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Friday, February 26, 2016

Top three daily stand-up failures, and five countermeasures

One of the first and most visible parts of doing Scrum is having a Scrum Board and doing daily stand-ups in front of that board. In this blog I want to address three of the most common daily stand-up failures, and how to solve them.


In stand-up meeting you are told to keep it in fifteen minutes and to address, person per person, (1) what you’ve done for the team yesterday, (2) what you intend to do for the team today and (3) what is blocking you and the team.

The Good

I really like having short daily meetings, and giving all attendees an equal voice. It’s good that team members get out of their bubble (like most developers tend to have) and synchronize their planned activities and share their teams’ successes. It really fires individuals up to work as team players and start to collaborate.

The Bad

However, I do see many team members having troubles with the daily stand-up meetings. They say that these meetings are not inspiring, but in fact are a waste of time. I’ve actually once heard team members propose to have the daily stand-up meeting only once a week! When you see this happening, as a Scrum Master, Agile Coach or as a fellow team member, you have to intervene. Otherwise you’ll wind up having monthly project status reporting meetings, detailed project plans and you team member getting back into their bubbles again.

The Why

Why does this happen?
I think the most defining factor why teams tend to become grumpy about the daily stand-up, is the result of the success of the daily stand-up! Because team member do communicate far more and better than before the introduction of the daily stand-ups, the need for daily stand-ups seems to diminish.


Early warning indicators

There are three patterns that are early warning indicators for daily stand-up failures:
  1.  Story telling; the fifteen minute time box is not met because team members are explaining too much about what has happened. And also what (and why) they did and didn’t do in respect to the intentions expressed in the previous stand-up.
  2. Problem solving; in the stand-up meeting team members drop their frustration about a problem they are facing, and that they see as an impediment. Most often it is not even a real impediment, but an excuse to explain why they didn’t complete their intended tasks. Helpful as team members are, the problem dropped is directly discussed in the stand-up, resulting in 'one on one' discussions and other team members to dream away. This will not help in keeping the stand-up 'short, snappy and inspiring'.
  3. Status reporting to the Scrum Master; team members report their status to the leader. But there should not be a leader in a Scrum Team. The job title of the Scrum Master is not ‘Scrum Manager’ with a purpose. The effect of team members talking directly to the Scrum Master is that team members are waiting for their turn and feel the urge to defend themselves, especially when committed tasks are not completed.
Okay, but how to counteract these patterns when you see them in your team?



What to do:
  1. Address the issue directly. Don’t wait till the next Sprint Retrospective meeting, but act on it on the spot.
  2. Repeat the reason. Make clear that the daily stand-up meeting is not for the Scrum Master, but for all team members to align and synchronize the work at hand. This is a message to repeat often.
  3. Look forward. Stress that we don’t bother about yesterday, but focus on what to do today. This is dropping the first of the Scrum Guide’s three questions to ask at the stand-up. My experience is that achievements made are reported naturally and don’t need to be expressed explicitly. In fact, when you do put explicit emphasis on what has been achieved yesterday, results in negative focus on what has not been achieved. And that results in team members feeling the urge to defend themselves.
  4. No impediments. Don’t use the word ‘impediment’, but use the phrase ‘need help’. An impediment is seen as someone else’s problem, resulting in social loafing or even in collective team demotivation. Re-framing it to ‘needing help’ drags problems back into the team’s own circle of influence and is an invitation to work together to tackle the challenge.
  5. Insect and Adapt. Ask the team members once in a while, directly after a stand-up, how we could have had the same level of information sharing in a more ‘short and snappy’ way.