Should the Daily Scrum Really Be Every Day?

Daily scrum

If you or the team are asking yourselves this, then it sounds like something is wrong.

When the team doesn’t see value in daily Scrum, the meeting isn’t doing what it needs to. But the answer to the problem doesn’t lie in simply skipping daily Scrum.

I can say that for sure. I’ll make my case with three reasons why you should run it every day.

You may have occasion to bend the rules, and I’ll get into that too. But it’s a crucial meeting that can really help teams sustain development at today’s breakneck pace. Running daily scrum right is a must, and I’ll leave you with a checklist that will help.

Three reasons to hold daily Scrum every day

three reasons not to skip daily scrum

1. Daily Scrum minimizes the need for unplanned meetings.

Teams need to coordinate. Daily Scrum serves as the 15-minute timeboxed event where just enough necessary coordination can take place. This way, the Scrum team spends a small fraction of their day away from their work. Once the development team has set out their goals at daily Scrum, they can concentrate on reaching them.

If the product owner or other stakeholders have input, they know their concerns will be addressed within the next daily Scrum, in less than 24 hours. Instead of being bombarded by red alerts until then, the development team can stay focused on finishing their work.

2. Daily Scrum ensures the ongoing collaboration of the entire team.

Sprint planning isn’t prophecy. What “done” means on Wednesday might be short of the goal posts by Thursday. And not only are sprint goals moving targets, but problems can hit from any direction. Daily Scrum provides a routine opportunity to hear from everyone involved, getting new constraints and potential pitfalls out in the open.

As the development team shares knowledge about their progress, they can exchange a few ideas about what’s working and not working. This refines their understanding of how best to self-regulate and move toward completing the sprint backlog. When a Scrum team can successfully adjust and deliver like this, it adds real competitive value to the business.

3. Daily Scrum helps individuals identify as part of a team.

Face-to-face interaction is really important. Even for distributed teams. Individuals that don’t meet regularly can have a much harder time establishing the levels of trust and comfort necessary for creative collaboration.

Of course, continuously inspecting your work and the work of others on the team can get touchy and exhausting. Daily Scrum helps organize the messy work of development into a team sport and encourages sustainable working relationships.

When can daily Scrum be skipped?

I’m a big proponent of daily Scrum, but not of forcing process for process’ sake.

Let’s put a pin in possible daily Scrum antipatterns. First, we’ll talk about when it’s okay to bend the rules.

For teams that hold daily Scrum, skipping the event once a week for a No Meeting Wednesday is perfectly fine. If it’s going to make the team more productive, skip it, but don’t disrupt the routine so often that people “forget whether or not daily Scrum is daily.”

For teams that don’t do daily Scrum, it can be really useful to run these standups during crunch periods and emergencies. Even if you’re not used to having them, daily Scrums can help orient the team around a big issue. Relax the schedule afterwards and know that daily Scrum is always a back-pocket option to help the team kick into overdrive.

Ultimately, deciding whether or not to mandate daily Scrum will depend on the needs of your company.

Daily standups are a hallmark of the software development world because of the rapid pace of change. If not for daily Scrums, many teams would have to negotiate flurries of communication throughout the day, which can get hectic and disorganized.

Then again, there are reasons not to hold daily Scrum. I’ve heard concern from teams that work perfectly tackling problems together on the spot. But think twice about skipping just because the meeting isn’t working. Chances are, you could tweak a few things in your daily Scrum that would productively reorient the meeting.

If people are saying “why waste time on daily Scrum?” then there’s something making the 15-minute meeting feel more like a monster commitment than a healthy check-in. The team may have correctly diagnosed this, but canceling daily Scrum is not often a helpful cure.

Let me demonstrate…

A tale of two Scrum teams

To start thinking about how to run an effective daily Scrum, let’s look at two mock teams.

Teams A and B have just had “daily Scrum,” but their experiences have been quite different.

Scrum Team A leaves daily Scrum at the same time they do every day. Some members return to work and make the calls they scheduled knowing daily Scrum would last only 15 minutes. Others linger to talk shop about issues that might have been too thorny or complex for group attention. Everyone knows what’s on their plate and has a plan to get it done.

Scrum Team B leaves daily Scrum five minutes late, but that’s fine because it’s usually ten. Some people arrived halfway through, so there was a lot of repeating—a few had to duck out early, so there will be more repetition. The few folks who arrived on time linger to confide in the Scrum master that they think daily Scrum is useless.

Scrum Team A is running daily Scrum. Scrum Team B is running an ineffective meeting under the heading of daily Scrum. There’s a fair chance that Scrum team B is going to have to call some bonus meetings to get everyone back on board. Of course they are wondering about the point of daily Scrum.

But by canceling it, you’re further devaluing something that would have voided the need for bonus meetings—if done right. Better to polish a gemstone for potential value before tossing it.

So if daily Scrum isn’t facilitating good communication and decision making, it’s time to revisit the essential characteristics and functions of this important sprint event.

