My Approach to the Daily Scrum

It’s simple… We walk the board, address 4 questions, then refine 1 ticket, all in 15 mins.

I mean… I could end this post right here.

But I won’t… As I chat up more Agilists, I realize that after 6 years of being a Scrum Master or Agile Coach full-time, and after almost 10 years of engaging in my own ScrumOfOne adventure, I’ve developed a few practices that are well received upon me sharing ’em verbally. So I figure I’ll share ’em here, bloggally.

Ya’ani… This reflects an internal shift I’m trying (ooh, a forelog), where I see a lack of clear & solid support for newer Scrum Masters, so I’m quietly working on a product & service to address this (yep, a backlog), through experimenting with newer approaches on myself (aha, a frontlog) (BINGO!). Thus, I see this blog shifting from present-day journaling to documenting ideas & practices from my recent past, plus playing with ideas & practices for a future I’d like to create: lowering the barrier to becoming a Daily Agilist. You don’t need a damn certificate (caveat: I have 3) to start playing this Agile game: this isn’t secret knowledge, nor should it be. And yes, certification was borne out of a desire to standardize after the organic spread of Scrum, to improve marketing (“hold up, this is Scrum”) and to reduce anti-patterns (“hold up, this is good Scrum”), but embarking on your own Agility, and then benefiting from it, shouldn’t require a big bang. There’s got to be a better way. Anyway, this paragraph is way too long, and you’re here for my “at-least-ha” take on the stand-up.

Maybe… I should’ve ended this post back there.

But First, We’re Late

Two minutes late.

Although only 15 minutes, people gotta go to the bathroom, wrap up their previous meeting, and find the conference room fumble with Zoom audio/video, so I give folks time to do that, rewarding folks who make it on time with witty banter and by orchestrating magical team-bonding once-in-a-lifetime happenings to never be repeated, so those deplorable laggards get FOMO.

And Then, We Scrum

We walk the board.

Newbie Scrummers, myself once upon a time included, will answer the 3 questions of what they did yesterday, what they’ll do today, and if there’s anything blocking them. The focus on the individual can result in you tuning out a lot of what’s said, until it’s your turn, followed by a sigh of relief, accompanied by a slumping back in your WFH throne, then wiping the sweat off your brow with one hand while grabbing a Kit Kat with the other as reward for your status reporting, ending in a continued tuning out of what others are saying.

This “round-robin” kind of ceremony wraps up with a clapping of hands, awkwardly high-fiving the camera, and/or reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, before returning to regularly scheduled… programming.

We can do better.

By shifting the focus from the individual to the work, we craft an opportunity for self-organizing or swarming. I ask Scrumsters to congregate around the “Board of Rectangles”, which I just coined (you’re welcome, people of the future, but likely just me), whether it’s Jira, or a wall of 3M stickies segregated by 3M electrical tape, or 3M MS Excel, but likely Jira. Then I ask my dear Scrummineers to speak to each Rectangle that’s in progress, starting with the top one in the column just before the ‘Done’ column, likely labeled ‘Test’, working down the column, then jumping to the next column.

I have a script, exclaimed with high energy, like I’m a Ring Master…

Wwwwwelcome to the Daily Scrum where we see how we can help each other Get Things Done, starting with Things In Test!

…and then I simultaneously put a flat hand over my mouth and take a giant step back, signaling that I am done talking and have sacrificed a baby goat to the Agile gods in hopes that they will heed my prayers of some Scrummeister piping up to speak to that first backlog item at the top of that column. Yes, there’s usually awkward silence the first couple of times, until some genius points out how that top Rectangle in Test has a face on it, and that the person with that face should probably use that mouth.

More attention, the people will pay, mmmmm, yes? (Yes, Yoda.)

What I’m looking for is folks asking for and offering help, and I may prompt this if inspired, since we’re now all looking at one Rectangle at a time, and I’m setting the stage for getting it done, and us helping each other along the way if appropriate.

In this manner, we comb through the columns except the ones on the edges: the ‘To Do’ and ‘Done’ ones.

But don’t grab that Kit Kat yet.

And Now, We’re Done (…sike!)

We address 4 questions.

