com, ScrumAlliance.org an AgileAlliance.org.