So you recently started using Scrum and are struggling to get the most out of the Scrum events? Or, maybe your journey with Scrum has been going on for some time and you still feel that something is missing in your meetings. I hear you! It might be challenging to switch from well known and understood habits and practices, and introduce changes to your process of complex problem solving. In this blog post you will find some tips and tricks that will boost facilitation of your Daily Scrum. Perhaps some of the tools and techniques will help you when facilitating other events too. Ready for a quick tour on how to conduct a professional Scrum meeting? Let’s go!
At first – bring focus into the right place
There are quite a few myths and beliefs about Daily Scrum that may affect your choice of facilitation techniques. What is even worse, some of those techniques may promote ineffective behaviors for your team and prevent you from maximizing the value of the event.
Things to try to avoid during your Daily Scrum:
“3 questions” technique
You might have heard of the “3 questions approach” in Daily Scrum where you have to answer the following questions.
What did you do yesterday? Or, what have you done since the last Daily Scrum?
What are you going to work on today or till the next meeting?
What kind of impediments are you currently facing (if any)?
This technique is concentrating on an individual’s update. It is focused neither on progress of Product Backlog Items (especially when you do not use any visual reference to Sprint Backlog to achieve the common understanding), nor on the Sprint Goal. If your team focuses too much on those questions, you may lose the most important information. What is the current progress towards achieving the Sprint Goal, and what we as a team could do to make the next relevant step towards achieving the Sprint Goal.
“I was working hard” session
Trust is key in Scrum. Thus, you and your teammates do not have to prove that you were working hard the day before. Adding too many details about activities that are not related to the Sprint Goal (for instance recruitment calls) may become a distraction for your team during Daily Scrum. Furthermore, it may lead to exceeding the timebox.
Fixing on “daily standup” approach
You do not have to stand during your Daily Scrum. Sitting, jumping, doing planks – you have many choices available. It’s ok to stand if it works for you, but bear in mind that in some cases it might be strange or unpleasant. Do you make the person with crutches who broke their leg stand up? Think about remote Daily Scrum – does it make sense to ask everyone to stand in front of their laptops?
Solving the problems during the meeting
Solving all your current problems within a 15 minutes timebox is like trying to visit Santa Claus during Christmas time. It might also be a waste of time for some of the team members to participate in such detailed discussions and brainstorming when they feel their presence brings little or no value. It’s better to postpone actual problem solving after Daily Scrum and even consider doing it in subgroups.
What you should do most of all, is to focus on the purpose of 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 (…) The Developers can select whatever structure and techniques they want, as long as their Daily Scrum focuses on progress toward the Sprint Goal and produces an actionable plan for the next day of work. [Scrum Guide 2020]
Whatever you do within the 15 minutes timebox that allows you to fulfill the aforementioned purpose and is aligned with Scrum values and principles, is likely the right choice for you. The focal point is clear; Scrum Guide leaves no doubt as to what is most essential when it comes to Daily Scrum. However, we are missing the details and more specific inspirations. What kind of techniques could therefore be used?
Practice powerful open questions
One of the most powerful facilitation techniques is using open questions. Ask the right questions; they should stimulate thinking, focus on aspects and information that brings value for your Scrum Team and support self-management.
The most basic question that comes to mind is: What is the progress towards our Sprint Goal? The whole discussion during Daily Scrum may start with and be driven by that one.
And as with most things, the devil is in the details. When asking open questions try to use personal pronouns skillfully. To emphasize the importance of collaboration and teamwork you may use:
What is the next step for us to make the Sprint Goal move forward?
What can we do to mitigate the risk(s) that we’ve just detected, and how can we maximize the value of our work efficiently?
How do we as a team want to approach this impediment?
What are we missing to make this decision? What is blocking us from making a decision?
ELMO long discussions
When the discussions during Daily Scrum get prolonged, invite a nice creature from Sesame Street to your meeting. Elmo is a red Muppet monster character who speaks politely yet firmly “Enough, Let’s Move On!” Whenever someone raises ELMO (using a physical mascot, a card, a message on chat or any other solution), it’s a sign for others that it might be a good moment to stop this dialogue and move on.
There is another similar technique that can be used during very lively discussions. When you want others to stop talking, just raise your hand and stay silent. It might be contagious and soon more and more people will join you in this silent ELMO request.
Parking lot for off-topic questions and problems
What to do with the discussions that seem to be off-topic or are taking too much time during Daily Scrum? A different idea comes to the rescue! Create a parking lot either on your physical or virtual board and put your ELMOed topics there. This way you will show that you don’t want to forget about them. Furthermore, you respect the needs of others to have some additional conversations.
Obviously, it is allowed to engage in discussions outside of Daily Scrum.
