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Fix Your Boring Daily Scrums

January 20, 2021

Groundhog Day Clock

Imagine Developers arriving at the Daily Scrum feeling like they want the monotony of it to end. They wish they hadn't had to bother to attend in the first place. The developers mechanically answering the three question format of the Daily Scrum:

  1. What have I done since yesterday to make progress towards the Sprint Goal?
  2. What am I doing today to make progress towards the Sprint Goal?
  3. Do I have any impediments?

Everyone leaves the event excited that it's over. They hardly listened to one another, and there is no action to take.

Does this sound familiar? I have been on (or worked with) many Developers where the Daily Scrum becomes mechanical; it is performed for the sake of checking a Scrum box off every day but without any true purpose. This type of Daily Scrum reminds me of one of my favorite movies Groundhog Day where Bill Murray wakes up to the same song every day repeatedly. Eventually, it takes him immense willpower to get out of bed after slamming his hand on the alarm clock. 

Why you should care

Having a stagnant Daily Scrum is not a trivial problem. In fact, it could be the underlying problem for many issues you may be experiencing with Scrum. For the Daily Scrum specifically:

  • The lack of engagement is leading to the failure of making the work well understood (transparency) 
  • There is less of an ability to look inward (inspect)
  • Developers are failing to change the direction they are headed in the Sprint (adapt) 

But there are ancillary issues that this may cause, including:

  • Sprint Goals are not being accomplished.
  • Other events taking on the same monotonous feel
  • A lack of ownership of the process by Developers
  • Decreased morale 

What are some ways we can avoid this trap? Here are two big ideas:

Idea #1 - Pay Attention to Work Item Age

The Kanban Guide for Scrum Teams is awesome. It discusses the basic metrics of flow, and one of those metrics is Work Item Age. As per the Guide, Work Item Age is defined as: “The amount of time between when a work item started and the current time. This applies only to items that are still in progress.

Developers can start using this as an objective way to collaborate during a Daily Scrum. It helps to provide insight and generate conversations about what might be stuck, who can help and where they can help, and if the Sprint Goal is threatened. 

I am a huge advocate for introducing this into the Daily Scrum. I have found it to be a game-changer and a metric that promotes true collaboration amongst the Developers. This information is generally very easy to find or easy to track, which is a bonus.

Idea #2 - Experiment with Liberating Structures

Liberating Structures are an awesome way to harness the collective brainpower of people in a room. They are a great way to harness Developers' collective intelligence as they evaluate progress towards the Sprint Goal and create a plan for the next twenty-four hours in the next Daily Scrum.

I was ecstatic that the three questions were removed from the Scrum Guide in 2020. Several years ago, I recognized that the three question format is one-directional. Then I began experimenting with different formats for the Daily Scrum, including Liberating Structures. An example of using a Liberating Structure for a Daily Scrum might be to use one of the most foundational 1-2-4-All:

  • 1 - For one minute, in silence, think about what needs to happen today for us to accomplish the Sprint Goal.
  • 2 - For two minutes, pair up with another Developer and discuss what needs to happen today to accomplish the Sprint Goal.
  • 4 - For four minutes, pair up with another pair (4 total Developers per group), consider what needs to happen today for us to accomplish the Sprint Goal.
  • All - For the remaining time, decide what we need to do until we meet tomorrow and consider triggering a conversation with the Scrum Master if anything is stopping us.

You can change the prompt (also known as an invitation) to keep the event fresh. You can also experiment with other Liberating Structures such as Min Specs, Impromptu Networking, Nine Whys, TRIZ, or others. Get everyone engaged! 

Final Thoughts

Stagnant Daily Scrums are boring and often lack purpose. They can be a sign of greater problems happening in your Scrum implementation. Try changing the format and try to amplify empirical process control in your next Daily Scrum.

Here is a supporting video Ryan Ripley and I created that you may find useful:


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