The daily progress session (commonly called a daily scrum or stand-up) is one of the well-known elements of an agile-based project methodology, but its notoriety stems more from poor implementations rather than its true effectiveness.
The daily progress session is only applicable when your project is in a sprint. Any other stage of the project (such as the planning or the review stages), this is not required, so don’t make the mistake of thinking that simply having a daily meeting equals ‘being agile’. This session has a very specific purpose during a specific phase of your project.
You’re now the master of scrums
The most typical or natural role for a project manager is to be the scrum master or leader of the daily progress session. This person is the individual that drives the daily scrums or daily stand-ups, ensures that everyone is on track with the sprint, helps to clear any roadblocks team members are experiencing and, most importantly, keeps the whole team adhering to the company’s defined agile methodology.
Don’t underestimate how hard it is being a scrum master. It’s not the concept of a daily meeting that becomes problematic, but rather that a scrum master is fighting against two major forces: human behavior and environmental influences.
Defining your daily progress session
The daily scrum or stand-up (some teams like to physically stand up during the session as it forces people to not take longer than needed) has a very distinct role in any agile-based methodology. It is there to gain daily progress reports on the sprint list and get short feedback on the tasks currently being worked on.
Your daily progress session should incorporate the following ideals as part of a best-practise scrum:
- It shouldn’t take longer than 15 minutes. Anything longer, and you’re not following the principles of the progress report
- It should be held at the same time every day with the same people. Agile requires more discipline than other project methodologies, and keeping to this point will be one of the hardest disciplines to maintain
- It should be held at the start of the day. Often overlooked, the idea around the daily scrum is to give a progress report of the previous day and structure the new day ahead. If this meeting is held at any other time, there is a risk that outside influences will derail or impact the meeting.
- It should be held close to the team’s workspace. One of the key ideas of an agile-based methodology is that the entire team is co-located for maximum efficiency. Therefore, your scrum or stand-up should be held in the central work area. If there are people off-site, a telepresence solution (even Skype or Google Hangouts) is recommended to simulate the face-to-face nature.
- It should only consist of the team members involved in executing tasks. This is not a design session, a stakeholder update session or steering committee meeting. It is a progress session only for people with direct outputs of the sprint session. Other people may be present during the daily stand-up, but they are not allowed to contribute or intervene in the proceedings
- It should only comprise of 3 questions. The format of any daily progress session should be structured around 3 questions: what did team members do or accomplish yesterday, what are they working on today, and are there any obstacles in their way that they need assistance with.
Outputs of your daily progress session
There is a list of items that your daily progress session will generate for an agile project manager. These are:
- Progress reports or updates to your sprint list. You’ll need to update your project management platform or software with the progress made from the previous day, together with any timing or resource adjustments necessary
- Burn down chart. You’ll be updating the work units completed from the previous day to give an updated burn down chart which gives an illustration of how the project is actually progressing versus your planning
- Tasks for you, the scrum master, to clear obstacles. Out of the session will emerge a number of tasks that you will need to action to help your team. Don’t add this to the sprint list but rather manage them separately. Note that you will need to include your progress in the daily sessions, but don’t wait for these sessions to update the people impacted. As soon as you’ve cleared an obstacle, let the relevant person know immediately so that the impact to that item is no longer impacted
- Offline discussions. Your daily progress session might have created the need for some team members to discuss tasks or aspects of tasks in more detail, or require feedback from people outside of the project. It is your job to plan and facilitate these discussions as quickly as possible, as they’re more than likely obstacles that will impact your progress.
- Client updates. As the daily progress session is not designed to be a stakeholder or client update meeting, you will need to ensure that these people are kept informed of the latest updates separately to protect the daily scum from turning into these sessions.
- Sprint review planning. Don’t forget that, while the sprint is in progress, you need to be planning for the next stage, which is the demonstration of work in the sprint review. Planning this activity and ensuring everything is ready is important, especially when meetings need to be booked to secure decision makers. Don’t wake up on the last day of the sprint and suddenly realize there will be another two-week delay before the sprint work can be presented.
Common pitfalls that derail the daily progress session
Every agile project manager heads into an agile process hopeful and positive of the role of a daily progress session. However, various sources have noted the following as common issues that scrum masters have to be careful of when managing their daily progress session:
Team members want to voice and discuss their issues.
It’s only natural to continue to explain why something is a roadblock and, surrounded by people whose daily job is to solve problems, lead into a problem-solving discussion. However, this is exactly the opposite to what a daily progress session is, and the discipline needs to be enforced that these discussions are taken offline after the meeting.
A good mind-set to maintain is this daily progress session is a progress report, not a status report. The items spoken about should be only linked to tasks of the previous day, and those scheduled for today. If an item is not one of these, it has no business in the daily progress session.
If a team member wants to mention something out of this scope, it should be parked for another time. A good rule of thumb is to limit each item to a 60-second update. Anything more, is bordering on a discussion that should be taken offline as well.
Something comes up, and the meeting has to be moved or canceled
The biggest danger about touching the session time is it breaks routine and opens the door to derail the daily habit.
Many times it can seem harmless and aligned with the group consensus. Developers will always ask for a little more time to solve something that was due, as the mindset can still be that if something wasn’t completed the previous day, that person ‘failed’.
It is imperative that the scrum master enforces the daily stand-up no matter what. There are only severe scenarios that can justify moving or canceling a session, and they are likely to only occur once or twice a year.
If it seems like there is nothing to discuss, then that is the status and feedback given at the daily session. A session is still essential for everyone to come together and say ‘we are still busy on the tasks assigned, and everything is okay’. It can also be a warning sign that the tasks have not been broken down sufficiently and that the sprint task planning requires refinement.
Shielding the client from challenges
If your session form part as a mechanism to give your client a daily snapshot of the progress of the sprint, and your development progress is something you’re trying to make up in the background to avoid telling the client bad news, you’re misusing the daily session and not keeping your client sufficiently informed outside of the daily session.
The account management or stakeholder management function should be handled outside of the daily session, and you cannot alter the format or time when things are not going according to plan.
In fact, if things are falling behind, it is the role of the daily session to expose these challenges early and allow all parties to make decisions to help the team. If the sprint list was over-enthusiastic about how quickly things would take, this is the daily health-check that will expose that early on. If there are obstacles that need to be resolved faster, a daily session is how you get your client and greater team to assist before it impacts things even more.
Waiting for the daily session to communicate
While the daily progress session is a great platform to remind a team to talk to each other and give updates, it should not be the only time a team communicates. Team members should be reprimanded if they have held onto an update that could have been given the previous day in real-time, and everyone should be encouraged to try and be ahead of the planned burn-down rate.
This is especially important if a daily progress session happens after some team members start working as updates could have already influenced what they were working on for the last few hours. In any agile-based methodology, every working hour is essential and losing one can have a negative impact on the burn-down rate.
Not learning from previous sessions
The agile framework encourages adaptive learnings as the project progresses. It is the scrum master’s job to identify what works for each agile team and adapt accordingly. Maybe you cannot enforce an 8 am meeting because some of your team members have family commitments that only get them to the office at 9 am. Maybe you recognize that some team members benefit from a light touch check-in in the afternoon to remind them of progress. Maybe you cannot reliably force co-location every day.
The skill of an agile project manager is to adapt the daily progress session to both suit the team and still meet the objectives of the methodology. Failing to adapt and force a process that is not working is worse than making small concessions for the good of the whole project. Remember, you are here to get work completed, not be the most-compliant and rigid with best practices. Make it work for you and your team.
The daily progress session is simply an essential tool for agile-based methodologies – how you use and shape it is the secret in delivering successful agile projects to completion.