The Daily Scrum isn’t status reporting meeting. It’s not a time to show how busy everybody is. A team exists to collaborate around a compelling shared purpose. This is where we plan today’s collaboration.
In this episode, Richard and Peter give 3 quick tips you can use to have a more effective Daily Scrum right away. Too many teams waste this important meeting on a boring status report instead of using it to create team alignment and make every day matter.
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Welcome to the Humanizing Work Show!
Today’s episode is the next in our series about Scrum. If you haven’t yet, check out the first in the series on “Why Scrum Works When It Works,” which lays out our overall thinking about Scrum and how to use it well. Today we’re talking about the Daily Scrum meeting. Too many Daily Scrum meetings are ineffective status meetings. They often sound like, “Yesterday I worked on my tasks, today I’m going to keep working on my tasks, no impediments.” Nobody wants to attend a meeting like that, so we’re going to give you three tips to make your Daily Scrum fast and effective.
Before we jump into the episode, a quick reminder to rate and review the Humanizing Work Show in your podcast app, or if you’re watching on YouTube, please subscribe, like, and share today’s episode if you find it valuable. Daily Scrum meetings should be quick and energizing, so if your team is struggling to make that happen, please share this episode with them. Let’s make the Daily Scrum meeting something your team looks forward to!
Our first tip is to start from the purpose of the Daily Scrum. As a facilitator, you have a moment every day to think about what your team needs to feel motivated, and then, to describe the purpose of the daily Scrum meeting to help focus them on that. Are they feeling lost in the weeds? Frame the Daily Scrum like this “Welcome to the Daily Scrum. Today, we’re going to plan how to collaborate to deliver some impact for our customers.” Is the team getting stuck moving things forward? Frame it as “Today, we’re going to figure out how we’re going to collaborate to move our shared sprint commitment forward.” Are they burned out? “Today we’re going to plan how to make the work we do matter.” Mix it up! You’ll have around 250 Daily Scrums in a year, so use that time to help the team stay engaged.
The Daily Scrum isn’t a status reporting meeting. It’s not a time to show how busy everybody is. A team exists to collaborate around a compelling shared purpose; and the Daily Scrum is where we plan today’s collaboration. So we have to keep the focus on that. Unfortunately, the original Daily Scrum format is almost perfectly crafted to produce a status reporting meeting optimized for showing how busy everybody is. The default approach is to ask 3 questions of each team member:
- What did you do yesterday (or since last time we met)?
- What are you going to do today?
- What impediments are in your way?
And it usually produces answers like Peter illustrated: “Yesterday I was busy doing stuff. Today I’m still gonna be busy doing stuff. No blockers.” In other words, “Don’t worry, I’m pulling my weight. Leave me alone.”
Back to that purpose of figuring out how we’re going to collaborate today to move our shared sprint commitment forward; to make today matter: To achieve that purpose reliably, our second tip is to use a different meeting structure. The 3 questions, person by person, aren’t going to work. Instead, we recommend focusing on the team’s visualization of their work—their shared commitment–not the individuals on the team. We do this using what we call the “stories talk” approach, which is a reference to many Scrum teams using user stories as their Product Backlog items. So, it’s really “Product Backlog items” talk. It works like this: We’re still going to ask something like the original 3 questions, but we’re going to swap the second and third (since the third, the one about impediments, informs the answer to the second, we’re going to put the focus on finishing things vs just being busy, and—here’s the key move—we’re going to ask the questions of the backlog items instead of asking the team members. So, starting with the highest priority Sprint backlog item in play yesterday or that will be today, we ask:
- What happened to get me closer to Done yesterday (“Me” being the backlog item)?
- What impediments are keeping me from getting done?
- What’s going to get me closer to Done today?
Instead of, “Don’t worry, I’m keeping busy, no blockers,” this meeting sounds more like: “Yesterday, Peter and I worked together on this top story. We got a bit stuck integrating with the payment service because we’ve never done that before, but we’re planning to get into the docs this morning, and should be able to get it done today. And then, say Angie, another team member speaks up and says something like, “You know, I was going to start the fourth priority story today, but I’ve done payments before, so why don’t I jump in and get you and Peter unstuck this morning, and then I’ll go back to that other story.”
