“Attendance at the Scrum Events is Mandatory”

Are you serious? — Episode 38

Paddy Corry
Jan 1 · 5 min read

As a Scrum Master, I often hear people tell me that participation in the Scrum Events is mandatory. But is that really true? Or is that really a good idea?

As a Scrum Master, is it constructive to suggest that all members of a Scrum Team should always attend all events?

It feels a little command-and-control to me, but let’s investigate.


Mandatory Fun

Does the Scrum guide consider the events mandatory? Here’s what it has to say:

“Failure to include any of these events results in reduced transparency and is a lost opportunity to inspect and adapt.” — Scrum Guide

First reaction: the events are opportunities for empiricism. Without those opportunities, we lose the beating heart of most Scrum Teams. I think a reasonable question to ask here is: Are we still a Scrum Team without the events?

Here’s a question for any Scrum Master who has ever been asked whether attendance is mandatory at the Scrum Events: do you think your team understands the value of the opportunities for empiricism provided by each of the Events?

Next reaction: are the events able to proceed without the entire team in attendance? Could something else (gasp!) take priority over a Scrum Event? 😮


Every meeting invitation is… just that, an invitation

Scrum Masters, here is something very important to remember about all meeting invitations: they can be declined.

We should check our own expectations if we want every invitation to be accepted without question. You cannot force people into a room if they have something to do that they believe is more important. The same must hold true for the Scrum Events.

If this feels a bit weird to you, maybe ask yourself this question: how many meetings are you ever invited to that are actually mandatory?

With mandatory attendance, Let’s examine the behaviour we could create, in the language of BDD, just for fun:

Given a scrum master in a Scrum Team, when I insist that the Scrum Events have mandatory attendance, then I risk creating an environment of command-and-control, and the team will start to value attendance over participation, and presence over empiricism.


Positive Bias

Let’s be real for a moment. There can be mitigating circumstances that mean a team member can’t attend the Scrum Events because we live in the real world.

For example, if my kid has a doctor’s appointment, then I can’t attend the Daily Scrum tomorrow morning. Or, remember that elusive production issue from last week? it surfaced again last night and the client raised it with our production engineering team, so a couple of us need to investigate during the Sprint Review… as a Scrum Master, how would you handle team members attendance in these scenarios?

If you want to create the right kind of environment for a Scrum Team to flourish, I would suggest you follow the advice of High-Performing Teams expert Richard Kasperowski, and start addressing the issue with the very first building block required: a positive bias.

When people can’t attend the Scrum Events, are you ‘Grumpy Scrum Master’ in response? The first step here might be to check yourself for negativity bias.


Opt-out Protocol

As a Scrum Master, I would also suggest working with your teams on putting together protocols that allow team members to gracefully opt out of the Scrum events when they need to.

For me an opt-out protocol like this says to a team: there’s value in the Scrum Event, but if we have something else to do that is a higher priority right now, then we give each other the freedom to choose that alternative.

The Daily Scrum is a great one to start with. The value of it is clear: we need to plan the next 24 hours as a team, and learn if our Sprint forecast is still accurate. It is an opportunity for empiricism, to inspect the plan with regard to the latest information, and adapt to that new information.

So how about if I have a dentist appointment in the morning. What should I do? I would ask team members to do two things:

  1. Before the Daily Scrum, check in with someone in the team and give them your update, in whatever form the team usually gives updates in the Daily Scrum. It could be “Yesterday I worked on x, today I’m working on y, and everything is fine.” Or it could be “Yesterday I started x, it’s a little bigger than I thought, but I’ll keep going today and shout when I have a better idea.” Note: you don’t have to check in with the Scrum Master here, you can buddy up with anyone in the team…
  2. After the Daily Scrum, when you return, check in with your team-mate. Any updates? Anything that might impact your plan for today?

A simple protocol like this enables teams to continue functioning with a Daily Scrum in the usual way, with an added bonus: we give each other the freedom to opt out from it if our kid is throwing up, or if the plumber is calling some time this morning.

I would also argue that this kind of protocol creates a more positive atmosphere in a team, and can help the team become more self-organised.


Scrum Master as attendance checker?

In addition, these protocols prevent the Scrum Master from becoming the very command-and-control monster that they should strive to vanquish. Do you really want to be checking attendance at the start of a meeting?

In 2019, I’m planning to work on opt-out protocols for all Scrum Events as an experiment. I firmly believe that these protocols will make it possible to preserve the opportunities for empiricism provided by each Scrum Event, ensure that the events themselves take place, and also create an atmosphere of freedom and self-organisation inside the team.

Remember, Scrum Masters, the next time someone doesn’t show up for a Scrum Event, don’t be grumpy, and don’t feel like you or Scrum itself has been de-prioritised!

Sometimes opportunities for self-organisation and success as a team turn up in places where you least expect it.


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Serious Scrum

Content by and for serious scrum practitioners.

Paddy Corry

Written by

Scrum Master, world traveller, language learner, bloke.

Serious Scrum

Content by and for serious scrum practitioners.