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Game Based Learning - The Five Dysfunctions of a Daily Stand-up Meeting

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Key Takeaways

  • There are 5 common dysfunctions of the Daily Stand-up Meeting
  • There are ideas that Scrum Masters/Coaches can use to address the Daily Stand-up dysfunctions
  • The Daily Stand-up Game helps teams explore and improve their Daily Stand-ups
  • The Importance of Gamification and game-based learning in an Agile environment

Which meeting pops up in our calendars most frequently, on a daily basis? We don’t even call it the Daily Stand-up Meeting, we simply say ‘Daily’ and everybody knows what we’re talking about. 5 times a week, 240 times a year, 3 questions, a handful of obstacles and victories on the way.

A good Daily helps synchronize the work of team members, while a great Daily pumps energy into our work and drives us towards achieving our sprint goal. In the absence of a good/great Daily, we are faced with dispersed work, no connection to the team and our goal seems too far away.

Every team has a different ‘story’ to tell in the Daily. Despite the uniqueness of that story, one may still identify common patterns that can poison the Daily and make it a waste. Here are the most common patterns we identified in our Dailies:

Broken Record

Definition

One’s ability to pollute the Daily with generic information, unnecessary updates that others cannot use or do not indicate progress towards reaching the goal.

How do you recognize it?

"Yesterday I worked on a bug and today I will work on the next item on the list." or "I will be in a long meeting today."
"I was in a workshop yesterday and today I will focus on ..."

So what?

It is important to keep the Daily meeting short, but we don’t mind the important details. Updates like this, unfortunately, can result in huge gaps in communication, even if the team members are meeting on a daily basis. At the same time, this kind of update indicates more individual rather than teamwork.

The Cure

The Scrum Master (SM) or Agile Coach (AC) should ask for clarification and give the unnamed tasks/meetings a name, adding more information that could be useful. The SM should also ask for achievements, rather than updates and move the responses towards identifying the outcomes.

To prevent this from happening, the SM needs to be a role model, guiding the team with his/her answers, as well as stressing from the very beginning the importance of sharing relevant information for the team members.

If this is a consequence of individual work, the SM needs to work with the team on working more collaboratively and the problem may disappear with time, as the synergies in the team increase.

Storytelling

Definition

One’s ability to expand minor information into an exciting neverending story.

How do you recognize it?

Team members talk about their updates and then derail the meeting, moving the discussion in another direction. Other team members start looking out the window, checking their phones, bored and disengaged.

So what?

If we want to keep Daily effective and finish within 15 minutes’ time, we need to keep the focus on relevant information only. Storytelling moves the discussion towards the direction of waste and inaction.

The Cure

SM/AC should explain how important FOCUS is during the meeting to keep it effective and short.

"This is another interesting topic which you brought up, we can focus on it/discuss more after we finish Daily", "Let’s park it/move it to the end of the Daily"

The SM/AC should, however, have patience and give people the opportunity to discuss some tangential topics, as sometimes the information which pops up might become useful for the team members. This needs to be time-boxed of course, so whatever takes longer than 60 seconds to discuss usually a good candidate to be parked at the end of the meeting.

A good Scrum Master should park the storytelling items, while a great Scrum Master can detect the thin red line between wasteful discussions and relevant ones that bring value to the team.

No Obstacles

Definition

One’s ability to believe he/she is Superman/Superwoman!

How do you recognize it?

People usually forget to answer the third question: Do you have any impediments?

So what?

The reason we have this third question is so that we highlight issues in advance, where we have a feeling some problems might come up in the future. Acting on them now can save long periods of inactivity.

We often notice people do not reach their sprint goals, although their Dailies are ‘no obstacles meetings’. Isn’t that curious?

The Cure

The SM should encourage people to answer all the 3 questions, even if they do not have any impediments. Simply acknowledging it creates a personal responsibility for the answer given. This way people pay more attention to risks and possible obstacles.

Problem Solving

Definition

One’s ability to use the 15 minutes Daily slot to solve a problem!

How do you recognize it?

"I have been working on this feature yesterday and I was thinking about showing you an idea that came to my mind ..."

So what?

People need to understand that trying to solve a problem in a few minutes slot will not bring any feasible solution and most likely will need more than 15 minutes to formulate a good answer.

The Cure

The SM/AC should interrupt the problem solving and gently remind the colleagues to sit together after the Daily and discuss a possible solution in depth.

Positive signals of getting this pattern right would be:
"Yesterday I came across this problem and I would like to discuss possible solutions with you after the Daily. Let’s ..."
"Today I want to work on the <feature> in the first part of the day, but still need your opinion about this before I start working. I will reach out to you after the Daily."

This is often a signal for team members that need to spend more time together and avoid bringing all their discussions/challenges into the Daily.

Look at me!

Definition

One’s ability to stare/report to one person during the Daily!

How do you recognize it?

In some teams during Daily, there is a habit of looking or starring at one person. Usually, this person is the SM, PO, a manager or one developer (if there is a senior developer on the team). Team members, instead of sharing their updates with the team, are reporting to whoever they consider the authority.

It could get even worse if the SM/PO/DEV acknowledges the status, replies "Good!", "Well done!" and this turns into a reporting session to please a leader.

So what?

This pattern reveals old habits from the classical approach when developers used to report to their managers in the meetings. In Scrum and agile in general, we don’t have a manager on a team, rather we empower people to be leaders themselves.

