What’s a Daily Scrum?

By Mark C. Layton

As its name implies, this is a daily event that takes place during each sprint. The timebox is 15 minutes max, no matter the overall length of the sprint. Meetings in scrum, like artifacts, are barely sufficient. Anything longer than 15 minutes would eat into valuable developing time. Besides, it’s plenty of time to accomplish everything necessary.

The purpose of the daily scrum is to coordinate the day’s sprint activities and identify impediments keeping the development team from accomplishing their sprint goal. Every member of the development team participates, so everyone is dialed in to what the entire team is working on. If an impediment comes up during the daily scrum, it is dealt with following the daily scrum. It’s a coordination meeting, not a problem- or complaint-solving meeting.

The scrum master either personally removes impediments or facilitates their removal. Some impediments might need to be removed by the product owner, or may require a discussion between a development team member and a nonscrum team member.

Daily scrum are an opportunity to inspect and adapt in the moment!

Because a daily scrum is only 15 minutes, everyone needs to be on time and ready. You’ll find a direct correlation between how late a meeting starts and how loose the focus is after the meeting starts. Teams may have different ways of achieving punctuality, such as

  • Start your daily scrum a half an hour after the normal workday begins.

    This gives your development team members time to get coffee, answer emails, discuss the previous evening’s antics, and cover anything else in their morning ritual.

  • Penalize members for being late in a friendly and spirited way.

    Have them pay a certain amount into a celebration fund for each minute they’re late. Or have them sing their college team song at full tilt. Get creative and make it uncomfortable enough that it stops tardiness.

    A scrum team in Portland implemented a “$20 or 20 push-ups with multiplier” incentive. For the first time being late, team members paid $20 or did 20 push-ups. Next time, $40 or 40 push-ups, and so on. This was invented by the team, not imposed on them. It worked for them, and it definitely prevented tardiness.

Participants in the daily scrum are the development team members and the scrum master. The scrum master ensures the meeting takes place and the development team directs it. The product owner should attend, and must attend if the development team specifically requests it. The product owner may provide clarifications on prioritization as needed, and anyone else involved and interested can listen in. They just can’t say anything. This way they can enjoy the daily transparency and be involved in the daily process, but they can’t hinder or derail it.

A common misconception with daily scrums is that it’s a time for the development team to report to the product owner or a time for product owners to introduce new requirements or update a sprint goal. This defeats the purpose of short iterations wherein developers can focus on a set of tasks and crank them out in support of a well-defined business goal. The daily scrum is not a business status reporting meeting. It is a coordination meeting to enable high performance.

As soon as the daily scrum starts to feel like a status reporting meeting, or development team members start addressing their “report” to one individual (for example, an informal team “lead” or the scrum master), it has missed the point. It’s peer to peer. It’s not about each person reporting to one individual, such as the scrum master or the product owner. Keep it about coordination as a self-organizing team, identifying impediments and ensuring that they get removed as soon as possible.