Why your Daily Scrums suck (part 2)
The Daily Scrum is a core element of good project management. But I’ve seen too many teams misunderstanding this meeting and implementing it badly. Pointing out common misunderstandings & pitfalls, I want to give you hands-on advice to fix the Daily Scrum and reap all the benefits from this important meeting.
While the first article looked at the pitfall of the Daily Scrum degenerating into a status meeting, this article specifically talks about a lack of timeboxing and the Daily Scrum lasting longer than 15 minutes. You can find more pitfalls like this in the video course Avoid these 19 Pitfalls of the Daily Scrum Meeting.
Sign of the times
Many Daily Scrums I see as a coach are longer than 15 minutes. Even if they keep the timebox 90% of the time, they occasionally last for 20, 30 or even 40 minutes sometimes! This is not good! A Daily Scrum should be 15 minutes max — 100% of the time!
Somehow some Scrum Masters don’t have the courage to cut a meeting short or they need to know what to cut out. And so Daily Scrums occasionally spiral into discussions about certain problems or solutions without anyone feeling brave enough to just stop.
But before we look at ways to stay within the timebox elegantly, let’s revisit why we limit this meeting to max 15min every day…
Why only 15 minutes?
Is there a reason to limit the Daily Scrum to 15 minutes? Or is this just a recommendation?
Let me state this clearly: the Daily Scrum must always be max 15 minutes long! It must never exceed this mark! This is true whether you have 1-week sprints, 4-week sprints or work with Kanban with no sprints at all.
The reason is simple: You can’t afford to have a daily (daily!) meeting that lasts 30 or 40 minutes. Just think about it: a typical work day has 8 hours — taking almost 10% out of this day for the Daily Scrum reduces your available time to work on the product drastically. You simply cannot afford this. Sticking to 15min (or even 10min, if you dare) reduces the overhead needed for coordination in the Daily Scrum to about 3% — which is reasonable.
Another important reason for a hard timebox is the efficiency of rest of the day after the Daily Scrum. If you never know, whether the meeting will take 15 or 30 minutes, you cannot make any appointments for right after the Daily Scrum. You will always have to leave a safety buffer — and this fragments your day! If your Daily is at 9am and you want to discuss a technical solution right after it, you would have to schedule your meeting at 9:45am, just to be sure. Suppose the Daily only takes 15 minutes then — you end up with 30min of time that are often too short to really dive into a work task. Wouldn’t it be better to have the Daily at 9am, schedule the other meeting at 9:15am and then have uninterrupted deep work time afterwards?
And also remember: the Daily Scrum is an important meeting for the development team to self-organize. But the harm of cutting a Daily Scrum short (even before everyone has finished) is much smaller than the harm of a Daily Scrum that lasts too long!
Of course it is easy to detect, whether you stay within 15 minutes with your Daily Scrum or not. But it is also important to watch the signs, which are already consequences of a Daily Scrum NOT staying within the timebox:
Yes, some teams don’t even notice, that 15 minutes are up! If you consistently (even occasionally) run over the time limit, it is a warning sign!
Not keeping an eye on time
If nobody feels responsible for watching the clock and reminding everybody else about the timebox, you have a lingering problem.
People can’t make appointments after the Daily Scrum
Also if you notice that people refrain from scheduling meetings right after the Daily Scrum, you should see this as a warning sign. It usually means that team members don’t feel confident enough that the meeting will take only 15 minutes.
Team members are bored and unmotivated
A consequence of Daily Scrums, that drag on longer than 15 minutes, are bored team members who loath the Daily Scrum. They begin to see the meeting as a chore and try to avoid it.
And if the development team doesn’t reap any benefits from the Daily Scrum, they often ask to turn it into a bi-daily or even weekly meeting! You wouldn’t believe how often I have heard “a daily standup meeting is just too much — we turned it into a weekly instead”. This is a big warning sign! If you see these kind of weeklies, your Daily Scrums did not provide any value for the development team.
If you see this warning signs, you might not yet think you have a problem. But trust me: this will grow into serious problems in the long run! I have a decade of experience as Scrum Master and agile coach — these signs were always early warning about looming problems. Fixing them early on can help you avoid most of these problems. And here are a few ideas how to fix it:
How to fix it
Once you understand how important it is to keep the 15 minute timebox, it’s easy to see the fixes:
Set a timer
It can be so simple. Some teams use kitchen timers — I mostly use my tablet as a timer. Just the presence of a timer reminds the team to stay focused and make the Daily Scrum concise. An added benefit is the visibility of such a timer for the whole team — this allows everybody to monitor the timebox and to cut discussions short, if they get out of hand.
Appoint someone to watch the clock
If you have trouble keeping the 15 minute timebox, you can appoint a person responsible for keeping an eye on time. This person should also have the authority of cutting discussions short or ending the meeting. In most cases, the Scrum Master will play this role until keeping the timebox becomes second nature for the team.
End the meeting when time is up!
So simple, but so often ignored! Many people have the tendency to end a meeting when “all points have been discussed” instead of when “the time is up”. Well, the Daily Scrum is a meeting that ends when the time is up! It’s like a regular day: you can’t just say “oh, I didn’t get everything done today, so I will simply add a 25th hour to the day”!
Timeboxing is such a simple yet powerful agile technique (learn more about it in 7 Secrets to Master Timeboxing) — use it to your advantage! Always end a Daily Scrum after a maximum time of 15 minutes. You will see that the team will quickly adapt and focus, so that all important coordination can be handled within 15min every day.
If you found this article helpful, you might want to check out my free email course with tips about the Daily Scrum.