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Daily Standup Withdrawal in Scrum Teams

09/25/2006 by Stacia Viscardi

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.