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One Way To Reboot Your Daily Scrum

Sticky notes on wood representing a stylized Sprint backlog.jpegThe Daily Scrum is not just an Event, it’s an opportunity. One that can be used by Scrum Teams to replan, refocus, and align on what matters most - the priority work, Sprint Goal, and removal of what stands in their way.

When done well, your Daily Scrum can be the most important 15-minutes (or less) of the workday. 

However, if your team loses sight of the Daily Scrum’s purpose, it can become 15-minutes (or more) of lost time. “The Daily Scrum can often be treated as a gussied up version of a status report,” says Scrum Inc. Consultant Scott Downey, “and that is not the point”. 

Downey has earned a reputation for quickly booting up, or rebooting Scrum Teams. His ability to turn underperformance into high-productivity has led some to call him the ‘General Patton of Scrum’. 

Seizing the opportunity at each Daily Scrum is a key part of his approach.

One Question, One Priority

There is just one question that matters at a Scott Downey facilitated Daily Scrum, “How do we get the highest priority item on our backlog done today?” 

Why? Because that’s all that matters at any given moment. 

The rest of the Sprint Backlog is important, but the priority is placed on the most valuable work the Scrum Team can drive to done in any given Sprint. If it is not completed, but lower priority items are, at best the Sprint could be considered a partial success. 

Lower priority items are discussed, but only if the timebox allows. 

There’s another reason Downey cites for focusing on just one question, “I was looking to create social pressure on people who were perusing the backlog for ‘my kind of work.’ And they're working on priority eight, meanwhile, they could be helping on priority one.”

And it worked. “The focus was no longer on what one person did. The focus became what we achieved on priority #1.” 

Not only does the use of a single question keep Scrum Teams aligned and focused on the priority item in the Sprint, it also leads to more swarming and increases process efficiency - two common characteristics of highly-productive Scrum Teams.

Plan, Then Replan As Needed 

Here’s how the 2020 Scrum Guide describes the Daily Scrum: 

The purpose of the Daily Scrum is to inspect progress toward the Sprint Goal and adapt the Sprint Backlog as necessary, adjusting the upcoming planned work.

Note that two of the three clauses in that sentence are about replanning the Sprint. 

So, when was the last time your Scrum Team did just that? Do you even consider it an option at your Daily Scrum?

Fully capitalizing on the opportunity each Daily Scrum presents may take a shift in mindset, or in Downey’s case, changing the name of the Event. “I haven’t always called it the Daily Scrum,” he freely admits, “sometimes I call it the replanning session.”

Same Event. Same timebox. But the new name can convey a greater purpose. 

When bootstrapping Scrum Teams, Downey advises them to use Sprint Planning to establish their Sprint Goal and their prioritized Sprint Backlog, but then do just enough planning to get to their next Daily Scrum. At that point, he tells them, “you’re going to plan and replan just enough to get to their second Daily Scrum,” and so on. 

And these replanning sessions are lead by those who do the work. The Product Owner is there to answer questions, the Scrum Master facilitates, but team members are the driving force. Downey adds that they should talk to each other in the most efficient way possible. “I don’t care if they’re talking in binary code if that’s the most effective way for them to communicate.” 

What is the purpose of the Daily Scrum?

The purpose of the Daily Scrum is to realign the team to the most important item of work on that given day in pursuit of the Sprint Goal. In essence, what is the highest priority of work that must get done today and how can the team work together to get that item done? The team will evaluate the backlog in determining the most important work. They also use this time to raise any impediments that are preventing them from completing this work. Although this is not the only time they may discuss impediments, it does give an allotted time in the day that is dependable. They are at liberty, however, to meet at any time throughout the day to have more detailed discussions.

The meeting should be brief in nature, no more than 15 minutes. Remember, the purpose of this meeting is to focus on how the most important work of the day will get done, not to problem-solve specific issues. So if during the course of the Daily Scrum, impediments arise that require more than a brief discussion, that discussion is then moved to another time. Perhaps just after the Daily Scrum has concluded. This allows the team to stay focused on the primary actions that will allow them to achieve the Sprint Goal.

Who starts the Daily Scrum? 

Any team member can kick off the Daily Scrum. Typically, the Product Owner and Scrum Master attend the Daily Scrum but their attendance is not required. What is important to note is who is contributing. Being that the team members are the ones completing the work, their contribution is most valuable. While the meeting is open to all, stakeholders are active listeners to the Daily Scrum as opposed to active contributors.

Daily Scrum example: 

So think of it the same way that a team huddles before advancing their play. You’re huddling with your team members to decide what your ‘play’ of the day will be. I.e. your game plan for how the important work will get done that day. Who’s working on what, what result you expect, etc.

While proceeding through the backlog, again, Scott recommends focusing on this main question:

“How do we get the highest priority item on our backlog done today?” 

By making this question the priority, you might also see opportunities for collaboration which is ideal. In Scrum we talk a lot about ‘expanding our T’s’ which essentially means that all team members are able to make a significant contribution to the work, as opposed to one particular team member being exclusively equipped to work on any particular aspect. Skill sets are cultivated amongst the team so that all can contribute.

For example, say that your goal this Sprint is to collect leads of people interested in a particular topic. And one important item on your backlog is to run paid ads to a newly built landing page. The landing page is launched, however, the email opt-in form is not displaying properly on mobile. And we all know that mobile is a significant portion of all website traffic, too big to be ignored. This would be an impediment because you would not want to run paid traffic to a page intended to collect sign-ups if the signup form is not working!

And here we have an impediment.

Ideally, the team would be able to swarm to resolve the impediment. So first we must ask, can it be resolved within the skill sets of the team? Or does a solution require additional support not available on the team? If it does need outside resolution, how will that be coordinated? How quickly can the troubleshooting get on another team’s backlog? Will it affect the ability to deliver finished work in the current Sprint?

This is a question too big to tackle during Daily and a perfect example of something that would be put into a ‘parking lot’ during the meeting. Once explored during the parking lot a follow-up discussion would happen. 

The benefit of raising the impediment at Daily, as opposed to trying to problem solve in isolation, is that the need to bring in outside capabilities is recognized much faster and minimal time is wasted working on a problem that cannot be solved within the team itself. This frees up team members to focus on other important work in the interim.

And we have in essence touched on what Dr. Jeff Sutherland identifies as the key elements of the Daily, collaborating, replanning, swarming and removing impediments. Like Scrum itself, Downey’s approach to a great Daily Scrum is simple to understand but difficult to master. With practice, both can revolutionize the way you work.