Three Ideas for Better Remote Daily Scrums

As an extrovert who grew up mostly in the New York City area, I’m highly attuned to sense and seize the tiniest microgap in any conversation. As a reformed command-and-control IT program director, I’ve striven in my roles as scrum master and Agile coach to allow my teams the space to step up, be more self-sufficient, and take ownership for their improvement.

Nowhere does this come more into play than in daily scrum. With my collocated teams, I had been able to step back and do little more than nod or raise an eyebrow to get the next person to speak up. This low-touch style has been less effective in the new all-remote world, leading to some lengthy, awkward silences in the spaces I’ve left for my teams to contribute.

Communication style aside, the daily scrum for many teams tends to represent little more than a status meeting, where team members drone on about what they did the day before.

“Yesterday I… “

“Worked on the latest fire drill…”

“Did lots of paperwork…”

“Had a lot of meetings…”

“Ditto to what Sharon said.”

Little wonder people are disengaged and multitasking during scrum. Rather than listen to each other and being ready to interact, they’re focused on getting in and out of scrum as fast as they can

Yet despite the current challenges we face, there exists the possibility that we can not only survive, but prosper in this environment. I’ve uncovered three simple approaches that have helped revitalize my teams’ daily scrums, and if applied consistently and coached, I believe can bring significant value to your teams, as well.

The Real Value of the Daily Scrum

In my view, the two most critical reasons for the daily scrum are to

  • Recommit to the sprint goal
  • Recommit to each other

If you’re not accomplishing those two pieces at least to a certain degree every day, I believe you’re indeed not only wasting your time, but that of the rest of the team. And it all starts with recommitment.

Recommitting to the Sprint Goal

Without a clear goal for the sprint, the team will be scrambling, unsure of why they’re there, and what most needs to happen next.

The Sprint Goal is a high-level statement focused on the outcome of what the team’s working to deliver within the timebox (“Lay the foundation for our next-generation client experience focused on more individualized and interactive advice”). This is not the same as the list of everything in the Sprint Backlog (User Stories #142, 144, 278, 342, the output). Maarten Dalmijn has written a great piece here on Sprint Goals and their fundamental value to Agile teams during a sprint.

What Each Team Member Can Share

I believe that by encouraging people to slightly shift the content of their scrum contributions – towards a focus on how they’ve directly contributed towards the sprint goal, share what they might need, and what they can offer the rest of the team:

  • How have I (personally, uniquely) contributed to the Sprint Goal?
  • Where have I experienced challenges that I could use some help on?
  • What insights have I gained that could benefit others?
  • How and where can I be of help to anyone else on the team?

Recommitting to Each Other

In the course of recommitting to our shared purpose during this sprint, and having each person contribute how they’re bringing the team closer to the shared goal opens space for other team members to say, “Hey, I had that problem as well, and got it resolved. Let’s chat after scrum and I’ll tell you how I fixed it. Anyone else who needs help is also welcome to join.”

It Doesn’t Always All Have to be About the Work

Daily scrum can also be a great opportunity for the team to briefly reconnect on a human level – something fun you might have done over the weekend, a quick poll, a book worth reading, favorite meme, etc.. Laughing and having fun is another essential element in the recommitment process and helps bring the team closer together.

How Can We Do This Better Virtually?

With everyone now distributed, it’s trickier for people to understand who should contribute next.  My aforementioned extroverted and directive nature wants to jump in and control things, where I’d like to provide the space for the introverts to have the time they need to reflect before sharing.

My Agile Coach colleague at Key, Michael D. Blackwell, provided a great suggestion that neatly ties everything together during scrum. Once the first person has shared, they each in turn pick the next person to give their contribution, going through the entire team. I’ve been pleasantly surprised to see how effective this simple technique can be in allowing all voices to be heard, opening up the space for the team to organically manage itself. It’s also cut down on multitasking, as everyone needs to be on their toes, focused on who’s talking and ready to go next if called upon.

In Summary- Recommit!

Remember…

  1. Recommit to the Sprint Goal (your team has a sprint goal, don’t they?)
  2. Recommit to each other by connecting and sharing your contributions toward the sprint goal
  3. Each person picks the next person to share

Try just these three small things, continue to coach and encourage your teams to make them second nature, and see how your teams start to look forward to daily scrum, nurturing a more vibrant team culture along the way. And once we’re all back standing together again in our team rooms, let’s see if we can continue to engrain these daily habits and how they continue to build collaboration through recommitment, bringing more meaning and value to our work.

Photo Credit – By PierreSelim – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17336884

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