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The Lean Stand-up: A Way to Improve Daily Scrums

26 August 2015

Zoltán Csutorás
Adaptive Consulting Ltd.


An Agile coach can ascertain a great deal about a Scrum team in 15 minutes. Observing a team's Daily Scrum can give us insight into the health of the Scrum process. A team's Daily Scrum is like the pulse of a human being. There is no chance that anyone could produce an exceptional performance with an unhealthy heart pulse, and neither could a Scrum team.
 

The Daily Scrum goal

The essence of Scrum is the joint effort of a team toward a well-defined goal. In a traditional project, it's the duty of the project manager to ensure that everyone has a task in progress that contributes to the goal of the project. But a Scrum team has no project manager; it's a shared responsibility of the team to get organized. The role of the ScrumMaster is to maintain those mechanisms that make the organized work possible. One of those mechanisms is the Daily Scrum.

The aim of the Daily Scrum is to synchronize the activities of the team members and create a plan for the next 24 hours. It ensures that each team member will have a clear understanding of what he or she needs to do in order to help the team achieve the sprint goal.

According to the Scrum Guide, during the meeting, the development team members explain:
  • What did I do yesterday that helped the development team meet the sprint goal?
  • What will I do today to help the development team meet the sprint goal?
  • Do I see any impediment that prevents me or the development team from meeting the sprint goal?
It's important that the team has a sprint goal with more meaning than "completing each task we identified during the sprint planning."
 

What's wrong with the Daily Scrum

As I see it, the most common mistake is not specifying a meaningful sprint goal. Every activity must be aligned with the sprint goal. Without a sprint goal, team members may merely report their previous day's activity. Instead of being the engine of team communication, the Daily Scrum is transformed into a unidirectional mechanism for reporting events during which everybody focuses solely on what he or she has to say.

5 telltale signs of a poorly managed Daily Scrum

Generally, a poorly managed Daily Scrum is easy to spot. It exhibits the following telltale signs:
  1. Everyone is narrowly focused on their own tasks; team members tend to ignore their teammates.
  2. Team members tend to pick their own user stories to implement, and many stories are implemented simultaneously.
  3. Because team communication slows down, developers work as "lone warriors," ignoring the possibility of asking for help if they get stuck. This leads to even slower progress.
  4. Because of the high number of in-progress user stories, most stories are in the "almost done," state, but none of them is really completed.
  5. Hectic fluctuation of team velocity, resulting in the team's inability to commit to sprint results.
In the end, the team ends up without a real sense of achievement and loses motivation entirely. A team without motivation eventually neglects future sprint goals and becomes aimless.
 

How to shake up Daily Scrums

You can implement the following strategies to improve and revitalize your Daily Scrums.

Start less, finish more: Striving toward a one-piece flow

The first idea is, of course, to define seductive sprint goals! Until product owners can learn how to define a seductive sprint goal, there is still something we can do. One of the most efficient ways to revive Daily Scrums is to implement a one-piece flow and a pull system, both derived from the Lean production system. Following a pull system is a useful practice even if the team has a great sprint goal.

In short, the idea behind the one-piece flow is that working on too many items at once leads to a high inventory of tasks or activities, which leads to inefficiency and unpredictability. The ideal process is one in which there is exactly one item processed in each work flow step. The one-piece flow is supported by the idea of the pull system. In a pull system, the process is driven by the capacity of the last work flow step. When the last work flow step has finished processing the work item, and capacity has released, it pulls the next item from the previous stage.

The Lean production system assumes that work flow steps have their own processing resources. With a cross-functional Scrum team, the situation is slightly different.

In theory, a Scrum team can implement a one-piece flow for the entire work flow in a sprint, because almost everyone can contribute to a single user story at almost any time.

In reality, there will be several cases when it's more effective to work on more than one user story at a time, but the goal is clear: minimizing the number of user stories in progress. This goal can shift the Scrum team's mind-set and revive cooperation within the team.

Eliminate waste: Focusing on the one-piece flow in the Daily Scrum

We can change the routine of a Daily Scrum and shift the focus to the one-piece flow and the pull system. To do that, we need to visualize our work flow for delivering user stories. It's a great idea to separate user stories from tasks and focus on user stories -- a user story delivers value, while a task alone doesn't -- to highlight the value-creation process. In the Daily Scrum, we focus on the user story board. Whatever the status on the board, we follow this process during the Daily Scrum:
  1. We take the very last, uncompleted story on the board and ask the question: What shall we do with this user story to move it to the next column?
  2. Anyone who has a suggestion speaks next. Maybe all the necessary tasks are listed on the story card already. The team makes sure that every task is listed on the story card.
  3. After we have identified all tasks on that user story, each team member tries to sign up for a task. The goal is to focus our efforts on a single user story and try to push it to the completed status as quickly as possible.
  4. If the team can't find a task for everyone on the given user story, then take the next item from the right side of the board and repeat step 3 until everyone knows what to do until the next Daily Scrum.
This method ensures the fewest possible stories in progress. We have been applying this method for years, and it has helped in every case to revive stalled Daily Scrums.

Don't forget the goal

Even though I believe in this method, don't forget the original intention of the Daily Scrum: to inspect and improve progress toward the sprint goal. There is no excuse for neglecting the sprint goal. The one-piece flow is not a replacement of the sprint goal; it's just a great instrument that helps us minimize the waste of our delivery process.
 

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: 4.3 (4 ratings)

Comments

Robert Day, CSM, 8/26/2015 4:04:40 AM
An interesting article. But as you say, if your team is cross-functional, your approach won't always be appropriate because there will be a number of stories in progress and at different stages at any one time.

I suppose the answer is that any effective Scrum Master will employ a number of different strategies and techniques to move progress forward; and this is another idea to keep in mind to bring out when it seems that circumstances are right for such an approach.
Zoltán Csutorás, CSP,CSM, 8/28/2015 2:35:40 AM
Thank you for your comment Robert! Yes, I strongly agree with you: an effective Scrum Master has a set of strategies to employ. The approach described in this article is one that I found very powerful. I strongly believe in limiting work in progress in Scrum Sprints. It not only creates focus, but also enforces teamwork because team members are encouraged to find ways to work together on one user story. Thanks again for reading and commenting! Regards, Zoltan
Dennis Haarbrink, CSM, 9/3/2015 5:57:15 AM
I didn't know it was a known concept, but I teach my team members to 'pull from the right' instead of 'push from the left'. It keeps them focused on completing tasks/stories instead of merely picking them up.
It is a simple answer to the principle of 'maximizing the amount of work not done'.
Vyasan Balachandran, CSM, 9/7/2015 11:25:28 PM
Interesting read ! In my opinion, this is easier to be applied to a team which has been practicing Scrum for a while. For a team which has members new to Scrum principles, it might seem difficult to implement WIP limits upfront. Thanks for planting this thought though !

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