Improving the Daily Scrum with Liberating Structures
Many Scrum Teams have a love/hate relationship with the Daily Scrum. Obviously, it’s the most conducted Scrum Event. When using the same format every single day, it quickly becomes the most boring one as well. So we always recommend experimenting with different approaches. In our own experience, the use of Liberating Structures makes a real difference. To make this statement tangible, we share 10 examples of how to use Liberating Structures during and after the Daily Scrum. One example for each day, randomly ordered.
Fitting in Liberating Structures in the 15-minute timebox of the Daily Scrum is challenging. It will sometimes require you to tweak the original steps of Liberating Structures. That’s ok. Just experiment, and see if you’re able to achieve the purpose of the Daily Scrum. And if it takes longer than 15 minutes but you’re having a great conversation, well… that’s valuable as well, right?
The Daily Scrum is where the Developers plans their collaboration towards achieving the Sprint Goal, for the next 24 hours. Picture by Thea Schukken.
Purpose of the Daily Scrum
Before immediately doing a deep-dive into the 10 examples of how to use Liberating Structures, let’s first get the purpose of the Daily Scrum straight. During the Daily Scrum, the Developers inspect the progress of their work towards achieving the Sprint Goal, as made transparent through their Sprint Backlog, and make adjustments accordingly. The Daily Scrum takes place every 24 hours and allows the Developers to navigate the complexities involved in even a single Sprint.
The Daily Scrum should take no more than 15 minutes. It is a short and minimal opportunity to coordinate collaboration for the next 24 hours. If more coordination is helpful, the Developers can, of course, do so throughout the day. The Scrum Framework does not prescribe how to do a Daily Scrum effectively, but Developers are encouraged to find the best way to make the Daily Scrum work best for them.
10 Examples to try in a 2-week Sprint
- Use the Sprint Planning to make the Sprint Goal clear with “Nine Whys”. Sentences that help write clear purpose statements are “This Sprint exists in order to”, or “This Sprint exists to stop…”, or “When we achieve this Sprint Goal, what has clearly changed or improved from the perspective of stakeholders?”.
- Try “Min Specs” to help the team discover the essential work for this first day of the new Sprint. The Sprint Backlog, as defined during Sprint Planning, can be considered as the ‘Max Specs’: all the work, currently known, necessary to achieve the Sprint Goal.
- Use a “1–2–4-ALL” to have the group define the ‘Min Specs’ by asking “What is essential work we need to do today to make progress in achieving the Sprint Goal?”. Based on the outcome, reorder the Sprint Backlog, consider removing items, and create a plan for the upcoming day.
- Start the second Daily Scrum with a 3-minute “Gallery Walk” in which everyone silently studies the Scrum Board. Ideally, this board contains the Sprint Goal, Sprint Backlog, metrics, and other relevant important information for the Developers.
- Next, kickstart an “Impromptu Networking” in which every round is focused on one of the questions of “What, So What, Now What”. Each question is discussed in pairs for only 2 minutes.
- Round 1, in pairs, discuss: “Based on the Gallery Walk, what have you noticed? What facts or observations stand out?”. Round 2, in new pairs: “Why are those observations important? What patterns do you see? What conclusions can we draw?”. Round 3, again in new pairs: What next steps make sense based on the conclusions? What should we invest in based on what we know now?
- Share key-insights with the entire Scrum Team, and update the Sprint Backlog accordingly.
Impromptu Networking — rapidly sharing ideas and making new connections
- On day 3, give “Spiral Journal” a try. This punctuation activity encourages Developers with an individual reflection on what happened so far, before determining how to move forward.
- This exercise is started with the drawing of a spiral, which encourages everyone to calm down, focus, and forget any distracting thoughts. Next, one by one, present four prompts to complete. After each prompt, pause to give everyone time to write down their answers.
- Examples of prompts are: “Something I noticed yesterday was ….”, “Something I yesterday was ….”, “A question that is emerging is ….” “Something we should definitely do today is….”.
