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How-to run a more effective daily stand-up or scrum

how to run a better daily stand up

Run well, a daily stand-up or scrum is a great pulse check, team builder and motivator for a project; run badly, it’s an expensive waste of everyone’s time. An effective daily stand-up is a chance to review progress, get feedback, measure productivity and adapt together as a team, to keep a project moving in the right direction. Leading a stand-up or daily scrum isn’t difficult – but leading them well is a bit more tricky. As project managers, we want to lead our project teams well and our projects to succeed so here’s how to run a more effective daily stand-up.

Turning a daily stand-off into a scrummier stand-up

While the daily stand-up (or scrum) is one of the most recognized agile ceremonies, it’s often the first to plummet over the dreaded SDLC (software development lifecycle) waterfall that agile is trying to avoid. What typically starts as 15 minutes, three questions, and a daily planning ceremony regresses into a status meeting that lost control over the rapids, bounced off some rocks, and is now sitting stagnant in the pool beneath the waterfall. How do we avoid this regression and keep the stand-up moving and clear of the waterfall? Read on my friend.

First, let’s review the properties of a typical agile team daily stand-up:

  • 15 minutes or less
  • Answer three questions:
    • What did I do yesterday?
    • What will I do today?
    • What is blocking me from making progress?
  • Create a 24-hour plan of action for the team
  • Everyone standing (not required, but encouraged)

Often, these simple properties become too routine, laziness takes over and your daily scrum goes awry. We forget the targeted outcome and benefits of collaboration, understanding, and planning and instead become standoffish as team members compete for time and attention, or worst of all, stop engaging altogether. Here are five simple tips to make your daily stand-up less of a stand-off.

1. Change the stand-up language

The three questions themselves sound status-like – we’re trying to avoid that! Try changing a few keywords and the intent to communicate obstacles, progress, and planning toward sprint goals outcomes is easily achieved.

  • What did I accomplish yesterday that brought me closer to our sprint goals?
  • What will I accomplish today that will bring us closer to our sprint goals?
  • What is blocking me from achieving our sprint goals?

This change also eliminates the conversation of “I attended a meeting,” “I ate pizza for lunch,” “I took my dog for a walk (wait, weren’t you at work?!)”

2. Eliminate the waste

If you’re finding your daily stand-up is taking too long or ends up with too much chit-chat, how about trying two questions instead:

  • What does the team need to know?
  • What do you need help with?

It still achieves the same outcome but eliminates some of the conversation that is not directly related toward achieving our sprint goals. Does the team need to know what you ate for lunch? No. Do they need to know what meeting you attended? Maybe. What you need help with? Yes!

3. Take away the distractions

This is an easy one. If people are looking out a window, move away or pull a shade. Other teams too loud? Move to a different area. Teams looking at computers and multitasking? Use a physical board. Not listening? Have them close their eyes (the lack of a sense heightens the others).

4. Walk the board, not the team

Many teams use a board to view in process sprint stories. Many teams also run their stand-up in the same order every day. Yes, we do have to take turns, but instead of organizing the board by the people on the team, view all the stories by their column on the board.

Now teams look at all the items in process at once, not just their own. This eliminates the question of “What do I work on next?” because they can see what is still in process. It keeps focus on the stories that help achieve the sprint goals and can identify when teams are working on out of scope items. To continue to mix up the order, the last person can call on the next (constant vigilance!).

5. Keep it fresh

The daily scrum can still get boring (we do it every day!). Keep it fresh by having everyone tell a bad joke, tossing a ball, and bringing in treats on occasion. This also makes it more fun and can build team rapport!

Summary

These are just a few items to get you moving toward a more effective stand-up and away from the waterfall trap. When you notice stagnancy, try to freshen up the questions, context or location. Talk about the sprint goals and stories, not the meetings. Encourage the team to work together and plan together, not make a stand-off for time and attention. What other things have you done to improve your daily scrum meeting?

Natalie Warnert

About Natalie Warnert

As a developer turned Agile coach, Natalie Warnert deeply understands and embraces the talent and environment it takes to build great products. Her extensive experience in Agile methods and user experience makes Natalie’s skills an asset to any team’s continuous improvement journey. From building the right product to building the product right, Natalie drives strategy and learning through validation. Her recognized expertise has earned her a reputation as a thought leader in the Agile industry. You will often find her speaking at conferences, and she has been invited to share her ideas at the national and international level. Natalie is a SPC, CSP, CSM and has experience in Lean, Six Sigma and Kanban coaching. She recently finished her Master of Arts in Organizational Leadership and is very passionate about her thesis topic: increasing women’s involvement in the Agile and technology community (#WomenInAgile). You can read more about Natalie’s ideas and contact her through her website: www.nataliewarnert.com

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