Maximizing the Value of Your Stand-up

27 April 2012

Eric King
Davisbase Consulting LLC

Over the last several years, I've been both a participant and a facilitator in many different stand-ups. As we know, the true value of the stand-up lies in the team's ability to continually strive toward the "commitment" for the current sprint cycle. The stand-up isn't a status report, yet often it becomes easy for team members to slip into a pattern of providing status-related information. I've used the time-honored stand-up approach for a while now, but I've often thought that a mature team could take these 15 minutes to a different level as it continues to evolve using Agile/Scrum.

I'm fortunate to work with a group of ten team members who have been together for approximately two years now. Some team members had Agile/Scrum experience with other organizations prior to joining ours, and some members came completely new to the discipline. Experience has shown us that at least 99.99 percent of the time, we're finished with our stand-up well inside the 15-minute time frame. Our team is 90 percent centralized and we continually encourage each other to take Agile/Scrum to higher levels. Over the last several months, we've incorporated different approaches to our stand-up in order to set a positive tone for our daily activities as we grow both as individuals and as a team. We do laugh along the way, yet we focus on what's really important: each other. Regardless of whether your team is centralized or decentralized, feel free to try these techniques sometimes, or challenge your team to create its own alternatives. You may be surprised by the results.

Speed Scrum

Using the traditional approach (i.e., the three questions, "What did I do yesterday?", "What am I doing today?", "Do I have any obstacles?"), this Scrum is designed to challenge each team member to move through his or her items as quickly as possible. We've found that we can get in and get out of the stand-up in less than eight minutes by using this approach. The content presented is extremely concise, and team members must listen actively in order to keep up.

Pass-the-Conch Scrum

Ever find yourself in a situation where people are not stepping up fast enough? Try "passing the conch" in these situations. Take a physical object to the stand-up; the first presenter will hold it. Once that presenter has given his or her information, he or she will pass the object on to another team member. This is the visual indicator that keeps the discussion moving from one person to another. Note: Team members cannot pass the conch to someone standing right beside them. The objective is to get the team moving, physically as well as verbally.

Time-Box Scrum

This is similar to the Speed Scrum discussed above, but with a slight twist: Each team member has a specified amount of time to get through the three traditional questions. Take a couple of stopwatches to the stand-up and distribute them among the team members. This can be a great way to encourage each other while still focusing on the value of the stand-up.

Challenge Scrum

During this session, the team is allowed to ask each presenter one challenge question. These questions must be constructive in nature, and they must be based on the task or story being worked on by the team member. The Challenge Scrum can be tricky to use, but it helps keep folks actively engaged during the stand-up, and I've found that it can be especially successful in sprint cycles that are heavily dependent on other teams or that have a high degree of complexity.

For instance, if the work done in a particular sprint incorporates work from other teams (such as data integration, data flow, or database modeling changes), we can use a Challenge Scrum to help validate the approach. The presenter uses the same traditional three questions but must also highlight his or her approach. Here's an example:

Presenter #1: "Yesterday I completed the data integration setup for our first story using this approach [gives a quick overview of the approach]. Today, I'll finish the second and third tasks for this story."

Challenge: "That's good work. I'd like to see if you thought about a slight deviation to your original approach? [Gives quick overview of modification.] Would it be helpful if a slight modification were made?"

By framing the "challenge" in this way, team members are free to question each other with the goal of having a positive outcome. And there are often times when a team member has just learned something new that could change the approach itself.

Could redoing work be an end result? Yes, this is a certainly a potential outcome. But more often than not, the team members are able to use at least parts of the original approach.

I've not yet seen a situation where everyone's update can be challenged. In fact, a key point in using this approach is that only one challenge can be brought up during the stand-up. If there are other ideas, then we get team members to huddle directly after the stand-up is complete.

Impediments-Only Scrum

In my experience, this area is frequently overlooked. It may appear that there are no impediments for stories or tasks on the board. Unfortunately, the true "root" impediments often get articulated only during the retrospective, which is far too late in the cycle. An impediments-only stand-up can really help identify the key tasks or stories with which other team members can assist, using various swarming and impediment-removal techniques.

Award Scrum

An excellent motivator for everyone, the Award Scrum is designed to recognize who best articulates his or her information during the stand-up. Once the stand-up is complete, each team member votes for the person who gave the best information. The award can be based on criteria such as speed, quality, accuracy, or timeliness of information. Everyone who attends the stand-up can vote. Team members cannot vote for themselves and may only vote for one person. You determine the criteria to be used, and the award, in advance. I've found that even the most reserved people enjoy a little friendly competition among themselves in this kind of forum. And you may find that, once presented, the award gets shared by the winner with the entire group. Fun and motivating!

