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Talking Daily

Daily stand-ups (or daily scrums) can be a really effective technique to improve communication and collaboration and to quickly eliminate issues.

The team meets daily to answer three questions:

  • What did I do yesterday?
  • What am I going to do today?
  • What is blocking me?

The first two questions can really help with communication and collaboration. By saying what you've done and what you're going to do, you've kept the rest of the team up to speed on what is changing within the environment. You've also given them a chance to help. If what you're working on today is something that they can help with, you're giving them a chance to do so. This might be as simple as them saying: You might want to talk to so and so or let's talk about that after the meeting, I have some ideas. Without the daily stand-up, those opportunities might have been missed.

Another benefit of the second question is that it makes you look at all the things you could do today, to identify which are the most important (the ones you will do) and then to commit to doing them to the team. This daily prioritization / commitment can really help to keep you on track to accomplish your goals for the iteration.

The last question helps to ensure that everyone is aware of blocking issues. Two weeks (or whatever your iteration length is) is not a lot of time. To get everything done within that time frame, blocking issues need to be resolved quickly. By bringing it up in the stand-up, you're giving the rest of the team an opportunity to help you resolve it as quickly as possible.

If multiple teams are involved, you can do a scrum of scrums. This is a meeting (often after the individual team meetings) with representatives from each of the teams where they answer the same three questions. The same benefits apply (potentially even more so) at the cross-team level. How often you meet depends on how much coordination needs to occur between teams. I'd start with daily and reduce the frequency if you feel that daily is too much.

You'll sometimes hear about pigs and chickens when it comes to stand-ups. When it comes to breakfast, pigs are committed (they give themselves up for the breakfast); chickens aren't (they can have more eggs). Daily stand-ups should focus on the pigs (the team members); chickens (visitors or those external to the team) can listen, but shouldn't interrupt the flow.

Effective daily stand-ups are short and to the point. The reason they're often called stand-ups is that many people stand throughout the meeting to encourage brevity (I like to sit with my feet propped up, but that's a personal preference). Stand-ups should be 5, 10 maybe 15 minutes. Longer than that and you're going to lose effectiveness (remember you're taking the whole team's time on a daily basis). Over time, people learn what things are valuable for others to hear and what things aren't. Keep it to the point and spawn off other meetings as necessary for more in depth discussion.

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