Power Scrum: Secrets to a Good Meeting

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Categories: Agile

This is a guest post from Bill Krebs, owner of Agile Dimensions LLC

The agile methodology of "scrum" is known for its 15-minute daily meetings. Its format contains three questions. Participants state what they did yesterday, what they will to today and what road blocker stands in their way.

The meetings can be deceptively powerful--if used correctly. But oftentimes they drag on for half an hour or more.

So what goes wrong? And how can you get back the benefits? Here are some ideas.

There are two kinds of work covered in a scrum meeting: Specific tasks from your project plans (or iteration backlog), and general interrupts and overhead (such as e-mail and meetings). Do team members ramble on about work that has nothing to do with their iteration backlog? Do they say a lot just to impress other teammates? 

Focus the talk on things that relate only to the tasks identified for that particular two-week block of work (an iteration). And then encourage people to focus on and finish two tasks per day. This will discourage the inefficiencies of multitasking. Team members are not limited to calling out roadblocks. They should mention any that appear.

Have you ever heard someone who is "80 percent done" with a task every day? Each new day shows only partial progress, but never completion. Focusing on what was actually finished yesterday, and what will be finished today, helps cure this problem.

The scrum meeting is not about status. It's about completion.

Control the Number of Participants
Let the core testers and developers on the team do the talking. Other people may have an interest in the meeting, but they should just listen.

If your meeting gets bigger than nine people, hold two separate meetings and then have a "scrum of scrums" every few days where representatives from each group get together.

Go Offline
Our inner geek often wants to deep dive into architecture on the fly. (Who can resist?)

In those moments, however, the scrum master (who facilitates the meeting) should say, "That's a great topic, let's set up a time for the two of you to discuss after the meeting."

Don't leave everyone hanging while two people talk. And if you go a week without hearing your scrum master say, "take it offline," there may be room for improvement.

Remember My Three A's:
Awareness: The meeting is about knowing what your teammates are up to.

Ad: The meeting is an advertisement for collaboration. Micro teams of two to three people form, which makes for great collaboration later in the day.

Attack: Attack the blockers. The team can rally to address a problem--either within one minute in the scrum meeting, or more often, after the meeting. Problems that require detailed work by a subset of the team can be arranged for after the meeting. That way, people who are not involved don't have to sit through the discussion.

Those tips will cut the fluff--and speed up your work!
Posted by William Krebs on: February 25, 2010 03:46 PM | Permalink

Comments (6)

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The scrum stand-up meeting is truly a wonderful practice for any team, but for clarification, the items listed in the Focus section are largely the result of another Scrum practice—the Sprint Planning Session.

It is during the planning session that detailed task decomposition occurs and having tasks broken into bite-size items allows team members to report and show daily progress in the stand-up meeting. If someone is consistently has uncompleted tasks, look to the Sprinting Planning Session to resolve the issue.

Ronald Claude, PMP
Effective meeting disciplines are not limited just to scrums. I've found the following guidelines to be useful, in addition to those above.

1. Participant size beyond five (as opposed to nine) individuals is always subject to time over-runs and getting off-track. The reason, people think/ understand at different rates. The odds of misunderstanding (a key project management risk) also increase with the size of the group.

2. Conduct short meetings standing up. This creates a sense of urgency, even when there isn't one.

3. Teach the team that it is everyone's responsibility to call time-out when the meeting is off-track. This responsibility is not solely limited to the scrum master. I issue a laminated card that reads "Sold" (i.e., Move on) on one side and "Tangent" on the other (i.e., We're off track) to all meeting participants. By flashing the card appropriately, everyone can contribute to keeping the session moving forward.

It’s useful to have meeting at the same time in the same place. It promotes a compromise of the team members and after continuous repetition it will get in a habit of team.

Roland Gropmair
This is an excellent article, I especially like it because it's precise and short and gives concrete guidance - well done!

Neil Burger
I like the idea of a concise Scrum Meeting. The front rowers are the team leads, the second rowers are the executers and can often be the developers or configurers in the team, while the loose forwards are the collaborators with the other teams which may involve infrastructure, networking and development teams.

I will use this approach in my future team "Power Scrum" meetings.


Hi William,
Thanks for this nice article. We figured out that standup meetings are great but needed improvement (they took a lot of time, de-focussed our colleagues and interrupted their workflows). Because of this we developed a SaaS tool to "automate" the daily standup meetings - with just a single email. If you like to take a look: www.30secondsmail.com.

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