Business Value-Focused Scrum

Depending on your organization, tasks and stories may become technical very quickly. Even with the best intentions to focus on business value, team members often dive deeply into the technical pieces needed in order make the system or application work. Help your team members take their articulation skills to another level by focusing only on the business value provided with the story or task. For example, "Yesterday I completed this story/task that will allow our members to do ABC, and today I will complete this story/task that will allow our members to do XYZ." Using this approach, we've seen development team members taking their stand-ups to a new and higher level.

No-Board Scrum

Like many organizations, we have both physical sprint boards and electronic ones. Often, I find team members talking to the inanimate object in lieu of the people around them. If this becomes an issue for your team, take the sprint board away for the stand-up. Don't worry; folks will remember what they did yesterday and where they are going today. You'll find them standing up a little straighter and conversing with each other instead of looking at a whiteboard or monitor. Simple, yet highly effective on a periodic basis.

Whiteboard Scrum

This is similar to the No-Board Scrum above, but there's a twist: Give your team members a whiteboard marker and have them draw (using pictures, words, or a combination) what they accomplished yesterday, what they'll complete today, and where the impediments are. Encourage everyone, as some folks will be hesitant because they are not "artistic." That's not the point. Many people are visual learners, and many stand-ups don't have visual indicators other than the tasks written on the sprint board. Use pictures to your advantage and see your team take off.

Buddy Scrum

Everyone is really good at providing information on what he or she is working on. We're all intimately involved in our task activities as we drive toward commitment completion. If you find yourself needing to shake things up a bit, try implementing the Buddy Scrum. Based on the swarming principles, each team member provides information for another team member during the stand-up. This is a really nice way to ensure cross-team collaboration. I usually like to make sure that the team member providing the information is working outside of his or her normal realm (for example, a user interface developer is providing the update for a quality assurance member and vice versa).

For this to work, the two team members must confer before the stand-up so that the information is presented as accurately as possible. This gets team members to communicate with each other before the stand-up itself. For example, I would present your information about the tasks/stories that you're working on, and you would present my information. The ideal goal is to get folks out of their comfort zones as based on either roles (such as development or quality assurance) or level of subject-matter expertise.

Being able to overcome and adapt lies at the core of our team. We all know, and believe, that the stand-up is an essential part of our Agile/Scrum process. With sprint cycles that normally run nine days, our team members are constantly seeking new ways to challenge each other and ourselves. We still use the proven stand-up approach, but we've found great success in periodically spicing it up with the methods above. We get the job done . . . but we've also found that a little laughter at the beginning of the day can set a great tone.


Opinions represent those of the author and not of Scrum Alliance. The sharing of member-contributed content on this site does not imply endorsement of specific Scrum methods or practices beyond those taught by Scrum Alliance Certified Trainers and Coaches.



Article Rating

Current rating: 5 (2 ratings)

Comments

Charles Bradley - Scrum Coach, CSP,CSM,CSPO, 4/29/2012 2:02:07 PM
Good article, Eric.

> Impediments-Only Scrum
> In my experience, this area is frequently overlooked.

I've also had the same experiences, so as a Scrum Coach, I encourage participants to share obstacles (even minor ones)that they overcame yesterday as well as any that are upcoming. I also like to do a think I learned from another person in my past... At the end of the standup, I say "Anyone have seconds?" (Of course, this should not be an invitation to discuss things that are inappropriate for the Scrum -- just a chance for people who might have forgotten to say something when it was their turn)

I also encourage people to share "lessons learned" or other "improvement info" during the Scrum, so long as we're able to do that and still abide by all other Daily Scrum guidelines.

Two other links on the same topic that I think might be helpful:

ΓÇ£ItΓÇÖs Not Just Standing Up: Patterns for Daily Standup MeetingsΓÇ¥
http://martinfowler.com/articles/itsNotJustStandingUp.html

(Disclaimers: 1) I wrote this blog article and 2) It is old so some of the advice might be a bit dated.)
ΓÇ£Bad Smells of the Daily ScrumΓÇ¥
http://scrumcrazy.wordpress.com/2010/09/18/bad-smells-of-the-daily-scrum/
Charles Bradley - Scrum Coach, CSP,CSM,CSPO, 4/29/2012 2:03:51 PM
(I can see that the comment I posted did not respect some of my formatting -- sorry folks)
Eric King, CSP,CSM,CSPO, 5/1/2012 3:03:58 PM
Hello Charles,

Thank you for your comments as well as the links to the other articles. There is some excellent information in here. Also, I really like your "seconds" comment and will definitely incorporate this into my team.
Charles Bradley - Scrum Coach, CSP,CSM,CSPO, 5/1/2012 3:29:54 PM
Eric, you're welcome, and best of luck to you.
Ulises Reyes, CSM, 5/1/2012 5:58:39 PM
Great article!
Andrew Duncan, CSM, 5/11/2012 5:22:41 PM
I enjoyed the article, thank you for sharing these suggestions! I'm going to try some of these techniques out in an accounting environment.
Ajeet Nayak, CSM, 7/9/2012 6:09:48 AM
Valuable article. I will try some of these techniques with my teams.

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