- After about 5–7 minutes, invite the Developers to share what they wrote down by using the Liberating Structure “1–2–4-ALL” and as a final step, update the Scrum board when needed.
Creating a spiral as part of the Spiral Journal. In the four quadrants, answers to the statements can be included.
- Start the 4th day by using “TRIZ” to determine what counterproductive activities and behaviors of the Developers should be stopped. Given the 15-minute timebox of the Daily Scrum, it becomes a ‘TRIZ-on-steroids’.
- In pairs, invite the Developers to list all they can do to ensure the most unwanted result for the upcoming day will be achieved. Or ask “Which items from our Sprint Backlog should we definitely do in order to achieve the worst possible outcome?”. Invite everyone to be creative while making sure to keep it realistic. Have them share the result with another pair and extend the list. It’s ok to have some fun!
- Next, in pairs, make a second list of the activities that the team is already doing that resemble or are closely related to items on the first list. Challenge the pairs by asking: “If you’re brutally honest, which activities from the first list do you recognize how we already work?”;
- Make a third list of all the activities or behaviors from the second list that the pairs want to stop. Identify the first steps to help stop these activities. Frame these next steps as “15 Solutions”, something everyone, individually can start doing immediately after the Daily Scrum.
- Day 5 is started with an “Impromptu Networking” in which the standard (optional) questions for the Daily Scrum are asked: “What did I do yesterday that helped the Developers meet the Sprint Goal?”, “What will I do today to help the team meet the Sprint Goal?” “Do I see any impediment that prevents me or the other Developers from meeting the Sprint Goal?”.
- In total, Impromptu Networking takes about 10–12 minutes. While discussing the impediments, one Developer mentions having a problem she doesn’t know how to fix. Together with the team, you decide to wrap-up the Daily Scrum and start a 30-minute “Wise Crowds” session.
- Wise Crowds creates a space where people can both get help on a persistent challenge and work with others to develop and practice helping behaviors that help overcome other challenges. Therefore, Wise Crowds is ideally suited to use the knowledge of the entire team to help someone with a tough challenge. Check the link to this blog post for a step-by-step explanation on how to facilitate Wise Crowds.
- On day 6, initiate another “Gallery Walk” during which the Developers silently walk around and inspect the Scrum board with the Sprint Goal, metrics, Sprint Backlog, etc. This only takes 2 minutes in total.
- Next, form groups with 5–7 participants each. If you have a large Scrum Team, from two groups. You can stand or sit. Briefly explain the structure of the “Conversation Cafe”: three rounds in total, the two first rounds using a talking object (each person has an equal opportunity to contribute), the third one as an open conversation.
- Round 1: Given your inspection of the Scrum board and how the Sprint is going so far: What have you seen, heard, or observed? What do you notice? What facts stand out the most? Round 2: So, what do these observations mean to you?, What seems to be important? What patterns and conclusions are emerging? Round 3: Now what actions make sense? What is a good next step?
- If you have two groups, briefly have them share the key takeaways and update the Sprint Backlog with the outcome of the Conversation Cafe.
Conversation Cafe in a workshop with Swisscom and KPN iTV.
- The 7th day of the Sprint is started with a reversed 1–2–4-ALL, which is called 4–2–1-SNAP. This is a Liberating Structure that is all about reflecting and going deeper and deeper into your own thinking.
- Ask the Developers to form groups of four. Offer the small group an invitation to have a brief conversation about, e.g. “What did you notice about the progress we made yesterday?”.
- Invite the small groups to break up into pairs. Give the pair a new invitation, for example, “What do you want to achieve today?”.
- Next, ask the pairs to break up. Individually, reflect on what actions make sense for you, personally. Optionally, have everyone briefly share what they wrote down with someone else.
