Can you skip the daily scrum ?

Rita is a developer I have known for a long time. She is the scrum master for a seven-member high-performing Scrum team. The team has been working together for almost two years. Their composition has generally been stable, with the last replacement to the team nearly six months ago. Sipping her latte, she cribbed that their daily scrum is quite useless. There is nothing discussed there which team already does not know. The team does not feel any value add, though they still participate since they are very disciplined.

She then popped the question that got me thinking deeply. “Is Daily Scrum optional? We are doing well anyway. Maybe we can live without it?” Debating on it for a while, the logical step forward was to experiment and find out. Empiricism was the foundation of agile and scrum, after all. However, pondering further on it, I concluded that the daily scrum does bring tremendous value. There might be only a handful of contexts where one may decide against it.

The Daily Scrum

The daily scrum is a core ceremony in the scrum framework. Even when Scrum is not often the framework used, the use of daily scrum or a daily standup is beneficial. The team gathers for about fifteen mins, typically at the start of their business day, to connect and align. The most common format of conducting is each member answering the three golden questions — What did they do yesterday? What do they plan to do today? Are there any impediments along the way?.

Daily Scrum is not a problem-solving or issue resolution meeting. The team surfaces impediments but resolves them outside the daily scrum. The purpose of the meeting is to align and re-plan if necessary towards meeting the sprint goal. Effective communication is essential for scrum success, and daily scrum provides an appropriate construct to facilitate it.

Where daily scrum is not optional

For teams going through the norming, storming, forming stages in Tuckman’s stages of group development, this is a “no skip.” If you have one or more team members still new to scrum, the daily scrum is needed. The daily scrum accelerates your team’s journey through the stages by helping to align everyone. It brings attention to the impediments to a speedy resolution. Even if you are in the “performing” stage, there is still very much value in the process of alignment. The meeting ensures the team always has the sprint goal in mind and working towards it.

Colocated teams

Colocated teams over a while develop good interpersonal dynamics. They may have had side discussions around many of the items already during the day. However, that does not mean you let go of an opportunity for an all-hands on the deck meeting. Everyone will be there at the daily scrum. So while people may be aware, it’s an excellent opportunity to summarize and reaffirm. It is essential to know where we are and are moving towards our sprint goal. Daily scrum brings alignment. Unless an item is so important and urgent that you don’t wait for the formal meeting, but huddle right away.

The huddle, getting together is more important. It could be informally around desks or lunches or formally in a daily scrum meeting. The important part is to have alignment across the team and a clear focus towards achieving the sprint goal. It is immaterial what we call it. The essence of why we have the huddle is essential to remember. So in that context, a huddle will always happen, formal or informal, and so is not an optional item.

Distributed Teams

In the case of distributed Scrum teams, daily scrum becomes critical. Finding the right time during the day is essential to maintain alignment across the team. Teams spread across different time zones gain by scheduling their daily scrum in the overlap hours.

The Wrap

Coming back to Rita, the team did a one sprint experiment and discussed it in the Sprint retrospective. The team decided not to do a formal daily scrum at the start of the day. Rita’s team was very aligned, and team members often went to lunches and coffee breaks together that allowed them to discuss items too. And yes, whenever they had an issue that demanded all hands on deck, someone just blew a whistle. The team would gather within minutes for their huddle.

Agile practices like the daily scrum and many others are not immutable. They can be adapted. However, use your discretion wisely.

This blog is one of the chapters from my book — Perspectives on Agility. Check it out here

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