Daily Scrum: Attack the Day


The Daily Scrum, sometimes referred to as the Daily Standup, is a simple activity most teams have adopted or experimented with at some point.  In most instances, the extent of their guidance is to limit the gathering to 15 minutes and to answer three questions:

  1. What did you do yesterday?
  2. What will you do today?
  3. What impediments do you have?

Most leaders will jump at a chance for their teams to share this type of information and communicate every day.  Fifteen minutes is a small price to pay for a bit of insight and the appearance of teamwork.

I think the 3 questions have ruined standups. They’re most often used as individual status, rather than creating a team plan for the day.

— Ryan Cromwell (@cromwellryan) February 2, 2012

As many teams can attest, the road to Agility is not paved with hollow questions answered in 15 minutes.  In fact, I’ve argued that the three questions have ruined Daily Scrums, because they have directed the team’s focus toward how a Daily Scrum is conducted, rather than why.  Let’s change that.

Official Guidance

Scrum.org maintains the official Scrum Guide by Jeff Sutherland and Ken Schwaber.  In it, Ken and Jeff describe the Daily Scrum as (emphasis mine):

… a 15-minute time-boxed event for the Development Team to synchronize activities and create a plan for the next 24 hours.

It goes on to use the three questions I’ve said might be problematic, and then says:

The Development Team often meets immediately after the Daily Scrum to re-plan the rest of the Sprint’s work.

approvedDo: Create a Plan

The purpose of the Daily Scrum is to inspect the progress made on the increment of working software since the last Daily Scrum and come up with a new plan for the next 24 hours.  That is to say, the Daily Scrum is a just-in-time planning event for the Development Team.  Given that we expect to verify assumptions made in our previous planning and learn from what’s now completed, it is not surprising that the plan for the rest of the sprint needs adjusting.

approvedDo: Review Information Radiators

This is a chance to look at the burndown, taskboard or any other information radiator that helps us answer the question “are we on track with our forecast.”  Teams may even update taskboards to reflect the new reality.

From this information we can make critical decisions about scope, as well as decide if those outside the team need to be aware of changes.  This might include notifying folks that items may not be possible or that they should consider what other items can be pulled into the sprint.

unapprovedDon’t: Dig Into Details

What we often see teams doing is attempting to explain how things work or describe scenarios as fast as possible.  Even worse, what was intended to be a 15-minute planning activity turns into a 30, 40 or one-hour problem solving session.  Do we want to share this critical information?  Of course!  But not at the expense of coming up with a clear and cohesive team plan for the day.

approvedDo: Call for Follow-up Discussion

Take the Daily Scrum as an opportunity, if one hasn’t afforded itself sooner, to call for a discussion about details and problems.  In doing so, we’ve effectively done one better than intended by “What impediments do you have?”  You’ve actually solved the impediment!

In the next Daily Scrum, you will have an opportunity to share how discussing the situation led to the completion of a critical portion of a feature that has moved the team and sprint forward.  Thus, answering “What did you do yesterday?”

unapprovedDon’t: Solve Problems

By having a Daily Scrum, a problem we may have spun on for days can be caught with 24-hours. The Daily Scrum should surface this, but often one or two members will start discussing solutions immediately. We love sharing and collaboration, but this is not the time.

approvedDo: Have a Team Calendar Available

It’s not uncommon, especially those just adopting Scrum, to hear “We should talk about X” with no follow up. To help mitigate this, it’s often helpful to have a team calendar on hand so follow up discussions can be coordinated immediately.

approvedDo: A Gut Check

Especially with new Scrum teams, I find it helps to ask “How do you feel about the sprint?”  This might sound simple and silly, but it opens the air to fears and gut feelings that might be lost to the formality of planning artifacts.  From this I anticipate discussion about informing those outside the team of new insights or actions that can be taken within the team to make a course correction.

Daily Scrum: A Team Plan

When leaving the Daily Scrum, everyone should have a clear understanding of what the team will finish before the next Daily Scrum.  This formal event is not meant to replace informal and continuous collaboration throughout the day.  Use it to coordinate your efforts and re-plan your work rather than cram it full of detailed information.  Consider your Daily Scrum a success if each day the Development Team can “explain to the Product Owner and Scrum Master how it intends to work together as a self-organizing team to accomplish the goal and create the anticipated Increment in the remainder of the Sprint.

Take the next step…

Want a strong start to your Agile adoption?  Need an understanding of the theory, principles and practices of Scrum and Agile to make that happen?  Want a safe place to practice before bringing these techniques to your organization?  Contact us to schedule a Scrum Fundamentals webinar or Professional Scrum Foundations course.

2 thoughts on “Daily Scrum: Attack the Day

  1. Pingback: Agile Retrospectives for High-Performing Teams | Applied Information Sciences Blog

  2. Hi Ryan,
    Thanks for this nice article. We figured out that standup meetings are great but needed improvement (they took a lot of time, de-focussed our colleagues and interrupted their workflows). Because of this we developed a SaaS tool to “automate” the daily standup meetings – with just a single email. If you like to take a look: http://www.30secondsmail.com.


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