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How I Stole an Office and Fixed Our Daily Scrum

22 February 2010

As I mentioned in my last article, I'm new to Scrum, and the journey to implement Scrum has had its challenges and rewards. After using Scrum for a month or so, I started to see a deficiency; we weren't having productive Daily Scrums. So, I decided to go to my "office" and start a list of action items for improving our Daily Scrum.

Much like how I got my "office," I decided the best route was to incrementally introduce improvements to our Daily Scrums. You see, for the past year, there's been an empty office next to my cube. After surveying surrounding departments and rigorously analyzing the local power structure, I determined that the office was fair game, and likely to be empty for some time. So, I decided to incrementally claim the territory. First, there was the "Hang In There, Kitty" poster that I hung on the wall facing the desk that was soon to be mine. A week later, I added several stacks of papers to the desk. It was a gamble, but when a manager commented "Jeez, that guy must be busy, but at least he's staying positive," after surveying the stacks of "work" and kitty poster, I knew I was on the right track. Over the next few weeks, I added more items, a chair, a few photos, a wall calendar; only one last step remained, moving in. So, after weeks of preparation, I made my move. It was a particularly hectic day, with a lot of bustle, and I needed a place to think in peace. So, I grabbed my laptop, walked into my office, and closed the door. At first, I just sat there, staring at the laptop, terrified that someone might walk in and blow the whistle on the whole operation. My palms were sweaty, and I thought I smelled cheddar. After an hour, it was clear that my strategy had worked. By incrementally instituting the changes, I was able to convince everyone that the office was indeed mine. I decided to use the same approach with improving our Daily Scrum.

The problems with our Daily Scrums started almost immediately. While our Team was thrilled with the concept of the Sprint (especially the being left alone to work for 2 weeks part), the Daily Scrum never gained much traction. Every morning, the Team would amble in to their cubes, each with a "not before I've had my coffee" look on their faces.  Ten minutes later, we would have our Daily Scrum. After an audible sigh, each member would face the manager and talk about what they did yesterday and their plans for that day. Each meeting wouldn't last more than a few minutes (we're not a big department), and afterwards, I'd hear the Team complaining about how the Daily Scrum was pointless and a waste of time.

So, my list included some incremental changes that would hopefully create a successful Daily Scrum. First, we moved it to 9 am. That way, everyone was able to get settled in, grab some coffee, but not so settled in that the meeting would disrupt work in progress. This helped remove the "bother me this early and I'll fight you" mentality.

Second, we got rid of the manager. Nothing says "progress report" more than facing your manager every day and telling them what you've been up to (a whole bunch, I swear!). Instead, I played the ScrumMaster card to insist that our manager merely observe... from her office. Suddenly, the Team was talking amongst themselves. Better yet, they were solving problems. Not only did everyone know what everyone was working on, but more importantly, they were working as a team, removing obstacles, sharing information, and getting things done.

Eventually my office plan fell through. We had a new manager start with the company and my items were returned. However, the "Hang in there Kitty" poster remains to this day, in my cube, reminding me that incremental changes can make a positive difference, with enough time and patience, of course.

Have you had difficulty making your Daily Scrum effective? If so, how did you solve the problem?

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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Filip Sajdak, CSM, 2/23/2010 6:20:26 AM
Great article! I like the way you "incrementally claim the territory" :). I have to say that it is good way of doing everything. I have similar way of introducing automatic testing in my project. Currently we have introduced functional testing which covers most of our functionalities. Now it is time to introduce more detailed tests... like Unit Tests.

Thanks for reminder of how small changes can make difference.
Alan Gladman, CSM,CSPO, 2/23/2010 10:01:43 AM
I remember similar problems with my scrum and over the 2 years my team has been together we've made countless changes to it. The first change was to the format of the usual questions (what I did yesterday etc). We had a team that was on the upper boundaries of normal size, so listening to everyone turned it into a nightmare of time management. So we drove the meeting from the backlog which meant that we always talked about the most important story or bug at any time. Then the owner of that backlog item would say what's been done on it and what's left to do and what issues are holding up the team on it.

Then we had a productivity question as our scrum was at 4:30pm. Not quite finishing time but too late in the day to have any major pair prgramming sessions immediately after the scrum. So we pushed it right to the end of the day such that focus was omaintained right up until the scrum mtg. This also encouraged team members to really get some accomplishments to report in scrum.

Today pretty much every team member finds the scrum valuable. Very often we finish inside 15 minutes. Sometimes inside 10. To have this meeting every day for over 2 years forces it to become valuable.
Aaron Conoly, CSM, 2/24/2010 3:00:55 PM
Filip- thanks :) I like to the think the approach is similar to Scrum's focus on producing increments of shippable product. It may not be finished, but at least each piece is refined, to the customer's specifications.

Alan-I like the idea of refining the questions so they continue to add value. I especially like the idea of having it at the end of the day. It would certainly add some punch to the "what am i working on today?" question, as the subject would be very fresh on their minds. We may try this at the office!
Henri Stegehuis, CSP,CSM, 3/12/2010 4:07:02 AM
Step-by-step approach, the same I always promote. Plan-do-check-act, always one item to improve then the next (

The first sprints I also make a lot of one-on-one chats. Private stuff and work. I know the problems they are facing and therefore I know if a Daily was successful or not. I won't say anything in the Daily if something is not said but I will confront the owner AND I enforce depending team members to start uttering their concerns in the meeting. The first weeks and months is a lot of coaching but eventually we will get there. There some team coaching techniques that might be really useful to speed this process up.
DAVID CALLOWAY, CSM, 6/10/2010 12:29:41 PM
Great story, Aaron. Two encouraging points:
1. You're at a Marketing firm, so Scrum is clearly reaching beyond IT. 2. You're a tech writer, as am I. I plan to begin applying my Scrum Master training as soon as possible.

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