Daily Scrum Dysfunction: We’ve Fallen and We Can’t Stand-Up!

Without a periodic tune-up, the daily Scrum can lose its focus and intensity.  This post describes my observations of real problems that emerge during team stand-ups (daily scrums) that really need to be acknowledged as “red-flags”.  Here are some tips for identifying your daily Scrum deficiencies and fixing them. 


The Intention Question

Not identifying the intent of the stand-up from the project get-go may lead to a disconnect of why we are even standing there in the first place.  Some may think of daily stand-ups as another project status meeting.  To better align on the intent of this gathering, establish the context as the first line of the actual meeting invite.  Add a message to the reoccurring meeting like: “The goal of this stand-up is to align the team on the overall project, create visibility on each other’s efforts/issues and to make commitments to hold each other accountable to”.  This message goes a long way in aligning the team’s understanding of why they are there, why it is beneficial and kicks things off on the right foot. 


…Still standing?

Whether your stand-up is scheduled for 15 minutes, 30 minutes or more, if your team habitually runs past the allotted timeframe, then you may have a problem.  Stand-ups are not traditional status updates.  A project manager should not use them as an opportunity to ask team members detailed questions about their work.  Developers should also not solution during the stand-up.  Keep the updates concise; determining the minimum information needed to align your team members with your workstream.  Team members whose updates are too short or frequently repeated may not be prepared and/or completely committed/engaged to the project.  Make sure the team holds each other accountable for the value of their updates and the work they perform.


Where’s Waldo?

When a team member is at work today but is absent from the stand-up, it can demonstrate a lack of commitment.  As well, a missing team member means the team as a whole is that much less aligned on where others work is at.  If a team member is unable to attend the stand-up, they should email the entire team to communicate their absence along with a concise update.  Exceptions to this rule may be around team members who are on PTO.  PTO is ideally planned and communicated to the whole team at prior stand-up meetings.  Establishing this communication practice as a team norm helps identify the importance of team alignment as well as gives visibility to a missing individual’s whereabouts.


Who’s on the invite list?

Obviously, the core team needs to be invited to the daily stand-ups.  All members who contribute to the daily project workstreams should have an opportunity to speak at the stand-up.  If your project involves external vendors, feel free to invite them.  They should be held accountable too.  Also, inviting leadership and/or project sponsors to the stand-up as optional is recommended.  It provides visibility of the meeting occurrence, what the guidelines are (see “The Intention Question” paragraph) and allows them to attend if they feel it is important.  Make sure as the project evolves, the right team members are standing there with you.  As an example, if your project needs integration work from the CRM team, make sure to invite that team’s relative members while their work is being executed.  Overall, make sure those who are invited are the right individuals; i.e. they are providing value, following the stand-up norms and not creating distractions to the team.



The points made during this post are simply observations of potential “red flags” or deficiencies that may be keeping your daily scrums from being successful.  Continue to review how successful your stand-ups are.  There should be a rhythmic cadence to the meeting, where the imaginary baton is smoothly handed-off amongst team members.  If not, there is definitely room for improvement.  Remember, each team member is equal at a stand-up; roles/titles are removed.  Continuous improvement and contributions from all team members can help lead to the overall success of the project.



Topics: Software Development, Agile, Scrum

Written by Bryan Coller

Bryan Coller started at NVISIA in 2000 and he is a Principal consultant with responsiblities for managing client relationships, growing individual team members and delivering successful software solutions. As a certified Scrum Master, Bryan has been using Scrum to help clients align and deliver their projects for the last 5 years.

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