How to Improve Your Agile Scrum Meetings
Scrum meetings: some people swear by them, others swear at them, but like them or not, they are an essential part of utilizing agile project management techniques.
Oftentimes, the people to reject scrum meetings were stuck in bad ones. Quick, 15-minute standups turned into hour-long debates with no real solutions in sight. While scrum meetings can be valuable in keeping a project on track, they can also quickly get out of hand.
In order to make scrums of value, keep your meetings focused. Follow this guide to improve your scrum meetings and make them as effective as possible.
What Kind of Scrum Meetings Will You Have?
Most people think of scrum meetings as quick daily gatherings, which are so short that people hold them while standing. There are, however, multiple meanings attached to the term. The team at Prosoft Nearshore sets out the common types of scrums you will likely encounter in agile project management. These include:
Sprint planning meetings: where the team reviews the tasks for the upcoming sprint and the amount of work the team can accomplish.
Daily scrum meetings: these quick, 30-minute meetings are an opportunity for the team to report issues and update others on their tasks, making sure no one falls behind.
Sprint review meetings: these meetings are for product demonstrations and review, where product owners can offer feedback for improvement for the next sprint.
Sprint retrospective meetings: the team reviews a project, discussing what could have been better, and how to improve.
At first glance, it might seem like most of your day will be spent in meetings. Usually, though, one daily scrum meeting is all that’s required, unless it’s the beginning or end of a sprint.
Running an Efficient Daily Standup
Of these meetings, the daily standup might be the most valuable to your team members. These are meant to serve as status updates and allow everyone to quickly get back to work, nuclear physicist Mark J. Balbes at Application Development Trends magazine writes. Teams really do stand, and they answer three key questions:
What did you do yesterday?
What will you do today?
What is getting in your way?
As teams get larger and employees take on more work, these meetings can get longer. More people have to share their updates, and others might want to chime in and help or tune out the discussion.
Agile consultant Natalie Warnert, who founded Women In Agile, says you can always adjust your scrum meeting if it’s going too long or team members keep getting bogged down in detail. She suggests keeping the focus on answering two questions:
What does the team need to know?
What do you need help with?
Let each person on your team answer those questions in a minute or two, then wrap up the meeting.
Who Leads Scrum Meetings?
There are two key components to scrum meetings: the scrum master and the product owner. These leaders work with team members to address concerns and move the project forward. The same process can be applied in non-IT scenarios, where the product owner is the senior manager in charge of executing the department or team’s goals.
The scrum master, according to Agile Alliance, is the person in charge of implementing and managing the agile process. Also referred to as the iteration manager, agile coach or team coach, a few of their specific roles include:
Creating an effective environment
Maintaining a good relationship between the product owner and team members
Protecting the team from outside interruptions
Without a diligent scrum master, teams are more likely to slip out of agile practices or get caught up in small details. The scrum master has a valuable facilitator role.
While the scrum master leads the meetings, the product owner has a crucial role as well. “If the product owner does not understand his business needs, cannot take quick decisions, or worse still, does not even show up for scrum meetings, there can be trouble,” the team at Thinking Portfolio writes.
Without the product owner in attendance, teams may be left to discuss roadblocks with no viable solutions, meaning projects will stall or steer away from the intended results.
Your Scrum Master is Your Coach
Ron Yang, senior director of product management and UX at Aha!, says teams often confuse the role of scrum master when they first start using agile methodology. Scrum masters don’t hire or fire team members: They are high-level coaches keeping teams on track.
So, while the product owner controls the vision for the product, the scrum master works to execute that vision.
“If all goes perfectly well, then each person finds their place and the team speeds along,” Yang writes. “When product managers, scrum masters, and engineering team members are not clear on who owns what, progress can be impeded.”
Review your scrum meetings to make sure both of these roles are in place and performing at optimal levels. Otherwise, the rest of your team is likely to flounder in the meeting.
Who Gets Invited to Scrum Meetings?
Along with the scrum master and product owner, there are multiple people who should attend scrum meetings, especially the daily standups. Kenneth S. Rubin, the author of Essential Scrum, says there are four groups of people who should attend scrum meetings, each contributing different insights and value to the discussion. These include:
Team: product owners, scrum masters, and team members working on the project.
