All Kinds of Projects Can Benefit From Scrum Meetings
Scrum is not just for software. Scrum can be applied to almost any project to deliver better results. In fact, a Scrum Alliance survey in 2013 found that more than half of respondents using Scrum were in non-IT industries ranging from law enforcement to healthcare and retail.
The agile method itself grew out of lean manufacturing techniques, and one of the most famous examples of a daily Scrum meeting is the stand-up daily gathering of the British Privy Council.
So how do you get going in establishing your own daily Scrum? Let’s break it down into some key steps.
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Setting the Framework for Your Scrum Meeting
To set the right foundation for your Scrum ritual, it’s important to understand the proper use of the daily Scrum and have support from leadership.
In the agile software development context, daily Scrums happen within a sprint which is a work period of usually two to four weeks. During the sprint, a predefined set of requirements from the product backlog are tackled to produce a new iteration of the software.
Regardless of your Scrum application, remember that Scrum meetings are used during a defined period of intense, focused work and are different from other kinds of daily staff, planning, or status meetings. Don’t lose the value of this period of intensity by trying to use Scrum meetings outside of a big push on specific work.
In daily Scrums, team members talk about what they accomplished the previous day, what they plan to do that day, and what obstacles they face. The process is not top down, with the boss or manager getting a report from each team member. Instead the focus is on collaboration and the team members making commitments to one another.
Decide Who Will Be Part of the Scrum Team
Scrum teams function best when they involve fewer than 10 people, ideally five to seven. The limited number keeps communication easy and fosters camaraderie and shared ownership.
If your project is large, you can scale Scrum meetings by breaking the work down and creating multiple teams. Each team has its own daily standup meeting and then sends one representative to a “Scrum of Scrums” meeting at which the work of all the teams is coordinated.
There are three roles in the Scrum team:
The Scrum master acts as a coach for the team and helps solve problems and facilitate the work. While he or she has a deep understanding of the work that the team is doing, it’s important to note that the Scrum master isn’t the traditional project manager who fills a boss role. Scrum teams are self organizing.
The product owner represents the key stakeholder for the work, such as the user or consumer, and communicates a broad vision or goal to the team. He or she understands the business rationale and prioritizes the work. The product owner also communicates with other stakeholders beyond the Scrum team. There is some debate in the agile community whether product owners should attend or participate in daily Scrums, but most experts say they should.
The team consists of people who have different skill sets. They are cross functional and train each other. The best teams are tight knit and located in the same place. Scrum team members have to be committed to helping one another and putting the team’s priorities first.
The Role of Outsiders
All these members attend Scrum meetings and participate. People from outside the team may want to or need to attend from time to time, but to avoid weakening the team’s focus on its goals, they do not participate in the discussion. When your Scrum is just getting established, you may find it helpful to close the daily standup to outsiders.
If team members feel they are on display or being evaluated by managers or stakeholders from other parts of the organization, they may be less inclined to be honest about challenges and obstacles. Limiting attendance can help build trust and confidence for the Scrum members in the beginning or at particularly sensitive times in the project lifecycle.
Figure Out Where and When the Scrum Will Occur
Your next step in organizing an effective Scrum meeting is figuring out the logistics. You can strengthen its ritual power by holding your daily Scrum at the same time and same place every day. Many Scrum veterans recommend holding it at the start of the day so that everyone has a clear idea of what the day holds. If you have team members with shifts staggered throughout the day, you can pick a time in the middle of the day when everyone is there.
The best location for the meeting is in the team’s work area so the Scrum board, which shows work status, can be seen and updated during the meeting, and referred to later. Distributed teams are less than ideal for Scrum for a number of reasons, but if that’s your case, you can use an online board to serve the same function. If you do have remote team members, make sure they participate in the Scrum by phone or video conference, and get that sorted out before day one. Nothing drains the momentum and energy more than conference calls with inaudible or distorted sound and glitchy images.
Fix a Strict Time Limit
Next up is setting a time limit for the daily Scrum. A cardinal rule of the Scrum is that it must be very short – no more than 15 minutes. This is not the time to get deep into planning or technical details. To stay on track, some teams get a giant timer or use an app that everyone can see.
If something comes up in the course of the Scrum meeting updates that can’t be resolved quickly, take it offline for discussion after the meeting among the people directly involved in that issue. This is sometimes called the sidebar or parking lot. To help keep things moving along, Scrums are traditionally done standing up. Ban phones and other devices to minimize distractions.
What Team Members Talk About
There are in fact no agendas in the traditional sense (or minutes) at daily Scrums. The meeting consists of each participant answering three questions:
- What did you do yesterday?
- What will you do today?
- Are there any obstacles blocking your progress?
The Scrum master notes any obstacles, and it’s his or her job to solve them after the meeting.
Agree in advance what order people should speak in, and don’t leave it up to any one individual, such as the Scrum master, to decide. Otherwise, that runs counter to Scrum’s principle of self organization and inhibits the sense that the team is running its Scrum meeting.
