The Daily Scrum (Daily Standup) is probably the best known part of Scrum. A brief meeting, held daily, where attendees discuss important topics. But are we getting the most we can out of our Daily Scrum? Or are our Daily Scrums beset with problems?
In this article, I’ll call on almost two decades experience as a consultant Scrum Master and Scrum Trainer and share 14 paragraphs of information that will make your Daily Scrum better.
Let’s dig in.
What is the Daily Scrum?
The Daily Scrum is a 15-minute meeting for the developers of a Scrum Team. The purpose is to inspect progress toward a sprint goal and, where appropriate, to adapt the sprint backlog to increase the likelihood of meeting the sprint goal.
Additionally, it improves communication between developers and provides situational awareness for attendees. They are also useful to:
- Identify impediments
- Make quick decisions
- Eliminate other meetings
What the Daily Scrum is Not
There are a number of myths that have sprung up about the Daily Scrum. Here’s a list for easy reference:
The Daily Scrum is NOT a:
- Status meeting
- Problem-solving session
- Open-ended discussion opportunity for developers
- Community of Practice session for developers
- Daily Standup (see below)
What is a Daily Standup?
The Daily Standup is sometimes described as an agile meeting. However, the agile manifesto, published in 2001, makes no explicit reference to a daily meeting so we have to look elsewhere for the origination of the term.
History of the term ‘Daily Standup’
Some claim that the phrase Daily Standup originated in Extreme Programming, published in 1999, where it is called the Daily Standup Meeting. Notably though, the Daily Standup Meeting in XP does not have a timebox.
The Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) requires a Daily Standup and provides a timebox: 15 minutes. However, it was created in 2011, and the term Daily Standup has certainly been in use longer than that.
Jeff Sutherland, co-creator of Scrum, says that the term was coined in an early implementation of Scrum at Easel Corporation in the early 1990’s. He went on to say that the inspiration for this came from a white paper published by James Coplien at Borland Software. Crucially perhaps, the Daily Standup described by Jeff Sutherland did have a timebox of 15 minutes and did require attendees to stand.
Dropping the Term ‘Daily Stand up’
However, in 2010, the very first edition of Scrum Guide was published.
The meeting was now called the Daily Scrum and all reference to standing up had gone, never to re-appear. But the phrase Daily Standup seemed to capture the mood of the 90’s and has persisted.
It’s been over a decade since the term was dropped but it remains in common use today, even within Scrum.
One Interpretation of the Daily Standup
In summary, one interpretation of the Daily Standup might be:
A daily, 15-minute team meeting to inspect progress toward a near term goal and, if appropriate, adapt planned work to increase the likelihood of meeting that goal. Participants stand during the meeting to improve focus.
The Differences Between the Daily Scrum and the Daily Standup
The Daily Scrum and Daily Standup are very similar and given how they were created, this is hardly surprising. However, the main differences are:
- You are not required to stand at the Daily Scrum
- The Daily Standup does not always mandate a 15 minute timebox (eg: Extreme Programming declares no timebox)
- Scrum explicitly states what the Daily Scrum is and what it is not (eg: Not a status meeting)
Where and When Should the Daily Scrum be Held
Scrum works well for complex product development. As such, you might find the advice on where and when to hold the Daily Scrum a little strange: Hold the event at the same time and place every day to reduce complexity (emphasis is mine).
Why would knowledge workers, working on a complex product, need to reduce complexity? Because they have more than enough to think about without worrying where and when the next Daily Scrum will be held.
Who Attends the Daily Scrum
Mandatory attendees at the Daily Scrum are the developers only. Anyone else is free to attend but only the developers may take an active part. If the Product Owner or Scrum Master are also part-time developers and actively working on items in the Sprint Backlog, they also participate, but only as developers.
The Purpose of the Daily Scrum?
The purpose of the Daily Scrum is to inspect progress toward a sprint goal and, where appropriate, to adapt the sprint backlog to increase the likelihood of meeting the sprint goal.
What are the ‘Three Questions?’
Earlier editions of the Scrum Guide used to refer to three questions that the developers should address during the Daily Scrum. These questions were variations on the theme of:
- What I did yesterday
- What I’ll be doing today
- Any impediments that I am facing
But it was felt that the questions were too prescriptive for a framework like Scrum. It was found that addressing these questions became more of a mantra, rather than helping with the purpose of the event. Some even interpreted this as a symptom of zombie scrum.