That’s a team collaborating around a shared purpose. That’s what a daily scrum should sound like.
Notice, by the way, that the team’s plan for the day changed during the meeting. We pulled together our shared info about the state of things, based on what we’ve learned the day before, and then we made an appropriate plan for today, with our latest information. We didn’t just come in with our individual plans and report on them to each other. As a coach, this is one of the key indicators I look for to see if a team is functioning like a real team. In the presence of complexity, they should be replanning each day to address their current reality with the latest information. And the Daily Scrum is a great place for that to happen.
The Daily Scrum is also the place for the Product Owner to bring items that need refinement help from the rest of the team. It might sound like, “I’ve got this new backlog item coming up the backlog, and it seems a bit large—can a couple people spend 20 minutes splitting it with me today?” And then the team plans that into their day.
For more on how the Product Owner should think about what to bring to the Daily Scrum, check out our earlier episode on the Product Owner board, or PO board, where we show how the shape of the backlog can tell the Product Owner what needs to be refined to what level of detail each day, and then that’s input to bring to the Daily Scrum to coordinate that refinement work.
The Scrum Guide recommends a 15 minute timebox for the Daily Scrum. And that’s pretty easy to achieve by starting with a reminder of the purpose of the meeting and then using the “stories talk” approach. But there’s still an art to staying at the right level of detail. In that early conversation about how Richard and I were struggling with the payment service, instead of just making a plan to help us later, Angie might have started a conversation about it during the Daily Scrum, “Hey, where are you guys getting stuck? Here’s a tip from my experience; have you looked at this part over here? etc.” Then the 3 of us might have gotten into the weeds about payments, wasting the rest of the team’s time and making our meeting probably take too long. The Daily Scrum is the time to plan how we’ll collaborate to solve those problems, not for actually solving them. So we recommend limiting any suggestions about how to solve a problem to, maybe, 60 seconds or less.
And then, our third tip is a facilitation tool that we like, to keep a meeting from falling into these side conversations, called a “parking lot.” A parking lot is a place to take note of conversations that we want to have later that may or may not require the whole group. But the only way for a parking lot to work well is if we put two conditions in place: First, everyone knows the purpose of the meeting, and second, you’ve allocated time to review the parking lot at the end of the meeting.
Without these, the parking lot can just feel like the facilitator telling you to shut up. With these, anyone can ask, “Is this conversation helping us to achieve the purpose of this meeting?” Then, the person who may be taking us into the weeds can say either, “Yes, and here’s why we need to talk about it now,” or, “No, I guess a few of us can talk about this later,” or perhaps, “Well, we don’t need to talk about all of it, but we do need to answer this one question before we move on.” The parking lot becomes a way to help each other stay focused.
And knowing there will be dedicated time to review the parking lot and decide how to address each item makes it low risk to agree to put your topic there. It’s not getting ignored, it’s just getting moved into a more appropriate conversation.
So, for the Daily Scrum, once you’ve gone story by story and built your plan for that day, come back to the parking lot, and see what needs to be discussed right then and what needs to be taken up by smaller groups later.
To recap… Three tips for a more effective Daily Scrum: Number one, start by using the Daily Scrum to keep the team energized and motivated. State the purpose of the meeting in a way that gives the team what they need that day, reminding each other of the shared purpose, something like: “We’re here to figure out how we’re going to collaborate today to move our shared Sprint commitment forward.”
Second, use the “stories talk” approach, working one backlog item at a time, asking
- What happened to get me closer to Done yesterday?
- What impediments are keeping me from getting done?
- What’s going to get me closer to Done today?
And finally, number three, use a parking lot to stay focused on the meeting purpose, but make sure you allocate time to review the parking lot at the end of the Daily Scrum.
Please like and share this episode if you found it useful and keep the questions coming! We love digging into tough topics, so if you’re struggling making Scrum work well on your team, send your questions our way.