Over the past few years, I have worked with many organizations to help them assemble new Scrum teams, which involved a lot of teaching, mentoring and coaching. One common challenge that I have observed is that many teams seem to struggle with what is generally perceived to be the simplest Scrum event, the Daily Scrum. It is somewhat counter-intuitive for a group of educated, highly-skilled, and generally intelligent individuals to struggle with making this collaboration event a productive forum.
In this article, I will share some tips based on my experience helping teams learn to run productive Daily Scrums, which is definitely closer to an art form rather than a scientific process.
Tip #1 – Schedule a meet-after to discuss/resolve specific issues
Many teams that I have coached struggle to complete the Daily Scrum within the 15-minute time box because there is too much discussion and problem-solving. This is a common issue since technical workers like to solve problems and are usually very good at it. When an issue comes up, they usually want to take care of it ASAP. While that’s a good mentality to have, the purpose of the Daily Scrum is NOT to work on issues.
By setting aside time (a.k.a. “meet-after”) for the team to dive into specific issues, the team can focus on planning the day within the Daily Scrum and only engage the people who need to be involved in discussions about specific problems.
Tip #2 – Minimize open-ended questions (i.e. what, how, when, etc.). Only allow “yes/no” questions
A common problem that arises during the Daily Scrum is questions that come up. While it is usually ok to have very brief, focused questions, it is important to watch out for questions that lead to long debates or discussions. You can usually spot this situation when it comes up; if a team member asks open-ended questions that start with “what”, “how”, or “when”, watch out for a long conversation to follow.
Encourage the team to keep questions focused and short. Usually “yes/no” questions will be ideal in minimizing the chances of a long conversation taking place within your Daily Scrum.
Tip #3 – End meeting immediately at 15-minute mark on a consistent basis to teach the team to manage their time
Sometimes the best way to teach the team is to allow them to fail. I’m not sure if this is a famous quote from someone more famous than I, but I do feel that at times you have to go with this approach. One of the more controversial techniques for keeping the Daily Scrum within the 15-minute time box is to end the meeting at the 15-minute mark. While this may seem like a “purist’s” way of doing things, it may help the team learn, assuming there’s a foundation of trust.
This technique may not be advisable for all teams, but the key thing to remember is that the Scrum Master’s job is to teach, not to “run the meeting”. If the team understands the goal of the meeting, with practice, they should be able to strike the balance between sharing too much or too little information.
Tip #4 – Minimize interruptions/questions from “visitors”
Sometimes at the Daily Scrum, we see “visitors” who decide to drop in unannounced for any number of reasons. These people may be management types, stakeholders, or other Scrum teams. Since “transparency” is a core tenet of Scrum, we should always encourage openness and honesty. However, if the visitors begin to disrupt the meeting, then we must take steps to minimize such disruptions and set ground rules.
Depending on the role/position of the visitor, you may have to approach this differently, but the goal is to clarify the purpose of the Daily Scrum to ensure there is an understanding. Take this opportunity to educate the visitors, and help them gain value from this event where possible.
Tip #5 – Physically stand up
Another common name for the “Daily Scrum” is the “Daily Standup”. This is because most teams that follow this model physically stand up during the meeting. The reason for this is to make sure everyone is alert and focused, and not get too comfortable sitting back in a chair. This seemingly minor element can (and does) make a tremendous difference in many cases. I highly encourage this practice, even if your team is virtual/distributed; ask everyone to physically stand up and see if the meeting goes more smoothly.
In summary, if you are having issues maintaining focus in your Daily Standup, try one of the tips I shared with you and see how things go. You may be surprised at the results!