Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Scrum Standup

One of the best ideas to come from Scrum is the daily standup.  This is where each member of the team tells the rest of the team what they did in the previous (working) day, what they intend to do in the next day, and any problems they anticipate that will stop them doing their job.

[Note that this follows on somewhat from my previous Scrum post at: http://devmethodologies.blogspot.com.au/2012/02/scrum-problems.html]

I've recently read a lot about the Scrum Daily Standup, but what is never mentioned (or perhaps just hinted at) is its major advantage: it quickly becomes obvious when someone is not pulling their weight.  Moreover, the standup, when done properly, motivates team members to focus on the task and give their all.  I discuss this a bit more below but first we need to understand a few things.

What It's NOT

First I will dispel a few misconceptions about the standup.

First, it is not about general communication, only about communicating to the team what each team member has and will be doing.  Any form of communication between two individuals or a subset of the team should be taken offline.

Second, it is not about updating the customer or management on progress.  You can tell when this sort of thing is happening when everybody talks to just one person (usually the Scrum Master or an observing manager).

Lastly, it is not about problem solving.  This usually happens when an ill-prepared team member instead of reporting their status starts asking questions.  Generally these problems should be taken off-line (and in my experience usually could have been resolved at an earlier time).

Why It's GOOD

Why do I like the standup so much?  There are three reasons: visibility, visibility and visibility.

First, let's be honest.  The average developer works at 50% efficiency or less, sometimes much less.  This is for many reasons, some of which are not entirely or not at all their fault.  This can be that they have been misinformed or misunderstood what they were to do.  Often programmers become side-tracked on less important or completely unimportant issues, or they take an inefficient approach for selfish reasons (such as trying a new technique or technology).  Finally, there are quite a lot who are simply unmotivated.  In summary, developers have a tendency to lose focus or focus on the wrong thing.

The visibility of the daily standup makes all these things obvious, if not immediately, then over several days or at most a few weeks.  If everyone knows what everyone else is doing then it soon becomes obvious when someone is slacking off, have become side-tracked or have lost focus.  It is up to the team to work out what is happening and provide the assistance, guidance or punishment as required.

Luckily punishment is rarely needed, due to the positive effects of the standup.  When everyone understands how everyone else is contributing to the sprint's goal(s) then there is much better motivation and focus on achieving those goals.  The team members make a commitment to the rest of the team and generally do their utmost to honor their commitments.  In summary, the standup helps to get the team working together.

What Goes WRONG

Things go wrong when there is reduced visibility.  This can be for a number of reasons.

One reason I have recently encountered is due to a Scrum team made up of many disparate members, working in different areas.  When different team members don't, or can't, understand what others in the team are doing then all the enormous benefits of the daily standup are lost.

Another problem is team size.  When a team becomes larger than 7 or 8 then all sorts of problems appear.  (This is the reason for the cardinal rule in Scrum of a team no larger than 9.)  First with too many people it becomes too hard to follow what everyone else is doing.  It is also much easier for a team member to disappear into the background. Further a smaller team brings a sense of camaraderie and sense of purpose.


For Scrum to work well you need a small team where each team member is involved with, or at least understands, what ever other member is doing.  Ideally, everyone makes an important contribution to accomplishing the team goals; a great motivator is knowing that others in the team are depending on you.

It's important to ensure that the standup is working.  If people arrive late or fail to turn up at all then this indicates that the standup is uninspiring and needs to be fixed.  Here are some ideas on how to make sure the standup goes well:

  • when it is their turn each team member must talk for at least 1 minute but not more than 2 minutes.
  • they also cannot ask questions of others but must stick to reporting status and roadblocks
  • they should stick to reporting what they accomplished not how they did it or any problems they had
  • when a team member is reporting, other teams members cannot say anything except to asks questions
  • if someone misses the standup for some reason they must get someone else to report for them
  • if someone is away they still report on what they did the previous day they worked
  • people must not talk directly to any individual (like the Scrum Master) but to the whole team

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