Questioning the daily Scrum questions
Past editions of the Scrum Guide encouraged developers to answer the three standard daily Scrum questions:
- What did you to yesterday?
- What did you do today?
- What, if anything, is blocking your progress?
To the surprise of many developers, the 2020 Scrum Guide removed all references to these three questions. Does that mean these three daily Scrum questions are bad? Not really -- it's just that asking them every day could negate the value of the daily Scrum.
Here are five potential drawbacks from asking developers to answer the three daily Scrum questions every workday:
- The questions become routine, and lose their value.
- The questions don't probe deeply enough.
- The questions are individual-oriented, not goal-oriented.
- The questions don't encourage team problem-solving.
- They turn the daily Scrum into a status meeting.
The individual vs. the team
The goal of a sprint is for the Scrum team to work together to achieve the sprint goal.
The three daily Scrum questions focus on individual task and individual impediments.
A sprint is successful when developers work as a team, not as individuals. Don't ask questions that focus on the individual: What will you do today? and What did you do yesterday?
If the Scrum team fails to complete sprint backlog items on time, and the sprint goal falls out of focus, discuss what the team can do to adapt and correct the course. This is more helpful than asking questions that make the daily Scrum feel like a daily standup.
Monotony quashes momentum
The daily Scrum is supposed to be a 15-minute energized discussion among developers about what they've done to move the ball toward the Scrum goal, and what help they need to ensure the team completes all of the items in the Sprint backlog.
If everyone on the development team is forced to answer the same three questions every day, enthusiasm for the daily Scrum will wane and developers will lose motivation.
Missed opportunities means more meetings
A Scrum team can include up to 10 developers. The daily Scrum is time-boxed to 15 minutes.
On a team of nine or 10 people, there is very little time left after every developer answers the three daily Scrum questions. If each developer speaks for just 90 seconds, that consumes all 15 minutes of the time-boxed daily Scrum. There's no time to discuss matters that might be more pertinent to the team's progression to achieve the sprint goal.
One of the goals of the daily Scrum, as stated in the official Scrum Guide, is to: Improve communications, identify impediments, promote quick decision-making, and consequently eliminate the need for other meetings.
If the entire daily Scrum is consumed by the three daily Scrum questions and developers' hurried 90-second answers, there's no time to properly discuss other issues and impediments. This forces developers to schedule other meetings to get help with problems that they otherwise could have addressed during the daily Scrum. This directly contradicts the daily Scrum's stated objectives.
Status reporting vs. problem-solving
Another goal of the daily Scrum listed in the Scrum Guide is to: Inspect progress toward the sprint goal and adapt the sprint backlog as necessary, adjusting the upcoming planned work.
The daily Scrum is not meant to be a status meeting where developers report their work to management. The daily Scrum is an opportunity for developers to discuss issues, address concerns and solve team problems that put the sprint goal in jeopardy.
Developers should be transparent about their progress, and discuss how to adapt their current plans to complete backlog items on schedule and achieve the Scrum goal.
Unfortunately, the three daily Scrum questions tend to discourage open and honest discussion. Instead, they push the daily Scrum into more of an update report wherein the product owner or Scrum master tracks progress.
The three daily Scrum questions might feel a bit like a status report, but that's not to say they should never be used, according to Dave West, CEO of Scrum.org.
"They can still be incredibly valuable and people should use them if they make sense to them," he said. "Just be wary that you are spending all of your time focused on what you did yesterday and what you're doing today, and not really focusing on how to get the [Scrum] going better."
Confusion of roles in a daily Scrum
Many Scrum teams that use the three daily Scrum questions kick off their meetings with the Scrum master, in alphabetical order, asking each developer for their update.
That's actually a violation of the Scrum Guide.
Scrum teams are self-organized and self-managed. The development team organizes, manages and runs the daily Scrum. It's not the Scrum master's job.
In fact, the Scrum master isn't even required to attend the daily Scrum, and even if they do attend, they should not participate. Only individuals actively developing for a sprint backlog item should participate in the daily Scrum.
When the Scrum master is allowed to take control of the daily Scrum and run this time-boxed event, this means you're not following the Scrum Guide. Partial adherence to or deviation from specific Scrum practices and principles is called ScrumBut (it's Scrum, but...), and teams should avoid this at all costs.
Don't stifle creativity
The Scrum Guide also states the following about daily Scrums: Developers can select whatever structure and techniques they want, as long as their daily Scrum focuses on progress toward the sprint goal and produces an actionable plan for the next day of work.
Demanding that all developers answer the three daily Scrum questions is in direct opposition to the Scrum Guide, which states that developers select whatever structure and techniques they want.
Every development team has its own energy, pace and vibe. Teams should harness that unique energy to discover interesting strategies that work best for them during the daily Scrum. For example:
- Some teams gamify the daily Scrum.
- Others use an immunity idol that someone must hold in order to talk.
- And some developers cringe at either of those ideas.
That's all OK. What's important is that the team members are allowed to use their own creative minds to develop tactics that get the most out of the daily Scrum.
For some teams, that might mean asking and answering the three daily Scrum questions. That's fine, too.
If the traditional three questions asked in the daily Scrum help drive your team toward the Scrum goal, then stick with it.
Just know that it's not a necessity. And it's certainly not a requirement of the Scrum framework.