Everywhere I go, everyone seems to agree that the Daily Scrum should not be a status meeting. However, a consistent complaint I hear is, “our daily standup has become a status meeting.” How did we get here? Part of the problem is the typical guidance given to Scrum Masters about facilitating this meeting. This guidance comes in the form of the infamous “three questions”:

  • What did you do yesterday?
  • What will you do today?
  • What blockers do you have?

Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t have an issue with these questions per se. The issue is we have forgotten why we ask these questions in the first place. Let’s take a step back and revisit the Scrum Guide. The first paragraph of the section on the Daily Scrum says the following,

“The Daily Scrum is a 15-minute time-boxed event for the Development Team. The Daily Scrum is held every day of the Sprint. At it, the Development Team plans work for the next 24 hours. This optimizes team collaboration and performance by inspecting the work since the last Daily Scrum and forecasting upcoming Sprint work.”

The Scrum Guide

I added the emphasis to point out that, in fact, not only does the scrum guide not mention “status”, it specifically says the meeting is used by the team to plan its work. The Daily Scrum is, in fact, a planning meeting! The guide mentions the questions later as an option for running the meeting but makes it pretty clear that the point is to plan work toward the sprint goal. 

Now why do the three questions sometimes end up being a problem? In many cases the team has fallen into a pattern where the Scrum Master asks each team member the questions and the team member answers back to the Scrum Master. Typically, in this scenario, other team members are not engaged or listening and the meeting devolves into the dreaded status meeting. Then the team starts grumbling about why they have to do this every day when they could just get work done. We have completely lost the forest for the trees.

What should a Daily Scrum really look like? Think of how a football team huddles together and gets fired up before running onto the field at the start of a game. Obviously a scrum team is not a football team but the idea is the same. Ensure everyone is on the same page and excited to get their work done that day. The Daily Scrum is the team’s opportunity to make sure they are aligned and making progress toward their sprint goal. Also remember the team owns this meeting, not the Scrum Master!  Even on a football team, the coach is not usually involved in the pre-game huddle.

For a football team the adrenaline gained in the huddle is important. For a scrum team, collaborating, communicating and gaining confidence in the plan is important. The goal is for the team members to talk to each other and plan out what is coming that day. Ideally, the “three questions” will be answered in the course of that discussion. This requires the Scrum Master to really be a facilitator, guiding the team toward this ideal. Some teams will naturally gravitate toward the open planning discussion and some will benefit from the formality of the questions. A good Scrum Master strikes the appropriate balance, while ensuring that all voices are heard and all team members participate. One of the biggest gotchas to look out for is that, as the meeting becomes a little bit more unstructured, the quieter voices may get drowned out by those who like to talk. 

Has your Daily Scrum become a status meeting? If so, here is some practical advice for breathing some life back into it and bringing it back to its intended role as a team planning and coordination meeting:

  • Have the team actually stand up. Get them away from their computers and devices and focus on each other
  • For remote team members, use video conferencing software, have everyone turn on their cameras, and encourage them to stand up, even though they aren’t in the same room
  • As the Scrum Master, stand outside the circle. Say nothing and deliberately use silence to get the team to start talking to each other
  • Start the meeting by asking an open-ended question such as, “What are we going to get done today?”; this should spur conversation and you can then guide them through ensuring the three questions are answered
  • Have a different team member facilitate the meeting each day. Even if this still seems like a status report, it can get the team used to talking to each other and not to the Scrum Master
  • Ensure full participation by asking open-ended questions like, “How do you feel about this story?” or “How do you plan to work together today?”
  • Make sure the team is truly collaborating during during the sprint. If everyone is only working on their own task then the need for group planning isn’t as clear. Limit WIP or implement pairing to encourage more collaboration

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