The Daily Scrum – Better questions

The daily stand-up (or daily scrum) is an agile event that encompasses multiple parts of the Lean concept of Plan-Do-Check-Adjust (The Shewhart Cycle). So what is it for?

  • It is a check in with the rest of the team
    • In PDCA this is known as Check, in agile it is known as Inspect; both naming conventions relate to the same concept
  • It allows for planning to be done, because team members naturally and collaboratively pitch in with suggestions and commitments
    • In PDCA this is known as Plan; agile does not formally identify a ‘plan’ concept, but bakes planning into the structure of the scrum framework.
  • It allows for adjustments to be made because team members can make suggestions
    • This is the Adjust concept in PDCA, and the Adapt concept in agile; again, these terms relate to the same concept
  • It is also a risks and issues identification and management session
    • Simple risks and issues can be immediately addressed
    • Because of the 15 minute timebox, significant risks and issues, that require focused attention, are usually deferred until after the meeting

The daily stand-up is far more than just an old fashioned status report, it is a  collaborative session that supports multiple elements of the Lean PDCA cycle and is a daily check-in for risks and issue identification and management.

This all happens in 15 minutes, ideally at the start of the day, so the team can immediately flow into the implementation of what they just discussed, in an aligned and collaborative manner.

The Three Questions

The three questions are a standard set of questions that provide a number of benefits.

  • They make reporting consistent
  • They keep everyone focused on a short and sharp summary, without rambling (and blowing out the 15 minute timebox)
  • They target the key information needed to support understanding, collaboration, and planning

Traditional wording

Traditionally the three questions are worded as follows:

  1. What did I do yesterday?
  2. What will I do today?
  3. Do I have any impediments (blockers)?

A better approach

These are pretty good questions, but they can be worded differently to be even more effective:

  1. What did I get done yesterday?
  2. What will I get done today?
  3. Do I have any risks or issues?

The wording of the first two questions is now in alignment with the agile principles of empiricism and transparency. 

The phrase “Yesterday I was testing” is not transparent, and does not relate to a deliverable, it relates to an activity; as such it cannot be objectively assessed.

It is much more informative to report on specific deliverables achieved, for example –  “Yesterday I completed the testing on the first 5 test cases – They are DONE”. At an empirical level, anyone can go look at see the first 5 test cases; It is transparent.

This wording change, while it may appear subtle, helps teams focus on deliverables as opposed to activities.  It is an aid in moving towards a lean-agile mindset.

The wording of question three is also changed; This time the change is to highlight that we must report not only on what is directly impeding us right now (i.e. issues) but also what might impede us (i.e. risks). This wording encourages us to consider preventive actions, to avoid issues, rather than just corrective actions, to deal with them when only they arise. Think about it yourself – preventive action is almost always cheaper and less disruptive than corrective action happening after the fact.

Let’s look now at an example

The Gorillas is a cross-functional scrum team, one of six that operate at Jingo, a start-up that operates a crowd funding platform for worthy projects in developing countries.

Sam is new to the company. She is an experienced and highly competent senior engineer but is not familiar with structured and standardized Lean-Agile approaches.

At her first daily stand-up Sam gave her report utilizing the standard agile three questions approach.

  1. Yesterday I worked on coding the changes for handling for periodic donations, it is mostly done
  2. Today I will be finishing coding the changes
  3. No impediments

Afterwards the company’s agile coach took Sam aside privately.  The coach asked Sam if she could be more specific in her update to the team.  Sam responded by stating that her report was accurate, it was exactly what she was doing.

In order to help Sam understand what he meant, the coach asked Sam a few questions.  The conversation—somewhat condensed—went a little like this:

Summary

The three questions, phrased in this way with a focus on deliverables, is  one of the most powerful tools we have in our kitbag to help us deliver the best possible solutions in the shortest sustainable lead time.

Why not try it out in your next stand-up.

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