My Scrumminati refer to these as “Merrill’s random questions” because it’s true: I’ve amassed these from my adventures as prompts to ensure we’re making the best use of us gathering on the daily.

1. Cut a Hole in the Box

1. Anybody blocked?

Yes. The “Call for Impediments” is the one agenda item for when I run 4-minute stand-ups (“NanoScrum”) (yep, I just coined that one, too) (nope, Google says that may be a thing), and here ensures we didn’t miss anything that’s holding us back.

I will semi-randomly ask if folks are blocked as we march through the Rectangles, or once we reach the end of a column.

2. Anybody working on things not currently captured by the board?

Yes. The “Call for Side Hustles” comes from a time when hiring was picking up and team members were being suddenly pulled into a vortex of doom an interview panel, and we didn’t plan this.

While useful for this specific experience, this also covers capturing the proverbial “tap on the shoulder” from an important person, who asks for you to look into something either mildly innocuous or flamingly urgent. Either way, it busts up the flow, and should be called out. Maybe a sister can help out. Maybe the Scrum Master can visit the shoulder tapper and deliver justice (best served cold) inquire about the request (with a stance of impending round-house kick curiosity). Maybe both.

3. Anybody unduly distracted?

Yes. The “Call for People Repeating Under Their Breath the term Unduly” results in a few people repeating under their breath the term “unduly”. They then ask for an explanation, even though I’ve asked this for weeks now. I then say this question covers those distractions that don’t seem fair, or don’t make sense in a work context.

Answers can include stuff that should’ve been shared a question ago.

Answers often include being sick, the annoyances of a neighbour, or the woes of a spouse’s immigration status – or their own.

Thus, we create a space for folks to be vulnerable.

4. Any bugs with heat?

Yes. The “Call for Things We May Be Asked to Look At” was developed because there was no other forum in existence at that time to address any influx of issues discovered out in the wild.

Sometimes, a team member will share what’s going on: user error, configuration error, etc.

Sometimes, a team member will offer some assistance, which warms my heart.

Sometimes, TWO team members will offer help, which gets the Product person sweating.

And Now, We’re Done (…for realz!)

Time to refine 1 ticket.

We’re done with the Daily Scrum piece, usually with at least 6 minutes left to the 15-minute time box, so we turn our attention to the insecurities that lie within the depths of our soul where we writhe through man’s biggest curse of not realizing our fullest potential the top of the Product Backlog.

Between the last daily gathering and this one, I’ve asked folks to review that top Rectangle… the acceptance criteria, any wireframes, any logs, areas of code, the architecture. This is time for folks to become better informed when estimating the effort. And now that we’re together, I bust out my Ring Master schtick again with a:

Lllllet’s take a look at the top of the Product Backlog! Any questions before we vote on this?

(Now, I like the term “vote” because we’re all contributing to an outcome, not necessarily deciding on the Rectangle’s story points on our own.)

…and then I throw my fist into the middle of the circle if we’re co-located, or towards the camera in our current pandemic-WFH reality (with 1, maybe a 2nd, FDA-approved vaccine), signaling that I am ready to vote on that Rectangle’s story points, even though I won’t as Scrum Master.

If there are questions, we give them space. And then we hopefully have enough time to vote.

If there are no questions, folks will contribute their fists. Look out for those who do not reveal their fist, or hesitate as they do so, for these are the folks who should suddenly get your attention. I then go:

One, two, three, VOTE!

…and then we manually play Planning Poker. Discussions may ensue.

If we successfully “point a story”, we walk away winners, flooded with serotonin, ready to fight other lobsters. We may stick around to try to point another story.

If we do not point that story by the end of the time box, I reassure folks that we’re having the right conversations, that we may want to continue them off-line, and for next time, let’s try to point the top TWO Rectangles.

My Approach

All in 15 minutes, I have packed into this time box a set of activities that have proven useful to me and my Scrumaneros.

We feel focused as we give attention to one Rectangle at a time, as a whole team.

We feel excited at the idea of spending less time in dedicated Refining sessions.

We feel encouraged that we have the flexibility and empowerment to make our process work for us.

Please steal some of these ideas as you’re inclined to try ’em. And then let me know how they go.

Do you have an approach to the Daily Scrum that’s really working for you?

OK… I think I will grab a Kit Kat end this post right here.