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Daily Standup Withdrawal in Scrum Teams

25 September 2006

Stacia Viscardi
AgileEvolution, Inc.

There’s a terrible affliction that seems to be going around many Scrum teams. Its symptoms are easy to recognize: glassy eyes, pale skin, robotic answers, and narcoleptic episodes during and immediately following daily standup meetings. Soon, the entire daily standup meeting has become infected. The good news is, this syndrome can (and should) be prevented.

When I’ve been called in to diagnose and treat daily standup withdrawal (DSW), I begin by observing an actual daily standup. In most cases, I observe that the meetings have denigrated to “status report” meetings where individual members “give status” to the ScrumMaster, the ScrumMaster writes everything down, and everyone else drools on the table. Not surprisingly, the goal then becomes to make this meeting as short and sweet as possible.

Many teams really, truly believe that the purpose of the daily standup* is to “just answer the three questions without exceeding fifteen minutes.” Maybe it’s that the questions (what did you do yesterday, what will you do today, what obstacles are you facing) seem so simple. They are not. There is so much underneath the surface of the three little questions. Coach your team to think about these questions and come prepared to the daily standup (see sidebar articles “The Power of Knowledge” and “Seven Fundamentals for Effective Daily Standups”). In other words, think about the tasks, the accomplishments, how it may impact John’s work or Mary’s next task, and keep in mind who you are working with to complete the task. Go into the daily standup with answers to the three questions that are meaningful, insightful, and proactive.

For example, right before I go into a daily standup, I will write down shorthand notes on a Post-It to capture my completed and planned tasks. I also think about the impact this might have to my team members and to our sprint goals. I might say in the daily standup: “I refactored the flux capacitor yesterday, improving it to a point of reasonable stability. John, I know that you were waiting on me to finish these changes so that you may work on the associated usability issues. Let’s get together after the meeting and talk about it. Mary, if you can, please stay after with us to discuss the impact this might have on the test case suite. Mr. ScrumMaster, I have no obstacles today.” Done. In fifteen seconds, I have highlighted not only what I completed yesterday, but also was proactive in pointing out who might need help or more information.

Another example might be: “I worked on the flux capacitor yesterday and realized that one of the design decisions we made as a team last week simply doesn’t work. John, we need to take a look at our architecture sketch and make sure that it still makes sense, especially when considering the upcoming scalability enhancements. Mary, the way I coded the FC will certainly change the way some of the tests should be executed. Why don’t you pair with me after the meeting and I’ll walk you through this? ScrumMaster, I’ve had a difficult time finding product owner; could you find him for us and brief him on the situation. We need his help.”

This is much better than, “Yesterday I worked on the flux capacitor; today I will finish work on the flux capacitor; I have no obstacles.” Sure, it takes a few seconds less time, but is the information really worth anything?

As you can see, there is much more to a daily standup than just glossing over three questions for time’s sake. Making this an effective part of a self-managed team’s repertoire takes patience, leadership, and a ScrumMaster who is not afraid to empower others. Keep your teams away from DSW’s harm by coaching, leading, educating, and celebrating success.

*I am not a proponent of making people standjust my personal preference. I’d rather have my team take three minutes to prepare for the meeting, sit down, enjoy a bagel and respond to the three little questions with meaning and insight. As a ScrumMaster and a person who takes facilitating seriously, I believe that a meeting can be moved along without introducing discomfort. Plus, members of self-managing teams will move the meeting along all by themselves.

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.

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Anonymous, 4/20/2007 8:24:50 AM
i think it does make sense to give useful information than just information at the standup which becomes a ritual which needs to be followed.
Mike Sutton, CSM,CSPO, 8/14/2007 5:15:17 PM
DSW is real and requires an ongoing struggle, complacency too is a major threat. To keep the discussion focused, we use post-its to represent daily deliverable tasks (all tasks break down to a set of 24 hr deliverables), so the daily scrum 3 questions are:
'What tasks did you complete yesterday',
'What tasks will you be completing today',
'What obstacles are stopping you from delivering your tasks'.

Also not all team members are equally gifted with the ability to be proactive and its my job as a ScrumMaster to facilitate their explanation by questioning with reason and sensitivity.
Tobias Mayer, CST,Educator,CSM,CSPO, 4/27/2008 11:20:11 AM
Good article, Stacia. I especially liked your very concrete examples of how team members can offer useful updates at the meeting. Nicely done.

