If you’ve been reading our blog for a while, you know that our Product Development organization uses an Agile framework called Scrum for managing our work (aka getting $h!t done). Scrum sets the boundaries and values foundation for our department’s day-to-day operations, but it is NOT a methodology. Most of the techniques and processes are left up to the teams who use Scrum to adapt and evolve to optimize creativity, flexibility, and productivity.
At the Heart of Scrum
We’ve written about the Scrum Ceremonies, Retrospectives, using Scrum with a distributed Dev Team, becoming a Certified Product Owner, becoming a Certified Scrum Master, and the “Who’s Who” of all the different Scrum Roles. One of the few “rules” that Scrum defines is that teams should hold a daily stand-up called Daily Scrum. If you’ve been a victim of the myraid of ineffective “stand-up” meetings out there in the business world, you’re probably rolling your eyes right now.
The good news is: not all stand-up meetings are horrible! In fact, the Daily Scrum stand-up is at the heart of an Agile project and one of the best tools we have for “moving the ball forward.” Even better news: The approaches that we use in software development can be applied to improving any stand-up meeeting.
“Daily Scrums improve communications, eliminate other meetings, identify impediments to development for removal, highlight and promote quick decision-making, and improve the Development Team’s level of knowledge. This is a key inspect and adapt meeting.” – the official Scrum guide™ by Scrum creators Jeff Sutherland and Ken Schwarber
Step 1: Focus on Coordination
The first step towards an effective Daily Stand-up is a mindset shift. Stop thinking about it as a boring status meeting. You know the one…where a couple of people mumble through updates that are so short they don’t mean anything and other people ramble on for so long that everyone’s eyes are glazed over and then that guy feels the need to repeat what someone else already said and then at the end of the half hour a manager who was typing furiously on her laptop the whole time asks an awkward question about something that was already covered in the first five minutes of the meeting. An effective daily stand-up is a coordination event, not a status meeting. Scrum leaves most of how to do this up to the individual team.
Step 2: Set a Timer
An effective daily stand-up should be brief. Scrum sets the cap for this meeting to 15 minutes or less through something we call a time box (which is just a fancy name for a time limit). When our teams are the right size and we stay focused on the goal of the stand-up it’s easy to stay under the limit. If you think you need longer than 15 minutes then something in your process needs to be adapted. Standing isn’t necessarily required, but it is one way to help encourage brevity and remind everyone that they are NOT in a typical meeting.
Step 3: Make it predictable
Stand-up meetings should be pre-set at a regular interval (hint: daily), on the calendar, and as minimally disruptive as possible. Most teams try to book it as close to the beginning of the work day as possible. This timing isn’t always possible, so…
Step 4: Figure out what works for YOUR team and Adapt
Scrum is built on three foundational “pillars”:
By applying these pillars, teams can evolve their processes to figure out what works for them. Here’s what’s currently working for us here at gap intelligence:
- Each team has a Daily Scrum every work day with the exception of Friday. Each team sets their own schedule. This might sound easy, but with a Dev Team split between time zones that are 12 or 13 hours apart (depending on Daylight Savings) we’ve had to get pretty creative. Across 3 scrum teams, our current schedules have stand-ups that range from 6:30AM to 10PM.
- Dev Team members and Scrum Masters are required to attend. Product Owners are optional. Stakeholders are welcome to attend as well, but can’t interrupt the Dev Team.
- Standing is not required.
- If everyone isn’t co-located and attending in-person you’re expected to be on camera using video conferencing tools. We’ve experimented with Slack calls, Google Meet (formerly Hangout), Zoom, and GoToMeeting. With the wide range of meeting times this means that you sometimes hear crying babies, see your team members in their workout clothes, or in a bathrobe with messy hair. No normal person likes seeing themselves on camera, but it isn’t a fashion show. Video chat takes some getting used to, but we’ve found it to be the next best thing to meeting face-to-face and it gets less awkward with time…or you embrace the awkward.
- We follow a rigid structure to talk about all of our in-progress work that we modeled after a method we learned at a Scrum Alliance training class. As a team, we discuss every open ticket (User Stories, Bugs, and Chores) one a time. Developers take turns reading the title of the ticket and then we answer 3 questions before moving on to the next ticket:
- What have we done for this ticket since the last Scrum?
- What are we planning to do for this ticket before the next Scrum?
- Do we have any impediments?
Technical talks, logistical announcements, and discussions about functionality are saved for after the official stand-up is complete and only the necessary team members participate. We used to follow a similar format (answering the 3 questions person-by-person and asking if there were any “blockers”) but we quickly embraced the new approach after experimenting with it for one sprint. The word “blocker” felt so severe that some team members wouldn’t bring up minor issues that were slowing their team down. The shift to focusing on work instead of people made it less likely to deteriorate into that dreaded status meeting. We’d love to learn more about what’s working for your teams so we can continue to evolve. Drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Our Amazing Product Owner Melissa
For more than 16 years, gap intelligence has served manufacturers and sellers by providing world-class services monitoring, reporting, and analyzing the 4Ps: prices, promotions, placements, and products. Email us at email@example.com or call us at 619-574-1100 to learn more.