Effective Scrum Meetings
Keeping Your Team Members Coordinated and Energized
Does your team "run like a well-oiled machine," or do people struggle to work together effectively? If the latter is true, Scrum meetings could be just what you need to improve team communication, raise motivation levels, and increase efficiency.
Scrum meetings, also known as "stand up meetings," are widely used in software development as part of Agile Project Management. They help development teams respond rapidly to the changes in product requirements that often happen during the course of a project.
Teams use short, daily Scrum meetings to plan what they need to accomplish during that day to make progress toward their goal. Members listen to one another's plans, and offer help where appropriate. This increases collaboration between team members, raises their awareness of issues, and helps the team respond rapidly to change.
This article looks at how you can use Scrum meetings to help people work more effectively towards a common goal.
What Are Scrum Meetings?
"Scrum" refers to the method of restarting play in rugby football, after an infringement of the rules or when the ball goes out of play.
In this sport, the forward players from both teams form two rows facing one another, and then move together so that they are interlocked in a tight circle. The ball is then returned to play by passing it into the gap between the two teams, who compete for possession. The whole process is coordinated by the referee, who calls: "Crouch, bind, set."
In a scrum meeting, everyone stands in a loose circle, and a ball (or other object) is passed between them to determine who holds the floor. A "Scrum Master" makes sure that everyone follows the rules.
During the Scrum, each person reviews their accomplishments from the previous day, identifies what they plan to do that day, and outlines anything that could stop them achieving those goals.
The meeting itself is always short – no longer than 15 minutes – and it is held standing up, to encourage everyone to be brief and stick to the point.
The Scrum Master starts the meeting promptly, enforces the time limit using a stopwatch or timer, and makes sure that everyone stays on-topic. He or she also keeps the discussion moving, and sidelines any topics that threaten to extend the meeting. (He is not there to collect status updates or to check up on team members who are falling behind.)
These daily progress updates motivate team members to focus on their tasks during the day, so that they can report meaningful progress at the next Scrum meeting. They also help to build mutual understanding within the team, by making people's individual roles and co-dependencies more transparent.
How to Run a Successful Scrum Meeting
Follow the tips below to run an effective Scrum meeting.
1. Set a Consistent Time
The Scrum should be a regular part of people's daily work routine. Schedule it for the same time and place every day – even if you or other members of the team are unavailable.
Ideally, the Scrum should begin about an hour after the start of the working day. This gives everyone time to read their emails and think about their progress updates before they become immersed in their work. A morning Scrum also helps you immediately address any problems or setbacks that team members raise.
Because of time pressures, some people may be reluctant to meet every day. However, it is essential that they do, because it helps you keep everyone organized and on track. If you keep strictly to the 15-minute time limit, you should be able to reassure doubters that no time will be wasted.
Start the meeting promptly, and don't wait for everyone to arrive. The Scrum Master may want to announce the imminent start of the meeting, but it is not his or her responsibility to "round up" missing team members.
If team members are persistently late, try proposing a creative penalty, such as a small financial contribution to a fund celebrating the end of the project. But bear in mind that the Scrum is primarily for the team's benefit, so it is up to them to put pressure on people who are regularly late.
2. Be Inclusive and Transparent
Make sure that everyone knows where and when the daily Scrum meeting is held, and invite anyone involved in your project to attend. This way, stakeholders or other interested parties can drop in to find out how the project is progressing.
So that people stick to the agenda and time frame, however, only allow "committed" team members (those who are actively working on the project) to speak.
If you are working with a virtual team, arrange a daily conference call, so that they can join in with the daily Scrum.
3. Stay Focused
Scrum meetings are great for uncovering problems and issues that require attention, but they are neither the time nor the place for solving those problems. They are simply opportunities for team members to report on what they've done, and make commitments to one another.
During the 15-minute session, each team member says only:
- What he or she achieved yesterday.
- What tasks he or she plans to do today.
- What problems may prevent him or her from achieving those goals.
The Scrum Master keeps the meeting on track by keeping speakers' attention on these three topics. When issues are raised that need further discussion, they are recorded and set aside, so that the relevant people can address them later.
Use a ball, or other prop, to add an element of fun and energize the speakers. Throw the ball to the first speaker to start the meeting and then, when they have made their three statements, ask them to throw it to another member of the team.
The ball shows who holds the floor. This encourages more reticent team members to speak out, and stops others interrupting the speaker.
Ask everyone to turn off their cell phones during the Scrum to prevent interruptions and distractions. See our article on running effective meetings for further tips on establishing and sticking to your objectives.
If, over the course of several Scrum meetings, you notice that some people often fail to meet their commitments, ask: "How confident are you that you'll get this task completed today?" This question is also useful for people who routinely fail to complete their tasks, despite having reported no impediment to progress the day before.
4. Keep Your Team Committed
Keep your team committed to the daily Scrum meeting by creating a "taskboard" and using sticky notes to record "commitments" – the tasks that they plan to complete – in three columns:
- Not yet started.
- In progress.
Each day, ask team members to write their tasks for the day down on sticky notes, and add them to the "not yet started" column. Then, when they report on progress at future Scrum meetings, move the notes across to the "in progress" or "completed" columns. This visual representation of progress will help to maintain focus, motivation and commitment.
Write any topics that arise during the meeting down the side of the taskboard, so that they can be discussed outside the Scrum.
To keep your team members committed, emphasize the daily Scrum's importance. Remind them that the purpose of the meeting is for them to communicate their progress and to make commitments to one another – not to you.
You could also use a "vision board," or "treasure map," to remind team members of what they are aiming for.
If you notice some members of the team losing commitment, consider working with them to improve their motivation.
5. Scaling up Effectively
If your project team is too large for everyone to contribute within the 15 minutes allocated to the meeting, divide it up into smaller sub-teams.
Elect a representative for each sub-team. They can then meet for a "project team Scrum" later in the day, so that the sub-teams can follow their peers' progress and adjust quickly to any changes or setbacks.
Scrums, or stand-up meetings, are short, daily meetings where team members report to one another about:
- What they did yesterday.
- What they plan to do today.
- What might stop them completing their tasks?
To get the best possible benefit from Scrums, schedule them for the same time and place each day – preferably one hour after the working day has begun, and for no longer than 15 minutes.
Appoint a Scrum Master to make sure that everyone has the opportunity to speak, and to keep each speaker focused on the three topics.
Keep track of team commitments during each project with a taskboard, to organize tasks according to their progress.