Focusing on the Right Things in Your Daily Scrum

“Yesterday, I was in Sprint Planning…” I hear it once, and I’m suspicious. By the time the third team member says this, it’s clear the Daily Scrum I’m observing is broken. Everyone in the room knows we did planning yesterday—we were all there. It’s not valuable content to help the team plan its day.

Too many Daily Scrums are a waste of time. It’s not always this blatant, but if everyone knows what they’re going to say in advance of the meeting and nothing changes as a result of the meeting, that team is probably missing the point.

So, what is the point? A few days ago, I tweeted what I believe to be the purpose of the Daily Scrum:

You probably won’t ask that question directly—the conversation would be too wide-ranging and unfocused—but the questions you do answer should lead to answering that larger question.

With the standard Daily Scrum facilitation approach, each person answers three questions in turn, “What did I do yesterday? What am I going to do today? What impediments are in my way?” This approach might answer the larger question, but it often doesn’t. Most of the time, it just looks like a status report.

There’s a better way. Start with the highest priority story on your board for the current sprint. Ask, “What happened to move this story closer to done yesterday?” The people who worked on it will answer. Next ask, “What impediments are keeping this story from getting done?” Again, the appropriate people will speak up. Finally ask, “What are we going to do to get this story done (or closer to done) today?” The people already working on it will probably jump in. Others, now knowing more about the state of the story and what’s needed to get it done, may also offer to contribute. Move to the next highest priority story and repeat. Continue until you reach stories that are not started and won’t be started today.

This approach gets the team focused on the most important stories first. It emphasizes collaborating to get things done over reporting individual status. And it treats yesterday’s progress and impediments as data to inform today’s plan, which the team generates together.

Sometimes, this approach misses topics worth talking about. To catch those, keep a Daily Scrum parking lot board. You can add topics to this board before or during the Daily Scrum. After you’ve gone through the stories, turn your attention to the parking lot. For each item, identify who needs to be involved in the discussion and when it’s going to happen. Occasionally, you might decide to address the item with the whole team right then (for example, if the Product Owner brought a new story that needs to be sized). Usually, though, these conversations can happen with a smaller group later in the day when it fits around the sprint work.

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  1. I sometimes take this approach in the last couple of days, when I want to make sure that no stories are falling through the cracks. I feel like those scrums are more productive, and often wonder how the Scrum community settled on individual rather than story-centered yesterday / today / impediments.

    I’m glad to see I’m not the only one thinking along these lines. I’m going to suggest to my team that we give it a try starting with our next sprint.

  2. Completely agree with you on this one.

    Over the past few years managing agile-scrum projects, here is what I’ve seen…

    Having an individual-centric focus about what each person has been doing tends to result in things being a bit random at times and less concentrated on particular stories. It really does end up feeling like a status report.

    In the individual-centric approach people occasionally pick things to work on that ‘they’ are most comfortable with rather than what is best for the project.

    I believe it is better to have a story-centric focus in the daily scrum. That way everyone can work together a bit more to push things through to ‘done’.

    In an ideal world, team members left to be responsible for their own tasks would work through the backlog in strict priority order from top to bottom. What I’ve observed over the years though is that you sometimes get people new to agile-scrum, or people that for whatever reason don’t really buy-in to the approach, that tend to work a bit more haphazardly and need to be guided back on course. Running the daily scrums in a story-centric approach assists with this.

  3. Richard – thank you so much for showing us this in the training you gave to our team! We adopted this immediately and it’s made our daily scrums go faster as well as keep us keenly focused on the right things, mainly, getting stories done in priority order.

    Thanks again!