One-question daily SCRUM

A daily standup meeting (or “SCRUM”) with the team is an important part of agile development. But done wrong, these meetings can be demotivating and can reinforce traditional command-and-control management practices (which don’t scale and don’t work well with creative people).

The three questions that are “supposed” to be asked in standup meetings (according to most descriptions of Agile Project Management) are
1) What did you get done yesterday?
2) What are you going to do today?
3) What are you blocked by / need help with?

The problem is that the first question (“what did you get done yesterday”) sucks. It is important that the feel of a SCRUM meeting be peer-to-peer. And in respectful peer relationships you are not reporting achievement bullet-points to each other. The very act of reporting “what did you get done yesterday” puts people into a political mentality. The search for trivial tasks that can be done to make an impressive-sounding achievements will begin. This question just sucks in terms of the effects it has on a team, and has no place in SCRUM.

“What did you get done yesterday” is a question that seems like it was designed to solve the problem of a lazy manager. Anytime you find a process like this you should kill it, because it’s sapping the motivation of the team. Managers should work harder to get the information they need: team processes should be tuned to the information needs of workers.

The question of “what you are blocked by” is also problematic. I’ve noticed that explicitly requesting this information doesn’t work well. It makes people feel like they are complaining or ratting out their colleagues to say that they are blcoked by something that someone else is doing (or failing to do). If you focus on the work that’s being done.

The third question, “what are you working on today?”, is where the magic happens. It makes concrete the fact that people are in charge of what they want to work on. It is forward-looking so it is useful for planning purposes. And it often contains within it the answer to the first two questions. So in a slideshare SCRUM that’s the only question we ask.