The Daily Scrum is not the only time Developers are allowed to adjust their plan. They often meet throughout the day for more detailed discussions about adapting or re-planning the rest of the Sprint’s work. [Scrum Guide 2020]
After the meeting, inspect the topics that landed in your parking lot. It might be an interesting experiment to verify how many of these topics the team will return to discuss. Perhaps some of them will be skipped or a conversation will be postponed. When given some extra time for reflection, people sometimes choose different solutions. For instance, they may think “I’d better check the data and run a small experiment before I come back to this issue”.
Some people say that a picture is worth a thousand words. It might be extremely helpful for your team to use visual references during Daily Scrum. The most obvious one is your Sprint Backlog. Looking at the Sprint Goal, Product Backlog Items chosen for the Sprint and smaller work items or tasks together, may help in achieving common understanding about the current progress. Albeit, it may not be enough for your team. Think about the various sources of information that may be of value. Dashboards with relevant data, charts, information from Continuous Integration servers whether or not all the changes from the day before were successfully integrated… You know best about what helps your team to make the best possible decisions about upcoming work.
An additional technique that you may want to experiment with is aligned with the “stop starting, start finishing” approach. When looking at your Sprint Backlog, try to focus on what you can do to move at least one from in progress items more towards completion (to the right of your board). This means that you want to make a step towards meeting your Definition of Done and creating the Increment. Having a visual version of your Sprint Backlog could help a lot in this exercise.
Speaking of visibility and visualizations, in remote settings – cameras on! When people don’t see their faces, they lose visual cues. Emphasize the importance of body language in communication and if possible, have cameras on always during your Scrum events.
Communication support cards
Do you want to equip your team with some additional tools that bring fun and ease communication, especially in the remote world? Use communication cards to achieve a disruption-free way to tell if there are some connection problems, you missed some information or you need a break.
There are plenty of different ready to use cards that everyone can print for themselves and use during the meeting. Alternatively, you could create your own deck of cards with the pictures meaningful for your team.
The depicted cards can be found on https://www.collaborationsuperpowers.com/, photo by Joanna Płaskonka
Use quick decision making techniques
Quick decision making and information gathering is especially important during the 15 minute timebox. Instead of asking in a row what each Developer thinks about a certain idea, it’s worth looking for faster techniques, more suitable for Daily Scrum.
Fist to five
“Fist to five” may be used to gather feedback, gauge consensus, verify the understanding of the presented problem, etc. Basically, you have a scale from 0 (a fist) to 5 (five fingers visible) that you can use to indicate the level of, for instance, your support. To illustrate it, let’s look at the following example. One of the developers presented their idea shortly on how to solve one of the problems the Scrum Team was facing. Then, they asked their teammates for feedback. The facilitator counts to 3 to give time for other participants to prepare to indicate their level of agreement, by holding up the number of fingers reflective of their agreement with the concepts discussed. This is important to avoid bias from other participants, and for the ‘rating’ to be individual. If someone shows a fist, that is a signal for “I am strongly against it”. Conversely, showing 4 fingers may mean “I am fine with it” and when it comes to 5 fingers – “I love the idea, I strongly support it!”
When using the “Fist to five” technique make sure your team has a common understanding of the scale so that you avoid differences in perception, and unnecessary discussions that do not bring any benefit to the issue being discussed.
Voting with 3 options
The second technique is one of my favorite quick decision making tools. You may perceive it as some kind of variation of “Fist to five”. When voting, one has to choose between “I support the idea”, “I am against” and “I give my vote to the group”. The third option may be interpreted as “I am fine with any decision made”. This approach might be helpful in situations where you care about making a decision fast and moving forward. Some discussions ended very quickly when I used this technique with my teams to check what every individual thinks. What I like a lot about this approach is that the number of options are limited and the risk of the Sandwich Effect is lowered (see the blog post about this phenomenon here).
Quick decision making technique – “I support the idea”, “I am against”, “I give my vote to the group”, photos by Joanna Płaskonka
Sprint health check exercise
Last but not least, here comes the effective technique that can verify whether we have a common understanding about the progress towards achieving the Sprint Goal. Do you remember “Fist to five”? Good! We are going to reuse it here. During the Sprint (typically in the middle of it) we ask ourselves a question: “How do you rate the chance of achieving the Sprint goal?” Fist means “There is no chance in the current situation” and 5 fingers say “I feel confident we can do it”. Some of the best discussions I have participated in started with this exercise and with the differences of perception that emerged during it.
Putting it all together, the universal advice is to keep your Daily Scrum short, concise, and focused on its purpose – gaining visibility on the progress towards the Sprint Goal and conducting a “mini-planning” to make the best possible decisions on what to do within the next 24 hours. There are plenty of facilitation tools and techniques available. You have to choose what works best for you and your team. It’s a fascinating experimentation journey in which you must go to discover what brings value and what is a waste in your Daily Scrum. Good luck in your Scrum adventure!