There are different methods to rotate speaker, such as going around the circle clockwise or counterclockwise. Some teams like to pass a token, such as a ball, which can inject some fun into the process when tossing it around. Another way is to have people go in order of arrival or draw cards with numbers on them. You can also progress along your task board, starting with the items on the right (closest to finish) and top (highest priority). People speak when the items they own are discussed.
Cue the Music
You can try to engineer a Pavlovian response to the Scrum and keep the energy high by introducing little cues to start and end the meeting.
Playing Bob Marley’s “Get Up, Stand Up” or another song is the cue that the daily standup is about to begin for some teams, and many teams like to signal the end of a Scrum meeting with a catch phrase. Check out our playlist of great “Get Ready to Scrum” songs.
Prepare to Launch
Once you have all the ground rules and logistics for your daily Scrum meeting figured out, get the team together to discuss the details. Don’t wait to do this at your first Scrum or you’ll set a precedent of veering from the format’s very narrow strictures, which are the key to its success.
With an effective Scrum meeting, there’s very little break-in period. You should see success pretty much from the start. Having a facilitator or Scrum master who has experience in the method helps teams avoid common pitfalls such as getting bogged down in conversations that should be held for sidebars or not simply addressing the three questions.
But even if you don’t have a Scrum veteran to guide the meetings, you can quickly establish an effective daily Scrum by staying true to the core principles. Resist the temptation to modify, at least early in the process, since you run the risk of diluting the magic.
If, however, your Scrum meetings are not gelling the way you hoped, it’s likely due to one of a few common problems. We’ll describe them and some potential solutions briefly.
- Focus on the Scrum master - Organizers of effective daily Scrums emphasize the importance of the peer-to-peer communication. One common pitfall, especially for new Scrums, is for people to have a tendency to address the Scrum master when they are talking. To help redirect the focus onto teammates, and the commitments made to them, your Scrum master can intentionally break eye contact with the speaker. Another technique is to have the Scrum master stand outside the circle.
- Meetings digress – The problem can be socializing, a speaker going into too much detail on an issue, or the conversation bogging down on topics better suited for a sidebar. Some teams say a phrase like “take it offline” as a reminder. Or you can try the two hand rule. If anyone thinks the meeting has gone off topic, they raise a hand. Once a second person raises a hand, then the conversation stops and the stand-up goes back to its normal flow.
- Not focusing on the questions – Scrum meetings lose their effectiveness if they do not revolve around the three questions we discussed above. It can be tempting for a Scrum master to open a meeting by talking about a new requirement or project change that has just emerged. This inevitably leads to a discussion on how to handle the new need, and the questions are neglected.
- Similarly, if the Scrum master micromanages or “runs” the conversation at the expense of peer-to-peer communication, the collaborative atmosphere gets lost and the meetings lose effectiveness. Keep your Scrum meetings laser focused on advancing the team towards the project goals by sticking to the questions.
- People arrive late, unprepared, or not willing to talk much - These slow down daily Scrums and kill the energy. Punitive measures should be avoided since they undermine the Scrum spirit. A better fix is to shake things up by changing how you rotate speaker or how you phrase your questions (instead of what did you DO yesterday, you could make it what did you ACHIEVE or COMMIT to). If the problem is deeper such as a lack of trust or cohesion in the team, poor communication, duplication of effort, micromanaging by the Scrum master, or obstacles not getting fixed, you might consider pausing your Scrum meetings for a few days and addressing the underlying issues. This will help to avoid making the situation worse by creating a perception that the daily Scrum is not an effective use of time.
With the support of management, some groundwork to prepare the troops for change, and a little planning, you can get an effective Scrum established in short order. Before long, you’ll be reaping the benefits by helping teams zero in on processes that deliver the most value to the business, clarifying work flow, collaborating better, and making progress and problems visible.
In short, the daily Scrum done the right way will strengthen your ability to innovate.
Checklist for Getting Your Scrum Meeting Up and Running Quickly
- Lay the groundwork
- Get support from management
- Identify work that is suited to a sprint
- Form the team
- Identify who will be part of the Scrum
- Keep the numbers limited, under 10 people
- Assign Scrum master, product owner roles
- Figure out logistics
- Pick a place near the work area where the meeting will always happen
- Set a time for the Scrum to start
- If you have remote participants, figure out video/phone conferencing
- Set up a board to display work status and have a timer
- Think about starting and ending with ritual cues such as music
- Pick a method for rotating the speaker
- Orient the team
- Have a pre-launch meeting with the team
- Explain the purpose of Scrum
- Outline the ground rules for how the daily stand-up will run
- Go over the three daily questions
- Discuss the project that you will undertake
- Give examples of what conversations should be saved for sidebar
- Troubleshoot if needed
- Assess after a few days how it is going
- Make sure communication is peer-to-peer
- Check to see that the three questions get answered by each participant
- Evaluate if the Scrum stays on track and within the time limit
- If any of these are not working, implement fixes
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