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Moving Beyond "The Three Questions"

Software Development, DevOps

This post was co-authored with Bob Wen.

"What is your name?...What is your quest?..."

Monty Python and the Holy Grail

A practice that most teams adopt from Scrum is the Daily Standup or "Daily Scrum". In this timeboxed meeting, the members of the team, usually standing by a whiteboard with sticky notes or looking at a Jira board, individually talk about how they are working toward the team goals. Usually, each member frames this using 3 questions:

  1. What did I do yesterday?
  2. What am I planning to do today?
  3. Are there any roadblocks or dependencies that impact #1 or #2?

This format works in the beginning. But over time, its usefulness may diminish through a variety of factors.  Giving each individual the spotlight may allow other team members to "tune out" until it's their turn to speak.  How can we determine what an individual does rolls up to the team goals?  Is there enough psychological safety on the team to allow members to speak up about roadblocks or other problems?

On the Managed Services team at Isos, we started to see the problems involved with the 3 questions and looked to change our format.

But, first things first. We needed to determine what the goal is for our daily standups. Let's talk numbers for a second. We have 11 people on our team that spend 15 minutes a day in a standup. That's ~55 hours per month of company time being spent in this meeting... and that's just one team! That's a huge chunk of time that can either be super valuable or a complete waste of company time.

So, what are is the goal? For us, it is delivering the best value to our internal and external clients by ensuring constant coordination between our team and eliminating roadblocks as early on in our plan as possible.

With this being our goal, now we can start tuning our format and mediums used.

All standups should have something for the team to view to back up what each team member is sharing. Without a visual, people tend to lose focus. That's why the majority of business events and meetings have a presentation that's backing what the speaker is sharing. What makes standup any different?

Visuals can be physical whiteboards that have sticky notes on them that show where stories or tasks are in its lifecycle. Our team uses a Jira Kanban board that's especially useful for remote teams like ours.

Now, on to the questions. What should each team member mention as part of the standup? We think the answer to this varies based on team, area of focus, and maturity. For us, our individual work is rarely co-dependent on other team members' work, so we have narrowed our questions down to two: 1) What is your priority today? 2) Anything preventing you from achieving your goals today?

We basically eliminated the "What did you do yesterday?" question since, at least for us, it was a repeat of what was mentioned the day before. Also, our team continues to grow and, with already 11 folks on the team, reciting what they did yesterday, today, and roadblocks started to take up too much time. So we dropped the question and tweaked the last two. This seems to be effective so far. And like we said, these questions and even the format might change in the future as we mature and grow together as a team.

Some other tips:

  • Make your sprint (iteration) goals visible during standup.
    Regardless of the length of your iterations, the team needs a daily reminder of what the goals are of the iteration.
  • Adding to the above, always point the conversation back to the goals.
    If someone is working on something that doesn't sync with the goals, bring it up.
  • Have a ticket (sticky note) for all work that is mentioned during standup.
    If you talk about it, it should be visible on the board for your team to see. Hearing you talk about it only tickles one of the team's senses. Let's have something they can see too.
  • Time track your work within the standup.
    Each individual should be talking about how much time they have left on something. This is helpful for the product manager and scrum master to know if something is slipping and if there's enough time left in the iteration for the individuals to take on another ticket

Managing JIRA at Scale White Paper

TAGS: Software Development, DevOps

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