Let’s cut to the chase: No one likes meetings. A status meeting every day is enough to drive you crazy.
Scrum teams have the “daily scrum.” XP teams call it the “stand-up.” It is that brief (typically a maximum of 15 minutes), daily team meeting.
To avoid appearing to choosing sides in a nonexistent Agile battle, I’ll call this meeting the daily “huddle.”
The huddle isn’t meant to be a status meeting. Status may get communicated and extracted, but that’s not the purpose of this meeting. The huddle is a daily tactical planning meeting: Of, by, and for the team. The huddle creates visibility into what is needed by, and from, each team member, right now.
Huddles often get a bit stale, for many reasons both obvious and subtle. (I’ve often said the huddle is where an Agile coach sticks the thermometer. You can make of that analogy what you will.)
Here are some ways I’ve seen teams reinvigorate a stale daily huddle, and make it more useful to the team.
Rephrase the Three Questions
You may know the three questions: (1) What did I do yesterday? (2) What am I doing today? (3) What are my impediments?
Typically each person takes turns answering these three. Sounds like a status meeting, right?
One option is to reword them. Here’s one helpful rewording:
1. What did I provide or learn yesterday that the team needs to know about now?
2. What do I hope to accomplish today and whom do I need to collaborate with to get that done?
3. What’s preventing me from doing my best professional work?
Talk About the Tasks
Another alternative that keeps the team focused on their real goals: Rather than going around in a circle, have the team huddle around the task board, and ask them, as a group, to describe what has changed over the past day.
What did the team complete? What additional tasks were identified? Where are tasks getting “stuck”?
To get started, the Scrum Master / Iteration Manager / Agile Coach may need to “walk” down the list, pointing out modified stories and tasks. Usually the person(s) working on that task will speak up, but there’s often a greater sense of team commitment to these conversations.
The team may have to get used to a ritual of marking a task card (or sticky-note) somehow, each time one changes position or content. We usually denote that by turning the card about 45 degrees, then turning it back once we’ve told the team about the change.
I have a Kanban team to thank for showing me this. (What? You thought Agile Coaches invent these wild practices and rituals??? Typically, it’s our great teams who are innovating!)
Throw Out the Speakerphone
Often Scrum teams with remote members can be seen huddling around a speakerphone. Awkwardness and confusion often exist at both ends of that phone line.
Rather, “level the playing field.” For example, if one person is on a web-meeting app, have everyone meet on that app. If one person is visible via a camera, try having everyone visible via camera. If your team likes the “stand-up” format (originally intended to keep the meeting short), but one of your teammates cannot stand, then everyone can sit. I’ve met plenty of teams where the whole meeting was held by spinning chairs ~180 degrees to face the Scrum board, talking for 5-10 minutes, and spinning them back.
Wait and See
In this post, I haven’t said much about the various problems I see teams have with the daily huddle. Too many of those are symptomatic of other deeper issues, and need to be addressed at the root cause. What I’ve mentioned here are techniques to improve daily team communication, which is often a big step towards identifying and alleviating other, deeper issues.
For any new change to the process, I suggest trying it for a sprint, then re-evaluating at the retrospective.
If, after a time, the team still feels that some part of their day-to-day work activities are uncomfortable or unnatural, ask them if they would like to invite one of our excellent Agile Coaches in to observe and make some recommendations.
The daily huddle reveals much more than task progress: it often hints at the morale of the team, and at systemic dysfunctions. If your huddles are dull, too long, frustrating, mechanical, or contentious, then let the coach see all that.
Confidentiality and emotional safety are very important to us. Good coaches don’t blame individuals (or teams) for a systemic symptom: The coach is there to identify real challenges and help the team select an agreeable set of adjustments. We want to see the team create its own way of working that is professional, productive, supportive, exciting, and sane.