Any Scrum team effectively using Agile methods and principles should start the day with a daily Standup meeting. Topping out at fifteen minutes, these are meant to let everyone else on the team know what others are working on, what progress has been made, and whether there are any blockers. Some refer to the Standup as a status update...but is it really?
Team A felt their StandUps were ineffective. During a handful of coaching sessions with a senior Agile coach (either with the entire team involved, or a 1v1 session between the Agile coach and the team’s Scrum Master), the coach strongly emphasized that the StandUp must be a planning session, rather than a status update. It's a subtle distinction, but it's crucial for effective Sprints. Team A felt their StandUps were simply status updates, with everyone going around the room, reporting on what they worked on, saying what they'll work on next, and that's about it. Doing that, there wasn't conversation about the larger context of the Sprint – where are we in the Sprint? Are we on track to meet our commitment? Is there a different way for us to organize ourselves so that something can reach DONE today, rather than everything reaching DONE just before the end of the Sprint? What do we want to have done tomorrow, rather than what is everyone working on for the next 24 hours? These are examples of the questions Team A wanted to see discussed, but the questions weren't naturally occurring with the StandUp format being used.
The Change Implemented
Rather than using the standard format of each team member taking turns answering the three questions, Team A tried a new format. Instead, the ScrumMaster would step through each story, starting at the top of the board, in priority order, and ask the team the following three questions:
- What is the current state of the story?
- What will the state of the story be at tomorrow's StandUp?
- Are there any impediments that can be removed, or any alternative ways to swarm/organize, that can advance the story even further by tomorrow's StandUp?
The theory was that the format would promote the following improvements:
- Since the questions were directed at the team, rather than specific individuals, it gave the team an opportunity to self-organize around the discussion.
- The context of the meeting would shift from an individual focus to a team focus. What are WE going to get done, rather than what each person is going to work on.
- The greater context of the Sprint stayed fresh in everyone’s minds. The discussion focused on whether stories are reaching done, rather than on what individuals are working on.
- This brought a greater sense of importance to meeting the Sprint commitment because we were assessing whether we were on track by discussing the state of each story.
- Overall, the meeting would be about planning the Sprint every day, rather than checking up on what each person is doing.
Team A felt their StandUps became much more effective. Discussions around the state of the Sprint and how it can be best progressed in the next 24 hours are now common. The team frequently re-organizes when they feel they’re not on track, or they raise the red flag to their Product Owner. This indicates that they need to re-plan, and they then outline what they can newly commit to. The communication between team members and the Product Owner around what the near future plans and expected deliverables are has improved, and the team feels that this is one of the key changes made that's allowed them to hit 10 of their last 12 Sprint commitments.
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