The current edition of the Scrum Guide has removed all references to the three questions. Instead, Scrum Teams are exhorted to focuss on progress toward the Sprint Goal and produce an actionable plan for the next day of work.
How Long Should the Daily Scrum Last for?
The timebox for the Daily Scrum is unique within Scrum events in that it always remains the same, irrespective of the length of the Sprint. The timebox is always 15 minutes. The reason is to keep the meeting short and productive.
Facilitating the Daily Scrum
You may recall from an earlier section that the only mandatory attendees at the Daily Scrum are the developers. The Scrum Master and Product Owner are not required, unless they’re also part-time developers, in which case they attend purely in their developer role.
It is common for the Scrum Master to facilitate Scrum events but as they are not a mandatory attendee, this cannot be achieved. Instead, it is up to the developers to run the event as they see fit. As long as they meet the purpose of the event, the manner in which they do so is entirely their own choice.
See the upcoming section on common techniques for ideas on how developers might run their Daily Scrum.
The Daily Scrum and Empiricism
You may recall that Scrum is founded on empirical process control. Empiricism asserts that knowledge comes from experience and making decisions based on what is known.
The pillars of empiricism are transparency, inspection and adaptation. Every event in Scrum is a formal opportunity for inspection and adaptation and the Scrum Guide makes it very clear what is inspected and adapted in the Daily Scrum:
The purpose of the Daily Scrum is to inspect progress toward the Sprint Goal and adapt the Sprint Backlog as necessary, adjusting the upcoming planned work.The Scrum Guide (2020 Edition)
The developers can select their preferred format for the Daily Scrum. They can also select whichever techniques they want, as long as they focus on progress toward the Sprint Goal and produce an actionable plan for the next day of work.
Commonly used techniques include a Scrum board and / or a Sprint burndown chart, (illustrated below).
Also consider that the Daily Scrum is not the only time developers are allowed to adjust their plan. They often meet throughout the day for more detailed discussions about adapting or re-planning the rest of the Sprint’s work.
Here are a few of the common pitfalls that sometimes occur at the Daily Scrum:
- Team is Too Small
- Team is too large
- Remote team members
- Excessive talkers
- Shy participants
- Blown timebox
- Skipping the meeting
- Changing the frequency
- Not listening to participants
- Poor meeting time
- Off-topic conversations
- Problem solving
- Scrum Master leading the Daily Scrum
- Three questions as a mantra
I was going to include advice on how to remedy these pitfalls but realised that this article was long enough already!
The Daily Scrum and Distributed Teams
The Daily Scrum is an important part of Scrum. It reduces risk and improves the likelihood that the Sprint goal will be met. It also encourages communication and collaboration amongst the developers. Whilst this has always been important when working in the office, it becomes crucial when teams are distributed or working remotely.
Many teams adopt a tool mindset when faced with remote working. They come to rely on electronic tools to cover the communication gap. Some tools are good for this, others not so much.
I highly recommend the use of video when running a Daily Scrum. Do whatever you can to bring people together, webcams on, and run it just as you would if you were all in the office.
I also recommend the use of simple electronic tools such as Trello or Mural. These can represent the physical Scrum Boards that we might use in the office.
I advise caution regarding prescriptive tools, though. Tools like Jira or Azure DevOps Server (TFS as-was). They like you to work their way, rather than bend to the way you want to work. This causes problems.
I also advise against tools that replace conversation and collaboration. Tools like instant messaging, where it’s all too easy to throw an issue ‘over-the-wall’, rather than discussing and resolving it.
In short, to quote the agile manifesto, favour individuals and interactions over process and tools. Make your digital work environment as close as possible to a physical work environment. Use video to collaborate and use tools as a facsimile for the scrum board, burndowns, and so on. It’s simple and enables you to focus on what’s important.
However you arrived here, thanks for reading this far! This article turned out to be a lot longer than I expected but I hope you’ve found it interesting and informative.
Perhaps you’d like to check your understanding by taking my Daily Scrum quiz? Better yet, why not share it with your Scrum Team, or the teams at work and use it to bust a few myths?
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