Internal stakeholders: managers and executives who need the project to stay on schedule and within budget.
Internal team members: people who might be affected if the project is not completed on time or exactly as planned, such as sales, marketing and legal.
External stakeholders: clients or vendors who can provide feedback and guidance.
While all of these people are invited to attend, not all will participate. The scrum team does most of the talking and will only turn to the stakeholders or other teams when they need guidance or assistance with roadblocks.
Do: Invite Several People to the Meeting
You might worry that inviting different people and teams could cloud your meeting, but it actually might make it easier to come up with solutions.
“Scrum is built on the observation that software development is a very complex endeavor,” Barry Overeem, professional scrum trainer, writes. “By bringing in our individual perspective, expertise, creativity, and wisdom, we have a better chance of making sense of this complex problem we’re trying to solve.”
Agile project management is meant to create a collaborative workplace. Even if you’re not using it to develop software, the principles, and advantages of using multiple people and diverse insights to overcome challenges remains.
Don’t: Let Outsiders Participate
While outsiders can be invited, they might not be allowed to speak unless the scrum master gives them permission. The team at Smartsheet created a valuable guide to kicking off scrum meetings within your team and was careful to address outsiders who may want to participate.
“People from outside the team may want to or need to attend from time to time, but to avoid weakening the team’s focus on its goals, they do not participate in the discussion,” they write. “When your scrum is just getting established, you may find it helpful to close the daily standup to outsiders.”
Outsiders will often ask questions, derail the discussion, and slow the process down. When inviting others, make sure they know what to expect going in.
How Can You Improve Your Scrum Meetings?
Once you have the basics of your scrum meeting down, you can take steps to make it run smoother. Keeping it short and effective is an ongoing process, and there are certain steps you should take.
Make Sure Attendees Arrive Prepared
Management consultant Luis Gonçalves says all team members who attend scrum meetings should come prepared. Just because the meeting lasts 15 minutes doesn’t mean employees can show up on a whim.
The product owner should have a draft of upcoming sprint goals and any potential roadblocks. Team members should also come prepared with concerns and requests for help. Without this pre-planning, no one will actually be able to discuss the issues.
Start the Meeting On Time
Don’t delay a meeting because attendees can’t show up on time. Agile consultant Michele Sliger says one of the biggest hindrances to daily scrum meetings is late arrivals. Teams either have to wait for everyone to arrive to begin — extending the length of the meeting — or they have to recap items or skip them entirely.
Team leaders can come up with their own solutions if tardiness is a chronic issue. Slinger shares one story where an office invested in a box of Koosh balls and late arrivals were pelted with (soft) projectiles as punishment.
Use the Best A/V Tools
The fastest way to lose the attention of your team is to open the room to idle chit-chat while you try to figure out the video call. This also does a disservice to remote teams who need these meetings to move forward.
“For remote teams, a solid A/V setup is absolutely critical for an effective stand-up meeting,” the team at Status Hero writes. “If you can’t hear or understand your teammates, how will you know what they’re working on?”
Correct the Behavior of Problem Attendees
Make sure everyone in attendance understands what is expected of them and the goals of the meeting. Changing employee behavior is an important part of switching to scrum.
“Some people are talkative and tend to wander off into storytelling,” Jason Yip, agile coach at Spotify, writes. “Some people want to engage in problem-solving immediately after hearing a problem. Meetings that take too long tend to have low energy and participants not directly related to a long discussion will tend to be distracted.”
As people learn to address the three questions quickly and concisely, meetings will move forward faster.
Don’t Overwork Your Team
As team members pick up tasks from the backlog, make sure they can handle the workload. The scrum master may need to step in and remove something from their plates if there’s too much to do.
“When I sprint while running, I tire quickly and often walk to recover,” Mike Cohn, agile software development consultant and owner of Mountain Goat software, writes. “That’s a horrible metaphor for how we’d like the team to work...Teams shouldn’t begin their next sprint still trying to recover from their last.”
The role of the scrum master is to make sure teams move at a sustainable pace. Teams that are pushed at every sprint to go as fast as they can or are not given time between sprints to recover, will burn out and either become unproductive or leave.