The Daily Standup

I get lots of questions about the Daily Scrum, from software development Teams and other kinds of Teams, like sales & marketing teams, executive Teams and the like. This post is intended to provide some basic guidance on the Daily Scrum, and also to explain some of the ideas behind the design of the Daily Scrum. The Daily Scrum is a practical meeting, and a kind of ritual ceremony, and a kind of daily reassertion of Team authority…and more.

 

NOTE: These opinions are my own, and do not appear AT ALL in the official rule book of Scrum, the Scrum Guide. (Only Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland, the co-creators of Scrum,  have authority to edit the Scrum Guide. This document is the official rule book for Scrum. The picture above is a picture of Ken and Jeff at the GIVE THANKS FOR SCRUM event held in Boston each year. )

Refer to the Scrum Guide for authoritative guidance on Scrum.

The Daily Scrum

The Daily Scrum is a generator of daily feedback. It is used to sample what is happening in the 24 hrs just past. In Scrum, the meeting goes like this:

1. The meeting is 15 minutes long and occurs in the same place at the same time each day.

2. The meeting is the TEAM’s meeting. This means the Team RUNS the meeting. There is no boss, or project manager, or any other kind of authority higher than the Team during this meeting.

3. Each Team member answers three questions: a)What did I do yesterday, b) What am I doing today, c) What obstacles am I facing that need to be addressed

4. When everyone is done answering the questions, or the 15 minutes is up, the meeting is over.

5. There are 3 roles in this meeting: Team member, facilitator/Scrum Master, and Observer.

The meeting follows a protocol:

Team Members: Answer the 3 questions and do not stray from the 3 questions. Attendance: mandatory.

facilitator/Scrum Master: Observe, and speak only if the Team starts to stray from the protocol (3 questions, 15 minutes) of the meeting. Speak only to bring the Team back on track. Attendance: optional

Observer(s): Team can allow observers. Observers arrive on time and do not speak during the meeting. Attendance: optional.

That is all there is to the Daily Standup meeting, AKA the “Daily Scrum”. If you want to understand the nuances of this meeting read on, otherwise, you are done.

 

Deeper Analysis of the Daily Scrum

The following is my opinion of what the story is behind the Daily Scrum…

The Daily Scrum is intended to provoke dialogue and discussion AFTER the meeting.  Since software teams are usually populated by left-brained, problem-solving introverts, often these folks value “flow time” over “blending with others”. This meeting is therefore short and to the point.

Developers often refrain from asking for help since asking for help may mean they do not understand a problem, do not know what they are doing, etc. “Alpha geeks” rarely if ever ask for help for these very reasons. Developers after all get paid for “right” answers.

Providing wrong answers or “no answers” (aka “asking for help”) is considered “career suicide” by many software developers.

A common pattern for a developer is for the developer to keep pounding on the problem (ALONE) until they “beat it into submission”. This heroic pattern is more common than asking for help.

This pattern of behavior is usually far less productive than asking for help.

The Daily Scrum’s 3 questions are intended to reveal when someone needs help. The design is clever: “What obstacles are you facing today?”. This amounts to disclosure of problems and an indirect request for help. When a Team member answera that question, listen carefully to figure out if you can help me, assuming a) you want to help and b) you have the ways and means to help.

The Daily Scrum is designed to get Team members to reveal where they need help.

Think of the Daily Scrum as a place to discover where you can offer some help.

Authority and the Daily Scrum

When I facilitate Daily Scrum (“standup”) meetings, I rarely if ever look people in the eye. The reason for this is that Team members often take eye contact for a cue to “go next”. Team members may also recite to the facilitator or Scrum Master instead of reciting answers to the other members of the Team. This in effect is drafting the Scrum Master into a ‘boss” or “manager” or “authority” position.

The Scrum Master is never “the boss” and occupies none of these roles!

Team members must learn to recite to other Team members, and to do so when they feel ready, not when some illegitimate authority prompts them to do so! The authority in the Daily Scrum is the Team.

I prefer each person who wants to recite, to recite when they are ready, instead of being prompted by “authority”. This is after all THE TEAM’S MEETING, and does not belong to the facilitator/Scrum Master or anyone else. If the Team member reciting is looking at me, I encourage them  to “say it to the Team”. As facilitator, sometimes I say nothing, and instead literally move to a place where the Team member reciting cannot look at me in the eye.

In this way, Team members learn that they OWN this meeting and the meeting belongs to the Team.

The following behaviors are non-verbal signals of authority:

1. Pointing at someone

2. Standing when others are sitting

3. Positioning deep in the room, facing the door

4. Overdressing

The facilitator needs to avoid issuing these signals. Why? Because Team members will pick up these signals and start looking to the facilitator/Scrum Master as “the authority in the room.” As Facilitator, you need to avoid this trap.

Team members often “want to be told what to do”. They will attempt to draft the facilitator into an authoritative role. I try to stay aware of this and avoid taking up any authority beyond making sure the 15 minutes and 3 questions are honored.

When in the role of facilitator, I signal as follows:

0. I arrive early and endeavor to never be late

1. I avoid looking at anyone in the eye when the current Team member is close to completing their recitations. Looking at someone in that spot amounts to a prompt to go next, especially when punctuated by lifting the chin when looking at them.

2. I never point at anyone.

3. I position myself close to the door with my back to the door, to signal that I have low (or NO) authority in this meeting.

4. I am careful to keep the meeting on track: 3 questions, 15 minutes, no status reporting, problem-solving, or the like.

5. I open the door when the 15 minutes are up or everyone has recited the 3 questions.

Summary

In general, the Daily Scrum is a meeting designed to help people reveal where they are struggling. This is a huge step forward for most Teams, who often hide where they are struggling. Asking for help is a huge leap forward and the Daily Scrum provides a way to reveal where you are struggling without directly asking for help.

It is essential for facilitators and Scrum Masters to avoid even the appearance of being in control of the meeting. My #1 tip to Facilitators and Scrum Masters is to NOT look at anyone directly during transitions. (That is in effect “sequencing” the meeting.) Instead, look elsewhere, wait, and see who goes. If no one goes next, after a painful silence, ask:  “who wants to go next?” and see what they do.

The results may surprise you.

 

Dan Mezick has 5 years experience consulting to teams, executives and organizations who are actively implementing authentic Scrum. His coaching clients include Orpheus Orchestra, Zappos Insights and dozens of smaller organizations. Dan’s latest book is THE CULTURE GAME, providing “ABC” guidance for managers who want more agility for their teams and departments.

You can view Dan’s recent video interview with Zappos Insights leader Rob Richman here.

You can contact Dan here.

 

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