Good practices – Scrum or no Scrum

May 30, 2011 at 9:24 am | Posted in Blogroll, Scrum and agile, Software Engineering | Leave a comment

Daily standup meeting
As a child, I had read a quotation from one of the famous Marathi saints which made a deep impression on me. It was “ekmeka sahayya karu; avaghe dharu supanth” which would loosely translate in English as “Let us help & support each other; let us join this noble movement”. Since then it has been one of the guiding values of my life.

I find Scrum is one such noble movement; it Scrum has a similar underlying philosophy. It strongly encourages sharing amongst team members; whether during sprint planning meeting, during daily standup meeting or during retrospection of successes & learning at the end of each sprint. The task board, burn down chart and even the planning poker are all about sharing and helping each other. Scrum has many good practices which help team members to support each other. Together they produce great synergy. However, even on its own each practice has its value and can be used by teams not following Scrum.

One such practice is a daily team meeting where everybody stands up in a circle for 15 minutes and shares in a round robin fashion with each other what each person has done since the previous meeting, what he plans to do till next meeting and what if anything is holding him up. If taken as a ritual, it loses its real effectiveness. Of course, even as a ritual it helps to let everybody know the progress, status and problems. However, the same time can be used innovatively to do lot more. I would like to share a few things I have encouraged teams that I coach to do and would look forward to hear about your experiences.

Apart from sharing the impediments which already exist, teams can start sharing risks they see going forward. This helps take preemptive actions proactively. It helps to realistically estimate the remaining hours which immediately reflects in the burn down chart and helps draw everybody’s attention. For this purpose, slightly tweaking the practice of updating the remaining hours and burn down chart before rather than after the meeting really helps.

Team members can share if they had to carry out any unexpected task the previous day or need to do it the next day. On one hand, it helps to progressively improve the accuracy of estimating available hours for sprint planning. On the other, if it is happening so frequently as to compromise team’s ability to honor its commitments, it starts creating a back pressure on sales & customers; which may be resisted initially but is good in the long run.

Team members can start appreciating and applauding anything noteworthy done by a member. This instant, specific and positive feedback has a great motivating effect.

Team members can mention where they failed and convert into an opportunity for improvement. When we consider them as failures there is a defensive reaction and normal tendency is to hide it if possible and even if it comes in the open to start finding excuses. The whole atmosphere changes when everybody in the team talks of opportunities for improvement. The effect must be seen to be believed.

The standup also provides an opportunity to identify and record unresolved problems. Normally, when we don’t have a solution to a problem we tend to lose its track. Capturing such cases when they are fresh in our mind and periodically reviewing them in dedicated meetings, may be once a week or a fortnight, helps to keep them in our attention and chances of doing something about it go up.

These are some of the additional activities which further enhance effectiveness of a great practice. Initially, it might take slightly more time than the prescribed 15 minutes. However, a bit more time gives rich dividends. Further, if the team is really keen to honor the time-box suggested by Scrum, they can focus on making their communication even crisper by eliminating everything non-essential or inappropriate for the standup meeting.

I am keen to know your experiences in scrum teams and even more interested to know about how far it helps the non-scrum teams.


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