The Cure

The Scrum Master should clarify one more time with the team or individually that the Daily is from the team members to team members, to help sync towards achieving their goal. SM can even try to "hide" from the eyes of the colleagues, intentionally breaking eye contact during updates to signal that the update should be given to the team.

It is important to mention here also the pattern of a "Bird Watcher". These are introvert team members who do not feel comfortable looking at their colleagues. While they are giving their update to the rest of the team, they tend to look around, out the window … You can mention that you’ve noticed this behavior, but take care that for some people it can be very distressful to demand they make eye contact with others.

Play the Game

In our years of experience, we realized some people do not like being "schooled" by the Scrum Master all the time, so we came up with a game that highlights the Daily dysfunctions in a fun and funny way that empowers the team, helping further self-organization in the team.

The Daily Stand-up Game contains 5 cards, each identifying one dysfunction and the Scrum Master is the one who introduces them into the Daily Meeting, showing a card when the corresponding dysfunction is identified. Once the team understands the cards, the Scrum Master gives the cards away to the team members, so they can "catch" each other when one of the dysfunctions occurs.

For example, during the Daily one developer forgets to answer the third question. The Scrum Master shows him the Superman Card and everybody starts laughing. The reaction usually is 'Sorry guys, I feel invincible today, but you are right, I have no impediments.' During the next updates, the rest of the team members remember to answer also the 3rd question, even if there is no impediment in sight.

While trying out the Game with different teams, we learned about the following benefits of the Game:

  • Made daily meeting more attractive

Daily takes place for a team around 220 times a year, or double if you have two teams. Answering the three questions over and over again may be challenging to do for each of the teams. This is why introducing the game breaks the monotony and brings the new energy.

  • The team members were happy that they were correcting each other, and not being schooled by the agile coach

Once the team memorizes the 5 cards, the team members will probably start correcting each other. This builds self-organization by keeping each other accountable for a good Daily.

  • Undercover training

Going through the Daily Cards is similar to immersing yourself into a short training session on how to improve the Daily. This is why, when introducing the game, the Scrum Master hits two birds with one stone.

  • Everyone said they paid more attention to what their colleagues were saying just so they could "catch" them

One of the most important benefits of the game is that the team practices active listening during the Daily to identify the patterns and "frame" their colleagues. This makes team members pay more attention to the updates, which makes the Daily fulfill its goal.

Gamification

The Daily Stand-up Game is a very simple game that you can adapt any way you want:

  • SM introduces the cards and after 3 days, the team members take them over and show the cards to each other
  • SM introduces the cards and after 3 days, the team members split them within the team. One part of the team has some cards and the other part of the team holds the rest of the cards. Only one group can point to a certain dysfunction, which increases the attention and accountability of the team.
  • During the game, whoever gets a card shown receives a broken heart or a point. Similarly, you can count points/hearts for the person who showed the card. You may sum up the points/hearts and have a winner at the end of the week.
  • SM can observe and track points/hearts to identify people with that exhibit dysfunctional behavior most often, then he/she can follow up on it in a feedback session.

When there’s a game, people want to win, which makes the Daily more attractive than before. Additionally, the cards offer a fun way to signal problems and create a safe space to discuss unsafe behaviors. However, it is the Scrum Master’s responsibility to create this playful environment, make it funny and hand it over to the team.

Games are a great way to help teams learn to improve their behavior or their processes while introducing constructive activities in a safe place to experiment with change. Before introducing game-based learning make sure that the people involved are open to games and whoever doesn’t want to participate can choose to stay aside.

The Daily Stand-up Game is a free resource for everybody, licensed under an Open Source Agreement. You may download the game for free here and test it with your teams.

About the Author

Raluca Mitan is an agile coach, trainer, innovator and learner. She supports organisations in their agile journeys and loves to experiment with teams and managers to continually improve work and make customers happy. She's currently found of game-based learning and how to shift behavior or teach new ways of working thorough Games.

Rade Zivanovic is an agilist who coaches organisations, teams, colleagues and friends, sometimes even family members and pets (when they tolerate it). He's been working in agile since 2010 and loves it. He worked in development teams at the beginning of his career, so he knows how it feels to be on the other side as well. He enjoys helping people and seeing them succeed.

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Community comments

  • Misunderstanding about the "3 questions"

    by Tim Baffa /

    Your message is awaiting moderation. Thank you for participating in the discussion.

    It is important to note that the 3 questions used by many Development Teams in their Daily Scrums are not a Scrum requirement. The Scrum Guide specifically cites the 3 questions as just an example that teams may or may not use, and that the format of the Daily Scrum is 100% up to the Development Team.

    Whatever promotes their shared understanding and discussion around progress towards the Sprint Goal should be encouraged by the Scrum Master, not simply adherence to the 3 questions suggested in the Scrum Guide.

  • Re: Misunderstanding about the "3 questions"

    by raluca mitan /

    Your message is awaiting moderation. Thank you for participating in the discussion.

    Dear Tim, I agree with your remarks above and see this often at teams that break the 'rules'. The ultimate goal is to have a shared understanding and whatever helps the team to reach it can be used in the Daily. In the same time I observed that teams that are new to Scrum require at the beginning to have a clear structure (stage shu from the shu-ha-ri). It takes time for the team to understand the why of the meeting and to perform a good Daily. The journey will take the team from shu to ha and at this stage the team starts exploring and acting on behalf of the scope.

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