Why your Daily Scrums suck (part 1)
The Daily Scrum is a core element of good product and project management. But I’ve seen too many teams misunderstanding this meeting and implementing it badly. Pointing out common misunderstandings & pitfalls, I want to give you hands-on advice to fix the Daily Scrum and reap all the benefits from this important meeting.
This article specifically talks about the pitfall of the Daily Scrum degenerating into a “daily status meeting”. Although this is a pretty common pitfall, it is by far not the only one — I talk about another one in part 2 of this article.
The status quo
In my many years as an agile coach I have seen the following kind of bad “Daily Scrums” far too often:
First the Scrum Master announces the beginning of the Daily Scrum and everybody gathers around the Scrum wall. Next the Scrum Master asks the first team member: “What did you do yesterday?”. The team member dutifully reports the tasks they completed yesterday. The Scrum Master continues asking the other two common questions “What will you do today?” and “Where do you have problems or need help?”. After the first team member finishes, the Scrum Master asks the next team member the same three questions. Everyone answers the Scrum Master’s questions until the Daily Scrum ends with the Scrum Master closing with the words “Thank you! Let’s get to work now!”.
Does this sound vaguely familiar?
Let me make this clear: this scenario is bad! A Daily Scrum done like this does not serve any purpose in project management — it is a pure waste of time! If your Daily Scrums look like this, then the team will pretty soon view the meeting as a burden and shortly after they will want to skip it or turn it into a “weekly”. And a team loathing the Daily Scrum or a team doing “weeklies” instead of daylies is a huge alarm sign.
To understand, why this is so bad, let’s first look at what the original purpose of the Daily Scrum is. Then I will list some alarm signals that let you spot a bad Daily Scrum early on. And finally I give you a few tips how to improve your Daily Scrums and reap all the benefits from this meeting.
Why Daily Scrums were invented
The first sentence about the Daily Scrum in the Scrum Guide explains a lot already:
“The Daily Scrum is a 15-minute time-boxed event for the Development Team.”
(Scrum Guide, p. 12, emphasize by me)
This meeting is “for the Development Team”! It should serve and benefit the development team, not the Scrum Master, the Product Owner or any of the stakeholders! You might already see, why the above mentioned status quo I encounter so often is so wrong: the above scenario mainly benefits the Scrum Master!
We don’t need no “status report meeting” towards the Scrum Master or Product Owner! They already know the status of the project by looking at the Sprint Backlog, Product Backlog and the increment from the last sprint. Furthermore, everyone ideally sits in the same room and so the Scrum Master and Product Owner will be in regular, direct communication with the team. Not much can be gained by stating the status at the beginning of each day — it would be a waste of time.
The purpose of the Daily Scrum is for the development team to monitor and optimize their own work:
“The Daily Scrum optimizes the probability that the Development Team will meet the Sprint Goal.” (Scrum Guide, p. 12)
The development team optimizes their work by:
- Inspecting their progress towards the sprint goal
- Forecasting upcoming Sprint work
- Understanding how to work as a self-organizing team
The important point here is, that the development team does all this for their own benefit and among each other! The Daily Scrum should help them adapt their plans, so that they increase the chance to reach the Sprint Goal. For this the dev team must know how their progress is trending towards completing the work in the Sprint Backlog.
This explains why it is so bad if the Scrum Master leads the Daily Scrum meeting. The Scrum Guide says:
“The Scrum Master ensures that the Development Team has the meeting, but the Development Team is responsible for conducting the Daily Scrum.”
(Scrum Guide, p. 12, emphasize by me)
A better Daily Scrum
Now that we know the purpose of the Daily Scrum, we can imagine what a good Daily Scrum would look like:
The development team rises in preparation of the Daily Scrum, without the Scrum Master having to do anything. Then the first development team member states her adapted plans for today. Immediately another team member jumps in and says “hey, I will work on that other task today, so let’s coordinate and work on this together today”. Then the team member states a problem they had yesterday and yet another team member offers help: “Hey, I already had a similar problem on my last project. Maybe I could help you! Let’s look at this problem right after the Daily Scrum.”. In time, the development team members end the meeting and approach the day with an adapted plan how to collaborate in order to fulfill the Sprint Goal.
