Daily Scrum News: Beyond the Three Questions

Today I’d like to highlight one of the major changes in the November 2017 version of the Scrum Guide: it has to do with the Daily Scrum – the famous 15-minute Development Team meeting, probably the most well-known element of Scrum, you know, the one with the three questions. Well, it’s not about the three questions anymore!

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Shu-Ha-Ri: Karate for ScrumMasters

Sometimes I hear new ScrumMasters ask how closely they should stick to the rules of the Scrum Guide. For example, should they facilitate the Daily Scrum very strictly, expecting everybody to answer the three questions, or should they let the team self-organize, exchanging whatever information the team members want to give.

And surprisingly, a litte bit of Karate knowledge is really useful in situations like this.

Karate, just like in many other martial arts, knows three levels of learning, that every student passes through on his journey from their first steps to true mastery.

The first level, called “Shu”, literally means something like “obey”. The student imitates others and follows the rules closely. The idea is that only those that know the rules, will be able to break then safely without losing the art.

The second level, named “Ha”, might be translated as “break” or “liberate”. In the Ha level, students learn to adapt the rules to the circumstances. They learn about the principles behind the rules and learn when the principle is better followed by breaking the rule than by obeying it. So they move beyond just following the rules.

The third level is called “Ri”, which means something like “leave” or “cut off”. At this level, students leave the established rules behind to develop their own way, guided by their impulses. A lot of experience and mastery of the rules is essential in order to apply the ideas behind the established theory freely and independently.

As a ScrumMaster, you can apply this directly to your team. Are they new to Scrum and still have trouble following the rules? Then they are at the Shu level. Help them by providing structure and assurance. Teach them the rules friendly, but firmly. Assure them that these rules have helped thousands of teams to become successful, and don’t be afraid to take on a strong facilitating role.

After a while, the team will know the rules and is ready to move on to the Ha state. Then it’s time to step back and let them find different ways to collaborate during the Daily Scrum. Make sure that they know the true purpose of the Daily Scrum, and encourage them to experiment with different ways to reach this purpose.

How do you know if your team is ready to move from Shu to Ha? Just watch them. If they are able to follow the rules, lighten your facilitative touch. Will they start breaking the rules in order to hide some dysfunction? Then they’re not ready, yet. Go back to teaching and be patient. Or will they start to discuss how to better follow the principles? Then your team has reached the next level.

So this is, how Karate can help you how to better support your team on its way to learning about Agile and Scrum. If you want to know more about the topic, there are great books to read, e.g. “Coaching Agile Teams” by Lyssa Adkins.

And – just in case you are about to complain that I didn’t mention when and how to move your team from Ha to Ri: this means that you have to reach Ri yourself, first. And then you won’t need this blogpost to tell you…. :-)

A Sprint Review is not a Signoff Meeting

Some bad ideas just seem to live forever, here is one of them: sign-off during Sprint Review. But let me start with a short, true story:

Last week I was invited to a Sprint Review Meeting to give some feedback and offer ideas for improvement. There were about twenty people in the room, some managers, some collegues from other teams, some stakeholders, and, of course, the Scrum Team themselves. Things started pretty smoothly, the ScrumMaster gave a short overview of the items planned for the Sprint, and then the Development Team presented  these items. I could see some happy faces among the stakeholders, but nobody asked them for feedback. Instead, the ScrumMaster asked the Product Owner if the item was done. The PO was somewhat hesitant, opened his laptop to check some notes and started to discuss the acceptance criteria with the team member that had demoed the item. Finally he decided that the item was not really officially done, but good enough to be waived through. A stakeholder protested, and the discussion continued. The meeting was derailing quickly. At the end of the timebox, everybody was exhausted and frustrated, only dreading the rest of the day with the retrospective and the planning for the next sprint still lying ahead.

This is NOT how it is supposed to be!

The team had done some really important things quite right like

  • actually having stakeholders outside the Scrum Team at the review
  • letting the development team demonstrate the new features
  • showing a real product during the review.

But they had been mistaken about one thing: the Sprint Review is NOT meant to be a signoff meeting. Of course, it should be made transparent, which items are done, and which are not done. But the Product Owner should bring this information to the Review, having clarified it with the team during the Sprint. This has two main advantages: first, the feedback loop is drastically shortened, enabling the team to fix an item considered not done when shown to the Product Owner for the first time. Second, during the review the Scrum Team can focus on the real purpose of the meeting: to obtain feedback on the product and to come up with ideas how to use the next sprints in a better way than previously planned.

For more information about the purpose and recommended content of the Sprint Review, just take the time to have a look at the Scrum Guide.