Daily Scrum Taken Too Far
Improving the Daily Scrum: What’s excessive and what works
1 August 2017
Once upon a time there was a Scrum Team whose members worked well together. They were always looking for ideas to improve the way they worked. Every day they’d get together for their Daily Scrum. One day some of the members, for whatever reason, treated the Daily Scrum as if it wasn’t an important ceremony. During their next retrospective, they identified it as being a problem, and they all decided that they should improve it somehow. This, unfortunately, led to some of those team members taking the Daily Scrum improvement ideas a little too far.
I decided to write about this type of situation, as well as some other common problems that can occur with the Daily Scrum. I also provide unsolicited (but, I hope, useful) advice on what has actually worked well for me and my team.
Stuck in their chairs
This question probably sounds familiar: "There are only four of us on our Scrum Team. Is there any real need for us to all stand up for the Daily Scrum?" When I hear this type of question, it always reminds me of a poster I once saw at a dental practice, a picture of a young boy asking the dentist, "Do I have to brush my teeth?" The dentist’s reply is, "No, only the ones you want to keep."
If you want to reap the benefits of Scrum, then it really has to be implemented properly. I think all team members should stand up for the Daily Scrum (unless they’re physically unable to do so). In most cases, when I’ve seen Scrum not working as well as it should, the problems can often be subtle. It usually comes down to either the situation or, in most cases, the people.
Having this type of problem isn’t too bad, as it can be fixed fairly easily. You’ll need to spend a bit of time coaching the Scrum Team and organization, if necessary, in how Scrum needs to be adopted. I’d start by reminding (enlightening) them all of the key benefits of Scrum and how the ceremonies and their subtleties play such a key part of Scrum actually working. It some cases, it may also pay off to illustrate the consequences of not implementing the Scrum ceremonies successfully, as they are dependent on one another. The Scrum Team and the organization really need to understand the why and buy into the fact that the ceremonies are there to help. Luckily, this job falls on the shoulders of the ScrumMaster.
Training for the Olympics
It’s London 2012 again, and they’re going for gold! Or at least that’s how this type of team member treats the Daily Scrum. They can typically be seen using a stopwatch to time how long a team member is speaking, ruthlessly cutting them off if they exceed the allocated time of one minute!
I think that keeping an eye on time is important, and it is certainly something that should be monitored in some way. Spending two to three minutes per team member so that they can provide their update is about right. However, cutting team members off and not allowing them to finish their sentence just because they exceed the time limit threshold by a matter of seconds is too strict. How are you supposed to create the desired free flow of dialogue within the team if they’re being cut off? If you don’t race the pace, if you encourage conversation if it’s relevant, and if you stick to the outlined agenda, then time shouldn’t be an issue.
Those drill sergeants
"Hey, let’s make this a proper, proper stand-up! All team members need to stand on one leg and remain that way the whole time until we’re finished." This is an idea that someone suggested once. They thought that if you’re standing on one leg (uncomfortably), then the Daily Scrum should be brief. I have heard an even worse version of this whereby everyone gets into plank position!
Neuroscience has proven that engaging in a physical exercise regimen helps improve memory, brain health, and physical fitness. However, in my experience, physical exercise deserves its own time and attention and shouldn’t be something that you try to incorporate into your Daily Scrum. I believe that for every degree that your physical demand increases, your mental ability is likely to decrease (or at least that’s how it feels). Have you ever tried doing math while running on a treadmill?
Sorry to interrupt
Have you ever run into a Daily Scrum in which no one is allowed to ask questions? Ideally the gathering should be treated less as a meeting and more as a conversation among the team members — a chance for each member to update everyone else. Using the typical Daily Scrum agenda works well: yesterday, today, and blockers. Avoid going off point and discussing other topics in detail. Deal with these outside the Daily Scrum.
This is not to say that a team member can’t whisper to another team member, "Hey, that reminds me, I need to speak with you about something. Shall we catch up outside when we are done?" If other questions are necessary during the Daily Scrum, then of course I’d recommend not using open-ended questions. You don’t want the team asking each other questions that rely on a response that demands a long explanation.
Use a marker pen
This idea was suggested to me a while back, and it generally works well with both new and mature teams in terms of keeping focus during the Daily Scrum. It can help visually identify dependencies and keep the Daily Scrum agenda on track.
For this, you’ll need a board to write on, and a marker. Whoever has the marker provides the team with their update, scribbling down perhaps just a subject heading of their update for each section of the Daily Scrum (yesterday, today, and their blockers). When they’re finished with their update, they pass or throw the marker (gently) to another team member until everyone on the team is finished. As the marker is rotated from team member to team member, people are less likely to fall into the common (in new Scrum teams) trap of looking to the ScrumMaster to choose the next speaker. If the team's written updates are left on the board, then they can act as a gentle reminder to everyone the next day. It saves having to remember what everyone said yesterday, and they can pick up where they left off.
If there is one shared purpose of a Scrum Team that I think everyone can agree on, it is that they should always try to look for ways to improve the way they work and then narrow down to what works best.
There is always room for improvement, and everyone on the Scrum Team should be responsible for the push to change processes for the better. Don’t be put off from trying new ways to improve, and don’t be discouraged from taking action. Remember that the challenge should be to find out what works for the team while aiming to actually do something that makes a positive, significant, and sustainable difference.
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