The main point is that the team should benefit from the Daily Scrum — not anyone from outside wanting a “status report”.
Alarm signals you should know
Here are a few alarm signals to watch for in order to keep your Daily Scrum productive:
Scrum Master asking everyone to report
The Scrum Master should not ask for the status of each team member. This only cements the wrong notion of the Daily Scrum being a status meeting. Should the Scrum Master really need to know the current status of the sprint, they can look at the Sprint Backlog, the burndown chart or simply talk to team members during the sprint.
Team only speaks in response to Scrum Master
The development team members should address and talk to each other during the Daily Scrum. If you see everyone facing the Scrum Master and waiting for her to ask questions, something is wrong.
Scrum Master starting and ending the meeting
The team should have an urge to do the Daily Scrums for their own benefit. If there is a need for a Scrum Master to call the meeting, something is wrong.
These alarm signals and fixes are just one example from my video course Avoid these 19 Pitfalls of the Daily Scrum Meeting. Check out the course for more.
How to fix it
If you see some of the alarm signals listed above, nothing is lost yet. These are just early signals that show you, that you might run into problems later in the project. So there still is plenty of time to fix things. Here are a few tips:
Be quiet on purpose
As a Scrum Master, you should let the team make small mistakes, so that they can learn. Being quiet during the Daily Scrum can be a wonderful tool! If the Scrum Master is quiet, the team feels an awkward silence, until they finally take over and conduct the meeting themselves.
Also don’t always start the meeting as a Scrum Master. A neat trick I like to use often is to NOT appear for the Daily Scrum occasionally! After all, the Scrum Master is optional in this meeting (although it is an awesome place for a Scrum Master to pick up lingering impediments). Just let the team self-organize! Even if they miss the Daily Scrum the first time you do this, teach them that it is their meeting and that they’re responsible. They will learn quickly and soon not be dependent on you for such basic things like starting a meeting on time. This also frees the Scrum Master to work on more valuable things to improve the teams performance.
Encourage team members not to look at Scrum Master
Make sure that team members talk to each other during the Daily Scrum. If everyone looks at and talks to the Scrum Master, the meeting loses its value. After all, the Scrum Master has little interest in what someone is working on currently, but the development team members have a big interest in it. So make them look at and talk to each other.
(If needed) Teach or expel the Product Owner
The product owner is totally optional during the Daily Scrum — and usually no Product Owner is present in this meeting. But sometimes a Product Owner might attend. If the Product Owner then demands the status of the current sprint from the team, educate him about the purpose of the meeting. If he still (unintendedly) causes the Daily into a status meeting, ask the Product Owner to stay away from the Daily Scrum for a while.
Encourage team members to appoint next in line
A good trick to make the team address each other instead of the Scrum Master is to let them “pass the microphone”. Encourage them to turn to their next team mate after they’ve finished and prompt them to go next.
People should say when they’re finished
Also educate the team to clearly say when they’re finished talking. It is sometimes hard to determine whether someone has more to say. Simply stating “that’s all from me” can make a Daily Scrum run much smoother.
These were just a few tips. I’m sure that now you know the purpose of the Daily Scrum, you can come up with more ideas on your own.
The Daily Scrum should serve the Development Team, not the Scrum Master or the Product Owner. If you notice your Daily Scrums degenerating into a status meeting towards Scrum Master or Product Owner, take measures to counter this problem. Fixing your Daily Scrum early on, will avoid problems in the future and will make your team perform at its best!
If you do a Daily Scrum right, you will be amazed by the productive power a development team can have!
If you found this article helpful, you can grab more tips by getting my free email course Daily Scrum Tips (not affiliated to Serious Scrum). For another common pitfall, continue with part 2 of this article here on Medium.