Building solid, collaborative teams is a pillar of our
ADAPTIVE© system for Agile transformations. I've been
doing a lot of that lately, playing a part in kicking off
several Agile teams and seeing them go from “forming” to
“storming” and gradually to “norming”.
One process element that all new Agile teams adopt easily
is the daily standup meeting. Even without receiving
Agile training, it's the one thing everyone seems to know
about Scrum. And you know what I'm realizing more and
more? In its popular, standard form, it hurts teamwork.
Many teams think they are supposed to gather every day
and that each person must answer three questions: What
have I done since the last standup, what will I do until
the next one, what's in my way. Team members who believe
this are likely to:
(1) not quite understand why this practice exists
(2) show up with little enthusiasm, rattle off status to
the ScrumMaster, and space out when others are talking
(3) never really get to the third (and most important)
question, which is meant to expose barriers to team flow
(4) complain about having too many meetings, and rail
against Agile in general
These are just the observable effects. What worries me
more is that even when people do listen to each other,
there is too much emphasis on individuals and their
progress on tasks. Who does what? Which tasks are done?
Which tasks are blocked? There is little to no emphasis
on the team achieving its goal and commitments — which,
paradoxically, they do emphasize in the context of
releases and projects.
Think about it. Teams use project charters to identify
the business value they'll add, given needs and
constraints. They plan releases: what they'll actually
deliver, given a time-box. Every iteration, they identify
a shared goal: working together, we'll have produced X
when the week or two are over. So when they meet daily
and each person answers The Three Questions, the emphasis
shifts to individual progress and appearing busy. That's
I like to think of the daily meeting as a sync-up
opportunity. It's meant to refocus everyone on the shared
iteration goal and have them organize and make
micro-commitments to each other in support of that goal.
When first designed, the Three Questions were meant this
way, but the practice has become ossified and its purpose
has been lost.
What can you do instead of having everyone answer these
rote questions? Ask the entire team a different, single
question: “What are we going to do next to maximize our
chance of achieving the iteration goal?”
Sometimes, the answer will be “Continue what we've been
doing.” Other times, it will be “We need to revisit the
plan.” Most days, you'll just review each open story
(there should only a be couple of those, right?) and
discuss which story to start once the in-flight ones are
Change the tenor of the meeting to focus on goal and
team, and not on tasks, and within a few days you'll see
the difference: not just in value delivery, but in
collaboration and team growth.
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