I disagree with you on the stand-up/sit-down issue though. I have never been able to run a successful daily Scrum with the team sitting around a table. The energy is altogether different: it has a traditional meeting feel to it rather than a groupwork/ceremony feel. There is an energy to a team standing around their task board and physically moving post-it notes while they talk that is lacking when a team is sitting down. I do not think that standing for <=15 minutes introduces discomfort. Developers spend an awful lot of their time sitting down. Getting people on their feet changes the way they see things. That is good. It also allows people to move while talking and that helps some of us to think more clearly. But as you said, this is personal preference, and we all work in different ways within the framework of Scrum.

No matter what physical format is used for the meeting, your suggestions for getting past DSW are welcomed.
Gabrielle Benefield, CST,CSP,CSM,CSPO,REP, 4/27/2008 10:50:53 PM
Thanks for the insights Stacia. I also am a big proponent of standing up. Partly as not all teams have the luxury of a sit down space together, mainly though as I think there is benefit to getting up from the normal surroundings and interacting. Sitting down can allow the meeting to go on for a long time and the amount of non-working daily meetings that have been cured from simply standing makes me still a big fan of it. The bagels though...definitely on board with those.
Harry Long, CSM, 1/15/2009 3:17:29 PM
I just attended a meeting in Ft. Worth where Ken Schwaber was presenting his "Scrum but" presentation, and he made a very eye opening comment. The purpose of the standup is for the team to communicate with each other so that they can help one another meet their commitment - or something akin to this. I have seen too many stand-ups become mini status meetings, with no ownership across team members. Based on this input, I will be holding some "back to basic" training exercises to remind us of what the simplest Scrum ceremonies are for.
Aslam Hirani, CSM, 6/2/2011 1:17:35 AM
Very good examples
Ken 'classmaker' Ritchie, CSM,CSPO, 11/3/2011 4:10:35 AM
Kudos, Stacia! You have led us into *conversation* about our daily standups (or sitdowns/huddles/roundups/whatever). Thanks! So, to contribute, I'll sit-down on my own Scrum 'butt' ;-) just long enough to log a few insights from inspect-and-adapt moments...
Ken 'classmaker' Ritchie, CSM,CSPO, 11/3/2011 4:26:02 AM
A fourth question?

Those "three little questions" are, indeed, a topical checklist... Hopefully provoking us to look "underneath the surface" and around the edges into the spaces between. As Ted Nelson reminded us, "everything is deeply intertwingled!" IMO, the 3 Q's are really 4. Yes, *four* little questions. Why a 4th? To share discoveries and accelerate group learning.

Stacia, you provided a great example in this statement, "I worked on the flux capacitor yesterday and realized that one of the design decisions we made as a team last week simply doesnΓÇÖt work." So, the 4th question is "What have I learned...?" In other words, "What have I [discovered/learned/realized] since our last meeting that others may need to know, if they don't already?"

So, the 4th question is a reminder to share the learning. That adds a hint of retrospective fragrance to the daily meeting, doesn't it?
Stacia Viscardi, CST,CSM,CSPO,REP, 11/3/2011 5:11:43 AM
Ken, GREAT post! This question draws out the most important information: newly acquired knowledge. This is certainly an asset around which the team can then inspect and adapt. I'll interject this question in my standup starting today!
Stacia Viscardi, CST,CSM,CSPO,REP, 11/4/2011 1:54:11 PM
@Harry Long - I totally agree with Ken. This meeting is the day-to-day inspect and adapt of Scrum. We inspect, as a team, our progress to the goals and then make adaptations based on what we've discovered. Some common examples of these adaptations are: add or remove tasks to our sprint backlog, people jump in to help each other, or perhaps we take on another story, etc. I see this meeting fail when the ScrumMaster is not doing enough to promote team ownership; thus the team feels like they're reporting status. Conversely, if a team has true ownership over its goals, then this meeting is super-valuable to understand progress and needed adaptations to meet the goals. This is the essence of empirical process; daily standup is all about visibility, not status. Big difference.

Thanks for your post!!!

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