As I mentioned in my previous post, this is a challenging time for agile teams as we are transitioning to being fully remote. Many are struggling to follow the agile principles, especially those that promote co-location and face-to-face communication. But even though we now find ourselves in a situation where these principles are challenging, it doesn’t mean we abandon sound teamworking approaches. We have the technology and with a little additional discipline we can maintain our productivity.
In the previous post I provided some general tips for any remote agile ceremony, including how to use video conferencing technologies and some basic remote meeting facilitation techniques . In this post I want to focus specifically on facilitating the Daily Scrum.
First, I will reiterate that you should use video-conferencing technology and turn on webcams. Just do it. We are all now very quickly getting used to turning our cameras on for family FaceTimes and virtual happy hours. It isn’t as weird as it may have been 6 months ago.
Personalize the meeting
Especially in the current environment, it is important to have your team connect on a personal level. Begin the meeting with a casual conversation of how people are doing. Share something that you have done to pass the time. Even in normal times, and when you are face-to-face, this can often break the ice and get people talking and make the meeting flow more easily.
Guide the Team
So if you’ve ever met me or if you read my post on breathing life into the daily standup you’ll know my aversion to the daily scrum as a status meeting and my uncomfortable relationship with the “three questions”. I firmly believe that to be truly effective, the daily scrum must be run by the team itself and be treated as an opportunity for the team to get together and plan out their day. It is, first and foremost a planning meeting. In a remote scrum, however, the scrum master or coach will often need to take a more active role in facilitating the meeting. You may need to guide the conversation by calling on each team member in turn. Or at least actively play traffic cop if you’ve got a talkative team. You can ask the three questions or just let each team member talk. But make sure they have communicated to the team the essence of the questions – what is now done that wasn’t done at yesterday’s standup, what is their individual plan for today, and what impediments do they need removed.
The last part about impediments is critical. In a remote situation this may be your one time during the day to get the entire team together and to be able to ask them directly what you can do to help. Take advantage of it, make a plan for how you will help, and then execute. A technique that I often use in remote calls is to close the meeting and keep those who need to do some additional planning on the call, allowing the others to return to work.
Let the meeting breathe
I’ve actually also found that sometimes I let a remote version of this meeting roll a little longer than an in-person version. I will do a little more problem-solving and let conversations go on a little longer. If for no other reason than it is often more difficult to get people together later. I still don’t want this meeting to go longer than 15-20 minutes though. As I say all the time, much of this is more art than science. Use your experience as a coach or scrum master and your knowledge of the maturity of the team. If you know that they are actively communicating using Slack or other messaging tools, then adjust accordingly. Also, as I mentioned above, consider letting some individuals drop off if there are very targeted conversations and planning that need to take place once the bulk of the meeting is over.
Visualize the work in progress
Use the screen-sharing capability present in almost every video conferencing solution to show the Jira board (or whatever tool you are using to track your work) during the meeting. I will often just show the board as I facilitate the meeting without necessarily speaking to it. However, follow what the team is saying and make sure the board lines up. Once everyone has spoken and the meeting is wrapping up make sure the board is accurate. Ask questions if it isn’t and get it cleared up before the team leaves.
Involve the team
Finally, as you embark on this journey as a remote team, make sure you are including the team in deciding how meetings are held. Don’t unilaterally impose processes and make sure to garner consensus before making changes. Also, follow the principles of rapid feedback and continuous improvement by, especially for the daily scrum, holding regular retros. These don’t have to be formal meetings. Every couple of days just ask the team how the meetings are going and if they want to make any changes. Then make them at the next meeting.
Hopefully these ideas will help you have a more productive remote daily scrum. Feel free to add your thoughts to the comments. What other unique solutions have you tried?