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Use your Daily Scrum as a success driver

Development teams new to Scrum are introduced to a number of mandatory aspects that come with the framework. One of these is the Daily Scrum, or often referred to as the Daily Standup (meeting) or Standup in short. The purpose of this meeting is to synchronize the status of the development team and to do this in a short and focused manner. In this post I’d like to discuss an anti-pattern I see observing and being part of Daily Scrum meetings and how to overcome it.

It’s all about a shared goal
First I’d like to emphasize the essence of Agile and Scrum. It is all about delivering maximum value to your customer and/or end users. In order to achieve this (rather complex) goal, instead of working in a traditional hierarchical organizational setting in which management dictates and workers act, you work together as a group in order to achieve the best possible results. In fact this means not only the development team should work together as one, but the business and management in the organization should be aligned as well. All involved should strive for this same goal and realize they’re in it together.

Nice, now back to the standup meeting
To determine and synchronize the current status in a sprint Scrum describes to ask each development team member (as taken from the Scrum Guide):

  • What has been accomplished since the last meeting?
  • What will be done before the next meeting?
  • What obstacles are in the way?

At the end of this meeting every team member should be up to date with the team’s current status and should have clearly determined what to do for the rest of the day.

Anti-pattern: the team actually is a group of individuals
In the real world however I see some different behavior and scenario’s. The most fundamental issue is that the team not having a shared goal. This is mostly reflected by developers individually working on backlog items or tasks. There is little or no cooperation going on and no real concern to finish a top class product as a group. The effect this has on a team is that the Daily Scrum is not running smoothly, or even considered a nuisance. The individuality symptom is often reflected through the three default questions asked using a slight twist (however, with a dramatic effect):

  • What have you done since the last meeting?
  • What will you do before the next meeting?
  • What obstacles are in your¬†way?

The effect: the team accepts and embraces the fact of being individuals. Working as individual subgroups is a step forward, but a small one. There are a couple of risks involved when in this situation:

  • The team and organization are dependent on individual team members. If such a team member is not in, the team struggles to do the work normally executed by that person. It limits the notion of collective code ownership, given by XP
  • Team members are focused on their own tasks with their own concerns and have little focus on the customer / end users
  • How can you make sure you will reach your commonly shared goal?

A typical sprint backlog when in this situation will look like the one display below.

A troubled sprint backlog (image created by Henrik Kniberg)

A few tips how to overcome this and work towards a shared goal and shared team responsibility

  • First, be sure to have one (!). Without having a goal, everything is acceptable. When having one, make sure this goal is spread and known by everyone involved. Every individual needs to be able to breathe the goal
  • It is allowed to have more than one Daily Scrum a day.
    It often comes as a surprise that Scrum allows you to synchronize more than once a day. I especially advice teams that are in a stressful situation – say prepping the Sprint Review meeting – to have frequent short meetings to make sure to deliver a great product Increment. It may be the term Daily Scrum is actually a bit unlucky
  • Focus on what you can do together as a team

Try to ask questions like:

  • When can we have this item finished?
  • What do we need to do to wrap up this item?
  • What can we do before the end of the day?
  • What do we need to do for the Sprint Review?

I’ve seen asking these questions help teams to achieve shared responsibility towards reaching the end goal.

Remember: no single individual is responsible for reaching the goal.

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