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Getting Forensic on the Daily Scrum (2020)

December 1, 2020
This is part #19 of 59 in the series Scrum Guide 2020 Updates

The Daily Scrum is probably the best known, and possibly the most misunderstood, Scrum event. Here’s why.

If you’ve heard about Scrum, you’ve probably heard something like this:

“The daily standup is a 15-minute meeting where the Scrum Team updates each other on what they did yesterday, what they’re doing today and any blockers.”

This is common knowledge and one of the first things that many people learn about Scrum. And yet, almost every single part of it is wrong.

You might find this hard to believe. Or maybe you find yourself in full agreement. Either way, why not try our Daily Scrum quiz, updated for the Scrum Guide 2020? It’s twenty multiple-choice questions that will test your understanding of the daily event. It’s also a great chance to review your understanding before taking any professional assessments.

For now though, back to the article. What is wrong with the statement I quoted above?

At the Scrum Board

The daily standup

Let’s start with the phrase ‘daily standup‘. I hear this phrase, more than almost any other to describe the Daily Scrum. But Scrum doesn’t require people to stand at the daily event so how did we end up with the name? I first came across the phrase ‘daily standup’ when reading about Extreme Programming at the turn of the millennium. It’s an idea that quickly gained traction and the value of a short, focused, stand-up meeting was apparent. The name stuck and it’s in widespread use today. But it’s not used in Scrum.

The 15 minute meeting

Next under the microscope is the phrase ‘15 minute meeting‘. It’s true that the Daily Scrum is a 15 minute event but that doesn’t mean it must take 15 minutes. If you can finish within 5 minutes, that’s great! Don’t force yourselves to collaborate for 15 minutes if there’s no value in doing so.

Where the Scrum Team update each other

The next part of the statement I’d like to address is ‘where the Scrum Team update each other‘. For me, there are two false elements here. Firstly, the only mandatory attendees at the Daily Scrum are the Developers. So, the entire scrum team are not required to be there. Secondly, the purpose of the daily scrum is not to update each other (more on the purpose coming later).

The three questions

For the final scrutiny, I’d like to address the ‘three questions’ element of the statement, viz: ‘what they did yesterday, what they’re doing today and any blockers.‘ I’d be the first to agree that this is a handy mantra to remind us what we might be talking about at a minimum.

While it’s handy, Jeff Sutherland and Ken Schwaber (co-authors of the scrum guide) came to realise that it was not being used as they intended. In the 2017 version of the Scrum Guide, the questions were updated to be more meaningful. This didn’t have the desired effect either so the November 2020 version of the Scrum Guide strips out the three questions altogether.


Now, let’s be frank, this just seems like nit-picking. But, I’m not a nit-picker so why this article? Well, because I’m a great fan of efficiency. I’m fully signed up to any lean endeavour to remove waste from our world of work. And I believe that we can be more focused, more effective, and have more fun, if we operate in the way the Daily Scrum is described in the Scrum Guide.

For example, did you know that at the daily scrum, the developers plan work for the next 24 hours? For me, this is a world apart from the ‘three questions’ I quoted in the opening statement at the beginning of the article. It provides the developers with a clear focus and intent: Plan for the next 24 hours while focusing on the sprint goal.

Why do these fallacies persist?

So why does this misinformation about the Daily Scrum exist? Maybe it’s because of the difference between the mechanics of the Daily Scrum and the framework of the Daily Scrum.

Maybe, it’s because we humans crave clarity. Telling us to ‘inspect progress toward the Sprint Goal and to inspect how progress is trending toward completing the work in the Sprint Backlog‘ may not be as easily adopted (or remembered) as ‘Use a burndown chart to help you decide if you’ll get all the work done‘.

Whatever the reason(s), we can probably be more efficient if we review the Scrum Guide’s description of the Daily Scrum. Then, where valuable, adapt the way the event is run to help us be more efficient.

To know if your review of the Scrum Guide has been thorough, maybe you’d like to test yourself with our free Daily Scrum quiz? Maybe, just maybe, it will challenge your current understanding.

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