Improving the Scrum standup questions

January 19, 2012 at 8:39 pm | Posted in Agile | 1 Comment

Anyone practicing Scrum will probably know the three questions that are asked during the daily standup:

  1. What have you done since yesterday?
  2. What are you planning to do today?
  3. Any impediments/stumbling blocks?

There are several problems with the way these questions are phrased. Firstly team-members might get defensive because they feel like you have to explain you really did do something important since the last standup. So regularly I hear answers like “Well, I spent 8 hours on this really very difficult task. But I’m almost done. Will probably finish it today and there are no impediments. Next!”. Wow, this developer managed to burn 8 hours during the last 8 hour working day. Impressive! So there is no information at all in this answer for the Scrum Master or the other team-members.

To tackle this last problem some Scrum Masters rephrase the questions:

  1. What have you accomplished since yesterday?
  2. What are you planning to accomplish today?
  3. Any impediments/stumbling blocks to reach your goal?

At first glance these questions look ok. You really force every team-member to explain what progress he/she has made. Everyone is happy apart  from those poor developers that didn’t accomplish anything since yesterday. Maybe they needed more time to think about a difficult design, maybe they were tackling a nasty bug. In my opinion these questions can be very demotivating.

Of course we all learned that the standup is not meant to be a progress meeting. It is a coordination mechanism between team-members. So can we do better than the two previous approaches?

Yes we can. I recently read a book that has become quite popular “The Lean Startup” by Eric Ries. What I really liked is his message that a start-up company is all about learning, not about the perfect result. And that is exactly what can motivate Scrum teams: software developers are knowledge workers, not just people working at an assembly line accomplishing small predictable tasks in an endless way. So why not state the standup questions in terms of learning:

  1. What have you learned since yesterday?
  2. What are you planning to learn today?
  3. Any impediments/stumbling blocks to keep you from learning?

One of the benefits is that this will greatly improve knowledge exchange within the team. People might even feel comfortable with spending a day doing hammock-driven development (by Rich Hickey, Clojure inventor) as long as they can explain what they have learned. And remember, learning that an approach didn’t work is still learning. Of course at the end a team will need to produce software, but I’m convinced that concentrating on learning instead of accomplishing smaller tasks will get you there a lot faster.

Please give these questions a try and share the results here or in your favorite Scrum forum!

1 Comment »

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  1. HI Maurits,

    I would love to republish your above post on PM Hut under the Scrum category where many project managers will be able to benefit from it. Please either email me or contact me through the contact us form on the PM Hut website in case you’re OK with this.

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