Get certified - Transform your world of work today


ScrumMaster Tales: The Daily Stand-up

13 August 2012

Mark Levison
Agile Pain Relief Consulting

The ScrumMaster Tales is series of stories about ScrumMaster John and his team as they try to work their way through the issues they discover as they first learn to do Scrum. The stories are born of the ideas I wish I had more time to explore in my Certified ScrumMaster classes.

Non sequitur: John and his team are really doing quite well. The problem that I'm throwing at them in this episode seems unlikely and also over the top. In addition, no team ever suffers all of the problems I inflict on John and the gang below.


John and the team are really starting to reduce the rate of production support interruptions, and the team is starting to collaborate more. But John still notices that team members are sometimes surprised by what the others are doing. Isn't that what daily stand-ups are supposed to cure? John 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.

As far as John can tell, the team is doing all of these things. So he calls his friend Michael, who is ScrumMaster for another team, and asks him to come and watch the team's stand-up. Michael attends stand-up for several days running to get a true sense of what was going on, and here's what he notes:

  • James phoned in to the stand-ups every day but couldn't really hear what was going on.
  • Doug strolled in ten minutes late two days in a row and didn't seem to see this as an issue.
  • Several team members checked in only long enough to give their own reports.
  • John directed meetings by asking each team member in turn to give his or her update.
  • Fred gave so much technical detail that most of the team nodded off after the first minute, especially Product Owner Sue, who just couldn't understand anything that Fred said.
  • The whole event lasted more than 20 minutes every day, due to the lengthy discussion that surrounded each update.

Michael asks the team what they think the purpose of the Daily Scrum is, but there isn't a clear consensus. Some think it's for reporting to management (through the ScrumMaster), and others think it's to help John find resolutions to their impediments.

Michael sits down with John and talks about the things he'd noticed:

  • In directing the team, John misses the chance to engender self-organization and instead gives the team permission to disengage.
  • In addition, since the team members don't really understand the purpose of the Daily Scrum (which is the coordination among team members versus management reporting), they don't really listen to each other.
  • Stuck on the phone, James is never really a participant, since the team makes no effort to ensure that his voice is heard or that he can hear them.
  • Discussion around each update isn't part of the Daily Scrum.
  • Fred needs to know that most of the audience will get lost if he goes into too much technical detail.


Active listening

The Daily Scrum is really all about active, focused listening — taking the time to understand what your teammates 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. Michael suggests to John that he focus his efforts here:

  • Explain to the team the purpose of the Daily Scrum: To coordinate among team members, to check progress toward the sprint goal, and to discover obstacles that the team faces.
  • Step back from direction and let the Daily Scrum run itself — act as facilitator instead of manager.
  • Remind team members that discussion should wait until after the Daily Scrum itself, allowing those who aren't interested or involved to return to their work.
  • Improve the Daily Scrum questions by changing them from what team members "did" and "will do" to "what did you complete?" and "what will you complete?" I prefer the word "complete" because it puts the emphasis on completing small pieces of work every day. 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" for 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 writing down their reports before the Daily Scrum, which will free their minds to listen instead of worrying about what theyíre going to say when their turn comes.
  • Limit note taking to jotting down whom you need to talk to after the Daily Scrum. When we spend time taking notes, we're no longer listening. Instead, just be aware of whom to follow up with. These aren't meeting minutes, just the names or initials of people you want to follow up with.
  • 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 ìimprovî activities. The key is to find a variety of activities that require focus and engagement.
  • Engage remote team members and ensure that they're kept front and center. This can be as simple as moving the phone to the center of the team or as complex as creating puppets of the absentee people to remind the group of their presence in the discussion.
  • Lateness on a regular basis is disrespectful to the team. The ScrumMaster should find out why Doug is late (there may be reasons that we don't perceive). Either we have to find a way to move the Daily Scrum to accommodate Doug's needs, or Doug needs to arrive on time for the meetings.
  • Practice privately just before the Daily Scrum with those team members who still need help. For example, Fred might need help to find the right level of detail; another developer may need support to raise his or her voice.

John's team will have much better stand-ups when members understand the real purpose and learn how to listen.

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: 4 (1 ratings)


Soumya Sikder, CSM, 8/20/2012 5:16:59 AM
Nice anecdotes for SMs to be more effective. Well I have a specific case to discuss related to attendance in daily stand ups. I am a SM and in my team there is a particular team member who usually comes late and often skips the meeting. I have discussed with him personally but he couldn't provide any specific valid reason for doing so. Now the member is quite senior and other members are getting impacted by his negligence. Now, how to resolve this case and make the member aware and responsible about scrum.
Rajagopal Kannan, CSM, 9/3/2012 8:34:48 PM
Sowmya, I feel, this is not a unique scenario. We could find this everywhere. Cool, that you encounter this issue with only one of your scrum member. The practical solution I could visualize here is, to make that team member understand the purpose of the Stand Up. As is mentioned in this article, every scrum member should feel that they should respect the entire team. Frequent offline meeting with that scrum member will definitely give a solution.
Mark Levison, CST,CSP,CSM,CSPO,REP, 9/11/2012 8:17:52 PM
Sowmya - sorry for the delay. I would find a way to address this in a retrospective. I would find an activity to allow the team to discuss the effectiveness of their Daily Standup. Then let the team explain the affect of this person's behaviour on them. They might also explain how it makes them feel, ex "I'm frustrated because I don't know what Joe is working on since he's rarely at standup. As a result we've had several checkins that collided".

In addition as Rajagopal said we need to find out what he understands about Scrum. Take him out for coffee/tea, ask him where he's at etc. It may take several weeks of occasional one on one conversations before he responds.

Eventually though if the person doesn't come round there is a fair chance that the team will just exclude him.
Dawn Kilbourn, CSM, 10/2/2012 9:18:44 AM
Hi, I am on a scrum team and my team doesn't see "the purpose" the the Daily Standup. So, now we don't have them everyday. The group says we communicate well without them but I feel quite disengaged with this project. Our Scrum Master brought up the subject of the Daily Standup because we were not standing up. Are the Daily Standups mandatory?
Mark Levison, CST,CSP,CSM,CSPO,REP, 10/2/2012 7:01:32 PM
@Dawn - aren't real teams so much fun :-) Tell me about your Daily Standups when they did happen. How long did they take? Were people standing or sitting? Were some people frequently late? ...

The team members disengaged because they didn't get value. We need to ask them questions to find what they perceive. As a ScrumMaster telling them that Daily Scrum is required won't help. Yes its a core element of Scrum, but we can't just require people do it. Daily Scrum only works when the team members understand its value and have a stake in getting that value.

Just for fun have them read this article (or some other article) and have them tell you what they think.

Finally when you re-introduce Daily Scrum offer it as an experiment. I.E. Lets try this for 6 weeks and then see what we learn.

Good Luck
Michael Kelley Harris, CST,CSP,CSD,CSM,CSPO,REP, 4/29/2013 11:53:34 PM
@Mark - I like your experiment suggestion to @Dawn. With Scrum's short iterations, the team is likely to quickly see the difference between having Daily Standups and no Daily Standups.
Paul Heidema, CSM,CSPO, 5/23/2013 6:56:18 AM
Mark, this is well-written and very captivating for me. I enjoy the details of Michael's observations and how he shares these insights with John. This gives me plenty of ideas to use with the teams I coach. Thanks!

You must Login or Signup to comment.

The community welcomes feedback that is constructive and supportive, in the spirit of better understanding and implementation of Scrum.


Newsletter Sign-Up