Daily Scrum checklist

No single daily Scrum template fits all. That said, there are a few key things every daily Scrum needs to accomplish. Check these boxes to ensure a productive daily Scrum that your team can start to plan around:

daily scrum checklist

  1. Start on time.
  2. Stop on time.
  3. Keep it to 15 minutes.
  4. Maintain a safe space.
  5. Stick to an agenda.
  6. Don’t get too detailed.

It seems simple, laid out in checklist fashion, but as anyone who has run a daily Scrum before knows, the meeting can go off track really quick.

Think about Scrum team B. Because some people showed up just a few minutes late, their meeting was derailed before it even got started.

So as you try to enforce this checklist, make sure the team knows why:

1. Start on time

Don’t wait for latecomers to start daily Scrum. It penalizes those who show up on time—they have to either listen to repeated information or twiddle their thumbs waiting. There’s too much to discuss to allow for a fragmented start to the meeting.

2. Stop on time

The team has work to do and they need to plan their day around daily Scrum. Respect that by ending on time. A dependable routine will help your team with their own self-organization, like scheduling calls as I mentioned earlier.

3. Keep it to 15 minutes

There is a brisk pace to an effective daily Scrum. And with practice, your team should be able to get it all done in 15 minutes. If things start to take longer than that, you might be trying to do too much (see checklist items 6 and 7).

4. Maintain a safe space

Ensure the team feels secure sharing ideas. Scrum demands that teams inspect and adapt at every opportunity. To be open to probing others’ work and having their own work challenged, individuals need to know they are operating in an environment of judgment-free transparency and mutual respect.

5. Stick to the agenda

One of the most common reasons I’ve seen daily Scrums outgrow their timebox is because teams try to do too much. Below, I’ll lay out the industry-standard agenda for a solid Scrum meeting, but however you decide to structure it, stick to it. Daily Scrum is not the time to ask big-picture questions about the sprint or to talk about last night’s show.

6. Don’t get too detailed

The technical challenges faced by the development team can be incredibly complex. Yes, they need dedicated time to solve those problems. But not during daily Scrum. Do voice barriers to the day’s work, but don’t get into the weeds of a specific issue with the folks involved until after the meeting.

If you can help your team check these boxes, you’ll find that daily Scrum can be a wonderfully brief and useful meeting. Your team may start to see it that way, too.

How to run the perfect daily Scrum

Okay, let’s say your team is buying into the daily Scrum checklist. They have all arrived on time and ready to discuss the day’s work. You only have 15 minutes. How do you make it count?

Make it easy on your team by sticking to a predictable agenda. This isn’t to say you should never mix it up to keep things fresh, but the goal is to make everyone aware of concerns from the past 24 hours. If the team knows to expect that, they come prepared to articulate relevant info.

Most daily Scrums involve sharing answers to some variation of the following questions:

  1. What did you accomplish yesterday?
  2. What will you complete today?
  3. What obstacles stand in your way?

Get their answers on the Scrum board or whatever system you use to track and share information.

Remember, the development team is running things. The Scrum master is tracing ideas and keeping daily Scrum in its timebox rather than directing the meeting per se.

There is no magic formula to guide the development team’s discussion, but try to get everyone to participate. You could set up an easy system for this like drawing cards, “last arrival speaks first,” or “clockwise.” Whatever the system, make sure the team knows how to start the discussion without the Scrum master calling the shots.

Who attends daily Scrum?

As I said earlier, only the development team participates in daily Scrum, though the Scrum master may be present to facilitate the meeting. In keeping with the Scrum theory that the development team should be self-regulating, it’s probably best to limit daily Scrum to these folks.

What if others ask to stop into daily Scrum?

It’s the team’s decision, not an individual’s, whether the meeting is open or closed.

If open, try to make sure visitors don’t get in the way of the development team’s agenda. Any input they have, however vital, shouldn’t monopolize or derail the daily Scrum.

If visitors and outside ideas are becoming a distraction, the Scrum master needs to take charge and show that they can communicate the concerns of other stakeholders at daily Scrum without their presence.

Should the product owner attend daily Scrum?

A product owner is going to have the best seat to determine what user story has the most business value. But that doesn’t really necessitate their presence either. Like other stakeholders, the product owner should be able to communicate their needs to the development team through the Scrum master.

At the same time, a product owner should have a realistic sense of what the development team can produce. As a fly on the wall every now and then, the product owner can refine their understanding of the development team’s capabilities or align the backlog with items the development team wants to work on.

I’ve found that by taking the time to learn about how the group does things, a product owner can make the dev team feel like they have ownership of the backlog, even if the PO is the ultimate decider.

The lesson: Hold it quickly, make it count, move on

Daily Scrum might seem paradoxical when it wastes time. But trust me: it’s the 15 minutes of planning you need to eliminate all other meetings. If it starts to become something else, it just needs refining.

Stick to the checklist, let the development team set the tone, and get on to the next thing.

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Bryan Wise
Bryan Wise,
Former VP of IT at GitLab

Incredible companies use Nira