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Tips for an Effective Daily Scrum Meeting

Illustration of SM participating in the daily scrum meeting

Anthony Mersino

June 2, 2015

3:02 PM

The daily Scrum Meeting is the most frequent meeting in the Scrum Framework, making it important to be done well. There are some common patterns of problems with the daily scrum. These problems are pretty typical for new Scrum teams and new Scrum Masters.

The key person to help the team to break these habits is the Scrum Master. It is the Scrum Master who should be encouraging the team to work together and coaching them to have an effective daily meeting. Ironically, it may be the Scrum Master who is leading in the bad habit. Let’s take a look at the various challenges and how the Scrum Master and development team can overcome them.

Anti-Patterns for People Attending the Daily Scrum Meeting

I’ve noticed that the bad habits tend to fall into a few categories. I’ve given a personality type to each of those categories below. See if you recognize any of them in your Scrum Master or the Development Team members attending your daily scrum meeting. 

  • Jay Leno – Jay Leno was once a famous tv personality in the United States. He was a great interviewer. Someone who acts like Jay Leno is busy in the daily scrum meeting interviewing everyone on the team rather than letting them provide their own updates. This could be any team member, but most frequently I see the Scrum Master doing it, especially those coming from a project management background.
  • The Traffic Cop – The traffic cop directs the order and flow of the daily scrum meeting and tells each person when to speak. This may create short-term efficiencies, but it doesn’t lead to self-organizing behavior.
  • Deep Dive Dan – Deep Dive uses the daily scrum meeting to lead the team into a detailed technical discussion during the daily Scrum. This makes it unlikely that the meeting will be short and focused.

Those detailed discussions may be essential to team communications and you don’t want to stifle them. Some teams fall into patterns where they only communicate as a team during the daily standup which is also a bad habit. However, those detailed discussions can easily devolve into lengthy meetings that everyone dislikes. What I recommend is to suggest that the team create a parking lot for longer discussions.

Then after everyone has checked in for the daily standup, appropriate team members can be asked to stick around after for the technical deep dive. This way, the communications happen but the members who might not be required don’t have to attend.

  • General Patton – Similar to the traffic cop, the General directs the troops and tells everyone what to work on. They provide a service that teams come to depend on, unfortunately. Why should the team think when they can simply follow orders? Obviously, personal responsibility and accountability also go out the window when General Patton is taking ownership of all the decisions.
  • Dear Abby – Offering advice is what Abby does well. Unskilled Scrum Masters will often fall into the trap of offering unsolicited advice to the team. They will tell team members how to solve problems or what worked for them. Offering unsolicited advice says to the other person, “Hey, I don’t think you know what you are doing”. Plus, solving problems is what makes work fun and helps us to learn and grow. If others solve our problems for us, we don’t have to think.

So what should you do if find yourself offering advice to team members? This can be a difficult habit to break. First, you might simply focus on trying to say less. A lot less! If you must say something, try a question. And not a piece of advice thinly wrapped in a question, like “do you think you should stop beating your wife”. Ask if they need help. Ask what they have tried before and how did it turn out. Ask them what they think they should do. If they say they don’t know, use the Jedi Mind Trick I discussed previously and ask, “Well if you did know what would you do?”

  • Overtime Olga – Some team members may be oblivious to the 15 minute time box for the daily scrum. It’s easy to run over the 15-minute time box for the daily scrum, especially if we have deep dives, directing, and advice giving. It’s simple to stay within the 15-minute box if you avoid those things. Scrum Masters can help teams, especially new teams, by placing a large clock near the standup board. Or having a running time on the screen or in the team area.
  • Debbie Distractions – Sometimes there are so many distractions going on that the daily scrum is completely ineffective. It is the responsibility of the Scrum Master to make sure the meeting is effective. Part of that is paying attention to the distractions during the meeting.

Distractions can take the form of loud noises from nearby areas. Or you might have a heavy-breathing Darth Vader type on a phone call or significant background noise that makes it difficult to hear.  I was on a call recently that I swear was coming from a high school cafeteria it was so loud.

  • Sammy the Scrum Whisperer – The final personality that I see frequently is the whisperer. Whether the daily scrum is in person or over the phone, people should be heard when they speak. When people are checking in, they need to speak loud enough to be heard. The daily scrum is not the time to be timid or soft spoken. The point of the meeting is communication and if others cannot hear you, it’s just not effective.

Why Have a Daily Scrum Meeting?

What is the point of the Daily Scrum anyway?  It is a meeting for the Dev Team to plan and coordinate.  Don’t believe me?  These are the key points, directly from the Scrum Guide which is the definitive source of information about Scrum:

The daily Scrum is for the Dev Team to:

  • Synch their efforts and create a plan for the next 24 hours
  • Inspect and Adapt the work completed toward the sprint goal
  • Identify impediments
  • Improve communications between team members
  • Promote quick decision making
  • Eliminate other meetings

Notice that it is not about gathering status, or for reporting to others outside the meeting.  It is also not about making yourself an indispensable part of the team.

How Scrum Masters Should Act in the Daily Scrum

Scrum Masters often struggle in the daily meeting, especially those that are transitioning from other roles like project managers. It is tough work to break old habits, but you have to let go of the desire to control the conversation or the team. I know, I’ve been there myself!

So here is my coaching for Scrum Masters on what to do:

  • Do and Say Less.  A lot Less.  Even less than you think you should. Wait to see if the team figures things out.
  • If you ignore the previous item, when you do talk, try to focus on the group process and how the team is working together, and not on the content of what the team is working on.  Make observations and ask questions to gently guide the team in the process.
  • Stick to the script. The 3 question approach for the standup works great.  Help the team use it to stay focused and keep the meeting on track
  • When tempted to offer unsolicited advice, use Humble Inquiry instead.
  • Read my book:  Agile Project Management; A Nuts and Bolts Guide to Success
  • Even better, read Lyssa Adkins book, it is terrific: Coaching Agile Teams
  • Read through the various resources we’ve posted for Scrum Masters and Agile Coaches

The goal is for the team to self-organize, and thrive and grow without relying on the Scrum Master or any other team member. So anything you can do as a Scrum Master to reduce the team’s dependency on you is a step in the right direction.

What are your thoughts – how would you support your Scrum Masters or teams to succeed in the daily scrum meeting?

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