- Finally, invite everyone to count down with you (3–2–1) and SNAP their fingers (while saying SNAP) to delineate the reflection. Update the Sprint Backlog accordingly, and get started with the first item. Or grab a coffee first :)
- Day 8 is started with a “Mad Tea” in which the Developers form two concentric circles and pair up with the person standing directly across them.
- As the facilitator, you offer the pairs a prompt to complete and discuss. In total, they have 1 minute. It’s up to the pairs to distribute the time equally. After 1 minute, the outer circle moves one step to the right and as such forms a new pair. Repeat, until everyone has arrived again with the person they started.
- Prompts to consider are: “An uncertainty we must creatively adapt to is…”, “What I find challenging is…”, “Something we should stop doing is…”, “A big opportunity I see for us is…”, “A courageous conversation we are not having is…”, or “An action or practice helping us move forward is…”.
- While reflecting on the outcome of Mad Tea, you learn that one developer faces a tough challenge and would like to get support. This seems an ideal opportunity to try “Discovery and Action Dialogue”, which exists to help groups invent local solutions to the problems they face. As a team, you decide to wrap-up the Daily Scrum and conduct a 30-minute Discovery and Action Dialogue session to help the Developer.
- A step-by-step explanation is covered in this blog post; in short, this Liberating Structure is about exploring the following 7 questions:
“How do you know when the problem is present?”
“How do you contribute effectively to solving the problem?”
“What prevents you from doing this or taking these actions all the time?”
“Do you know anybody who is able to frequently solve this problem and overcome barriers? What behaviors or practices made their success possible?”
“Do you have any ideas?”
“What needs to be done to make it happen? Any volunteers?”
“Who else needs to be involved?”
- Together, the Developers discuss these questions and collect ideas on how to move forward. As a team, they update the Sprint Backlog when new or other work is required.
Mad Tea during the PSM II class in Bali
- During the end of the Sprint, conduct another “Min Specs” to determine the absolutely essential work that needs to be done to achieve the Sprint Goal.
- First, ask the Developers to individually write down as many must-do- and must-not-do activities as they can in a couple of minutes. Form small groups, and have them consolidate their individual lists, and expand them to be as complete as possible (Max Specs).
- Ask everyone to test all the items on their lists against the Sprint Goal. Can it still be achieved without this item? If so, remove it. Compare across the small groups and consolidate together to the shortest list possible (Min Specs).
- Discuss the final list with the entire team and update the Sprint Backlog accordingly.
- Start the final day of this Sprint with 10x10 writing, another priming activity that sparks individual reflection. Invite everyone to get a notebook and a pen.
- Introduce the first sentence and ask everyone to write it down on the top of their page. It’s completely up to you to select the sentences. This Trello card contains many examples. To help you get started, consider using these sentences…
Something unexpected that happened yesterday was …
I don’t like that I’m feeling X about Y …
An amazing thought I have is…
What I wish I’d done differently yesterday is…
A thought I can’t get rid of is …
A person I’m thinking about is …
This Sprint, I’m grateful for …
What I would like to see happen today is…
What would make this Sprint our best one so far is…
My personal goal for today is to…
- Invite the Developers to complete the first sentence in 10 different ways (1 min). Encourage them to write without thinking too hard about their responses. It's not a problem if they can’t come up with 10 different ways — it's about generating as many options as possible.
- Introduce the second prompt and invite everyone to again generate 10 separate responses to this new sentence.
- Repeat until you have moved through all 10 sentences.
- Invite everyone to read through everything they have written and circle items on their lists that stand out. You might ask: “Did you write anything that surprised you or that you find curious/unusual?”.
- So far, this will take about 10–12 minutes. You can close the Daily Scrum by updating the Sprint Backlog together, or use a 1–2–4-ALL to have everyone share the outcome first and afterward update the Sprint Backlog. This will however take another 15 minutes (which is definitely worth considering!).
In this blog post, we shared 10 experiments to improve the Daily Scrum with Liberating Structures. Give it a try and share your experiences with us. It would be great to learn from your personal findings and together develop new ideas!
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