Daily Stand-up: Why it’s time to ditch the ‘3 questions’

The Daily Stand-up is a fairly straight forward event for most agile teams. The practice is fairly straight forward. Just go around the team, one person at a time, and ask three questions:

  • What did you do yesterday?
  • What did you do today?
  • Do you have any blockers or impediments?

The Daily Stand-up isn't what you think it is

The Daily Stand-up is an event that comes from an agile framework known as “Extreme Programming” (XP). It doesn’t come from Scrum.

"Communication among the entire team is the purpose of the stand up meeting. A stand up meeting every morning is used to communicate problems, solutions, and promote team focus. Everyone stands up in a circle to avoid long discussions. It is more efficient to have one short meeting that every one is required to attend than many meetings with a few developers each."

Don Wells (Extreme Programming Rules, 1999)

For a long time, the Extreme Programming pattern of the three questions pervaded the Scrum Guide. In fact it’s no secret that much of Extreme Programming influenced early versions of Scrum.

The prescription of how the Daily Scrum was to be run was changed in the 2018 version of the Official Scrum Guide with the three questions being completely removed in the 2020 version.

The objective to the Stand-up is different to the Daily Scrum

Alignment, communications, getting the team on the same page, are all reasons people give me about the purpose of the Daily Scrum. Certainly, these are all aspects of what comes out of the Daily Scrum, but it’s not the purpose of the event. Where XP’s Stand-up is about communication, the Daily Scrum’s purpose is empiricism”.

"The purpose of the Daily Scrum is to inspect progress toward the Sprint Goal and adapt the Sprint Backlog as necessary, adjusting the upcoming planned work ...The Daily Scrum is a 15-minute event for the Developers of the Scrum Team. To reduce complexity, it is held at the same time and place every working day of the Sprint. If the Product Owner or Scrum Master are actively working on items in the Sprint Backlog, they participate as Developers."

Schwaber & Sutherland (Scrum Guide, 2020)

Death of the Three Questions

The three questions eventually lead to one thing: a status report to the Scrum Master and/or Product Owner, and in some cases even managers and business stakeholders.

When the Daily Scrum turns into a status report, certain things happen:

  • People hate going. People start saying “we collaborate all day” or “but we all know what everyone else is doing”. So the value of the event is diminished.
  • Real impediments aren’t disclosed. If progress toward achieving the Sprint Goal isn’t discussed in some way, will the team know whether they’re at risk of not achieving it? Are things slowing us down from achieving the Sprint Goal? Are we waiting on a decision and that’s holding up work?
  • People are just waiting for their turn to talk. There’s very little actual collaboration on a plan for the next 24 hours as people are typically not listening to others talk, they’re just trying to work out what they will say.
  • Everyone is afraid that if they have nothing real to say then they’ll look bad. This is particularly true when the Scrum Master has other roles to play, such as being the Development Manager. So, team members just make up something that sounds like that they’re busy.

The Scrum Master doesn't even need to attend

Who should attend the Daily Scrum? Scrum calls the people who are doing the work ‘Developers’. More specifically, these are people ‘developing’ solutions that will add to the Sprint Goal and the Product Goal.

Scrum only requires that the Developers meet at the same place, and the same time, to inspect progress toward the Sprint Goal and then adapt the Sprint Backlog to reflect openly and transparently what the work for the next 24 hours will be. The Scrum Master’s job is to ensure that this inspection and adaptation takes place.

If the Product Owner or Scrum Master are also ‘Developers’, then they should definitely attend and be part of the conversation. For teams that are very new to Scrum, they will probably need help facilitating a conversation around empiricism, so the Scrum Master should definitely support the team in this way. 

Smarter questions for the Daily Scrum

Scrum isn’t prescriptive about the way Developers run their Daily Scrum. Importantly, going ‘around the room’ and ‘standing up’ isn’t required. Some useful questions to raise at the Daily Scrum include:

Questions about metrics

  • How are we tracking toward the Sprint Goal? Are we where we thought we’d be?
  • What do our burndown metrics say about our progress?
  • What does our cycle time metrics say about whether we’ll complete the work by the end of the Sprint?

Questions about scope

  • Do we need to change some of the work we have in the Sprint so we achieve the Sprint Goal?
  • Do we need to change some of the tasks we decided need doing?
  • Do some of the backlog items we chose need to be put aside because we now know they don’t help us achieve the Sprint Goal?
  • Do we need to negotiate scope with the Product Owner to help us achieve the Sprint Goal?

Questions about Done

  • What work is in-progress that we can work on today and get to Done?

Questions about learning 

  • Did anyone learn anything yesterday that means our work for today needs to change?

Questions about collaboration

  • Does anyone need their work peer reviewed yet?
  • Does anyone need help today?
  • What pairing activities will we do today?
  • Whose turn is it to pair with the new team member?

Questions about transparency

  • Have we updated the board to show our actual progress?
  • Is the Sprint Backlog up to date?
  • Is the status of work up to date?

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Conclusions

Scrum has changed and evolved over the last 20 years. Importantly, many of the changes are designed to improve the effectiveness of Scrum’s ability to help move teams away from task management and toward self-management and goal-driven behaviours supported with empiricism. With greater empiricism comes an improved ability to adapt.

The Daily Scrum is an excellent opportunity for a team to reflect on how it will achieve the Sprint Goal and, if they need to, adapt their original plan and make it transparent. It’s not an opportunity to get a report on where the team is up to. It’s not an opportunity to ensure everyone is ‘busy’. Unfortunately, the three questions just tend to reinforce this perspective. After decades of people using Scrum, teams finally have more choice and greater flexibility in how they enact empiricism on a daily basis.

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