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ScrumBut – Part 3 – Daily Scrum

The most visible – and often most abused – part of Scrum is the Daily Scrum, also known as the “Stand-Up”. In this meeting, the whole team meets with the participants answering three questions: What did I do yesterday? What am I doing today? What is blocking me? The “Stand-Up” part comes from the notion that this should be a rapid meeting, and standing up encourages the team not to get comfortable and drone on and on.

Yet despite all of the guidance that this is a meeting for the team and by team, and even with articles such as the “It’s Not Just Standing Up” article by Jason Yip, stand-ups tend to either be another status meeting for everyone to tell the boss what is going on, or worse, boring, repetitive process following.

In Henrik’s Scrum Checklist he identifies an especially important subarea to judge the effectiveness of a stand-up: “Problems and impediments are surfaced.” After all, Scrum is about being effective as a team, and the vital part of being effective is finding out where you aren’t.

This dysfunction is just right

Last year, J.B. Rainsberger said something that really struck home with me. The most widely adopted practice in agile – the stand-up – is the one that requires the most dysfunctions on a team to be solved. In fact, to be effective, a team has to overcome the following items from the Five Dysfunctions model:

  • Absence of Trust
  • Fear of Conflict
  • Avoidance of Accountability

And really, “Lack of Commitment” and “Inattention to Results” – the other dysfunctions from the list – aren’t that far behind. Yet, some teams are able to see a tremendous impact using daily stand-ups. And others find themselves equally effective without them. How do you know when you can get rid of the daily stand-up?

The answer to this lies in the very model we’ve already explored. Teams which feel comfortable being vulnerable to the other members, yet can engage in productive conflict. Teams who hold each other accountable, who focus on collective successes and failures while allowing individual attributes to shine. Teams that stick to what they commit to, but know when to back away.

If your team is doing this, you likely already know intimately what each member is doing, and surprises very rarely come out of the stand-ups. There may be some other aspects out of stand-ups (for example, mini-retrospectives or reflection), however, we’ll be covering some of that in the later article on “Retrospective after every sprint”.

We put the “fun” in dysfunctional

There are, however, some antipatterns when you should keep doing a stand-up. The first, and most obvious, is if the team model described above doesn’t fit your team. But the second is around scaling and colocation. For a tight-knit, colocated team, the daily ebb and flow becomes very natural, and rigid checkpoints may give way into more natural ones (perhaps the teams eat lunch together every day). But as your team scales (3 or more teams working on the same project or product, offshore teams, remote members), that heartbeat of the stand-up will help to synchronize the members, and expose architectural and structural dissonance that might not be discovered until later on.

Another reason you may want to keep a scheduled stand-up time is so the PO or others can join in. This does not mean that you have to mindlessly go through a routine every day – only that the team has a small amount of time set aside for openings.

But time, or the presence of the stand-up, is not the only antipattern. As a team member, watch the circle as it goes around, and think about the subitem Henrik mentions in his checklist. Do you see impediments being raised? Are people engaged? Can one person repeat what the last person said? Do you see them talking to other team members, or just focused on the “leader”?

If so, then find out why. Are the wrong people attending the stand-ups? Do problems that occur actually get surfaced? Do the stand-ups need to become more team-based (if they’ve scaled up)?

So, if you are thinking about dropping your daily stand-ups, or dropping them back to a “couple of times a week” ask yourself – are we truly being effective? Or just scared by what happens when we begin opening up to the team – and challenging each other to be the best we can be?

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