10 Tips for Running a Better Daily Scrum Meeting
Scrum is a fun word. It has its origin in the word scrummage which is a noisy or
disorganized group of people. Closely related are the words scrimmage and skirmish.
All depict a ragtag bunch of folks acting together but with no discernable organization
and even with a large amount of chaos.
So how did Scrum come to represent the highly structured and organized system Project
Managers use today? For that we put the word into the world of Rugby. In Rugby, a Scrum
is much less hectic. Though to watch it in action it might not look that way. The best
way to visualize this is in this definition of Rugby by John Arlott:
“The sport of rugby One of the charms of the Rugby Union game is the infinite
variety of its possible tactics. Whatever tactics a team aims to adopt, the first
essential is a strong and skilful [sic] pack of forwards capable of winning initial
possession from the set pieces. For, with the ball in its hands, a team is in a
position to dictate tactics which will make the best use of its own particular
talents, at the same time probing for and exposing weaknesses in the opposing
team. The ideal team has fast and clever half-backs and three-quarters who, with
running, passing, and shrewd kicking, will make sure that the possession won by
the forwards is employed to the maximum embarrassment of the opposing team.” — From
The Oxford Companion to World Sports and Games ed. John Arlott (London: Oxford
University Press) 1975
This describes a finely-tuned team that while starting off en masse, quickly becomes
fast-moving, thinking team members thinking on their own, creating strategies in the
moment but with the team goal of moving the ball forward. That sounds more familiar, right?
So, what does a masterful daily Scrum meeting look like? Let’s use this framework to
begin our examination of the best practices for our daily Scrums.
Time is the most (and least) important attendee
Meetings that last too long are never effective. If you’ve seen the meme that says,
“Well there’s another meeting that could have been an email” you know what this means.
People stop listening after a certain period of time; the meeting becomes a chore
instead of something designed to help and move the project forward. Ideally a Scrum
meeting should be 15 minutes tops. Some use the formula 2n+5 with “n” being the number
of team members. So, if you have six on your team the maximum meeting time is 17 minutes.
Stand Up Meetings
If you’re already in the Agile world, you might hear Daily Scrum meetings also called
Daily Stand Ups. That’s because the meeting is held standing up. No one sits. Why?
Because it’s tiring and uncomfortable and people don’t want to do it very long (see item 1).
Daily Scrum Meeting Questions
This isn’t a meeting to do everything at once. It’s not a reunion. It has three goals
and it’s to find out the answers to these questions from everyone involved:
Every person answers in turn and then commitments are made. It keeps everyone on track
or gets them back on track or finds out why they aren’t on track. That’s it.
What did we do yesterday?
What are we doing today?
What is in your way?
Remote Workers should be part of the Daily Scrum
Not every team is collocated. Particularly in this post-pandemic world. It’s important
that all team members regardless of location are included in the Daily Stand Ups so tha
t the total of information about the current project sprint can be communicated. Consider
different time zones when scheduling.
Don’t wait for Everyone
This is a regular meeting. No one should be surprised by when it occurs. So, no one
should be late. But if you put out a meeting start time, that’s what time the meeting
starts even if everyone isn’t in attendance. All of us have been in meetings that end
up starting 5, 10 or more minutes after the start time while the leader waits for
people to trickle in. Make sure lateness is not tolerated; tardiness should be called
out and the late arrivals made to explain. It needs to be known that this isn’t optional.
Team members should be prepared ahead of time
Again, this is a daily regular meeting with the exact same agenda. If team members show
up without the answers to those three simple questions, you may have bigger problems than
just unprepared meeting attendees. Set them up for success by reviewing the expectations
for the meetings and the information you want delivered and even how if that is important
(the group is a little large for example).
Use a Scrum Board or other visual device
This may not be an option for every team but it is an excellent way to visualize the
project and progress. Some people are more visual thinkers and this might help with
communicating information accurately. It doesn’t have to be a fancy computer programming.
Just something that keeps track of all the moving parts and who is moving them.
Meetings are not about problem-solving
Yes, question three asks for issues or blocks to task completion. However, this isn’t
the time to solve the problems, just make sure the team is aware. Conversations about
solutions can happen at another time because not all issues may affect all team members
and it’s a poor use of time to have team members stand around while one person’s issue
Name your team and give it a Mascot
Yes, this isn’t summer camp but it’s surprising how effective this can be. It fosters
cooperation and community and there is no reason not to laugh while we work! Find some
common thread or interest and use it to build on. The mascot will serve as a “talking stick”
for future meetings. Only the person holding the mascot has the floor and can speak.
Don’t let the focus be on the ScrumMaster
The ScrumMaster is the person who is serving as the team leader. This might be the
project manager or the team lead of a sub-group. Whoever this is, they aren’t the
focus of the meeting. They won’t be talking any more than anyone else if the meeting
runs correctly. If this is you, notice where the eyes of your team members are. If
they are constantly looking to you for reaction, step out of the sightline so the
team speaks to each other and looks to each other for information.
It may sound like Daily Scrum meetings are highly coordinated, stodgy exercises. But with a
little practice, some dedication to timing and staying on track, this can be the one meeting
you won’t wish was an email!