How to Avoid Meaningless Daily Scrums

David Pereira
Product Leader, Content Creator, Speaker
Posted on
Apr 6, 2022
Updated on
May 23, 2022
Table of Content

Mechanical meetings will lead to nothing but progress.

What’s the point in having a Daily Scrum with your team? Although you may think it’s about answering three questions and clarifying what’s going on, this perception is wrong. Please stick with me. Imagine the following: Every day at 09:15 am, every team member as to answer the following:

  • What did I do yesterday?
  • What am I going to do today?
  • Do I have any impediments?

What happens after everyone replies to these questions? Each developer probably leaves the call or the room and goes back to work. Nobody benefits from the daily. No one helps other team members because they’re not acting as a team. Everyone has their Sprint. “I did this, and I will do that, and I have no impediment. Next one, please.

I thought the Scrum team was supposed to have a shared goal and collaborate to reach it instead of everyone running in different directions.

If you look at the Scrum Guide, 2020, you get the following definition for Daily Scrum:

The purpose of the Daily Scrum is to inspect progress toward the Sprint Goal and adapt the Sprint Backlog as necessary, adjusting the upcoming planned work.

The question is, why does nobody talk about the Sprint Goal in the Daily Scrum? Because most teams don’t have one or because they are missing the mark. Looking at data from GoRetro, out of 100k Sprints, 68% do have a Sprint Goal and the rest don’t have anything. This frightens me.

During this post, I will share what leads to a meaningless Daily Scrum and how to escape from it.

Mechanical Daily Scrum

It’s 09:11 am. Björn had just woken up, and says, “Shit! I have the boring Daily in 04 minutes, and I’m starving.” He runs to the kitchen, drinks a glass of water, puts a capsule in his coffee machine, and waits. After a couple of seconds, the coffee is ready; he takes it and runs to his working room. He turns on his computer in a hurry. 

Surprisingly, his laptop starts a mandatory update. Björn is late and getting nervous. Quickly, he picks up his phone. Pow! By chance, he bumps into his cup and spills coffee everywhere! 

It’s 09:17, Björn jumps into the Daily Scrum call from his phone and immediately turns the camera off.

Harold: “Good mooooorning, Björn. We were waiting for you. I guess you slept in.

Björn: “Sorry, guys! I had some small issues, but now I am here. Shall we start?

At this moment, Björn mutes his phone, runs to the toilet and takes some toilet paper to clean the mess he made. He is doing anything but listening to his team members.

Harold: “Yes, let me start. Yesterday, I fixed the issue with the price API, and today I intend to deploy the changes and pick something else. Go, Ragnar.

Ragnar: “Good morning, everyone. Yesterday, I didn’t do a lot. Today, I intend to continue working on the recommendation engine and potentially send it for code review. Go, Björn.

Björn is still cleaning up his table as there’s coffee on his keyboard and notes.

Ragnar: “Björn, if you’re speaking, we don’t hear you. Please, unmute yourself.

Björn: “Sorry, guys. I was cleaning something here. Yesterday, I did more or less the same things. I did some code reviews and made progress on my activities. Today I intend to conclude stuff and move on.

Floki (Scrum Master): “Thanks to everyone for sharing. Nobody has any impediment, and you made progress on your activities, so I guess we’re good to go. Unless you tell me otherwise, let’s wrap up the call.

The call finished at 09:27, and nobody knew what the benefit of it was. Björn didn’t hear anything anyone said. Meanwhile, Harold and Ragnar worked on unrelated activities and didn’t care about the other’s updates. Although they have a Sprint Goal, nobody remembered it, not even the Scrum Master.

The Jorvik team starts every workday by wasting time. Yet, they accept the pointless Daily, and nobody cares.

Does this scenario ring a bell? Have you ever experienced anything similar to it? Sadly, I’ve been in this scenario more often than I would have liked. Many teams still don’t function as a team, but rather as a group of people running in different directions. When that’s the case, the Daily Scrum is anything but helpful. The common anti-patterns I notice are the following:

  • Nobody talks about the Sprint Goal: Each team member follows their own agenda. Everyone focuses on finishing their Sprint. The Scrum Team may have a Sprint Goal but either doesn’t provide guidance, or nobody cares about it.
  • Answering questions: The mechanical Daily Scrum happens when developers focus on answering standard questions. It’s a kind of status report to the team, but the problem is that nobody listens to it. And after the Daily, everyone follows a different path.
  • No feedback: No one is brave enough to call out the others. The team lives in false harmony. For example, during the first Sprint day, a developer would say, “I’ll finish this task today, and send it for review by the end of the day.” Then on the second and third day, the developer says the same, the task goes unfinished, and nobody calls him out or offers to help.

It shouldn’t be like that. A meaningful Daily Scrum should review issues, and team members should react to address them and increase the odds of reaching the Sprint Goal.

"Scrum is like your mother-in-law, it points out ALL your faults." - Ken Schwaber

Product Owners Can Spoil Everything

Should Product Owners attend the Daily Scrum? I guess many developers would say, “No, please!” Unfortunately, Product Owners often impede the Daily Scrum instead of advancing it.

Although the Daily Scrum is an event for developers, Product Owners can attend it and add value to the collaboration. However, I’ve come across some common problems caused by the Product Owner during the Daily Scrum:

  • The Boss: The meeting doesn’t start until the Product Owner is available. Developers cannot decide what to work on because the Product Owner defines who should do what.
  • Status Report: Developers report what they did yesterday and what they are doing today to the Product Owner. They hope to make the right calls. Otherwise, the Product Owner will call them out.
  • New Requests: The Product Owner makes new requests during the Daily Scrum even though they have no relation to the Sprint Goal.

The Daily Scrum lasts fifteen minutes, but the damage caused by some Product Owners can last months.

Product Owners are part of the Scrum team and not above them. Scrum has no hierarchy; everyone contributes to reaching the same Sprint Goal.

As a Product Owner, I like to be available for the developers. Showing up every day to the Daily Scrum is a way of doing that. Although the Daily Scrum is an event for developers, Product Owners can attend it and add value.

Once Product Owners understand they are part of the Scrum Team, it becomes easier to attend the Daily Scrum to help. In my opinion, during the Daily Scrum, Product Owners should:

  • Listen to the developers mindfully.
  • Help if someone asks for it
  • Avoid influencing the developers’ daily work plan
  • Trust developers
  • Avoid using the Daily to micro-manage the developers

The Successful Daily Scrum

Daily Scrums will suck if they are mechanical. Nobody wants to be in a meeting where they don’t understand its benefit. Yet, I perceive the Daily Scrum as critical to teams’ success, but it needs to be lively and not a meeting that everyone wants to avoid.

A meaningful Daily Scrum will help the team get closer to the Sprint Goal. Instead of exchanging stories about what each team member did, I encourage teams to focus on the Sprint Goal. The exchange is supposed to be dynamic rather than mechanical. Every team member should share what they are doing to get closer to the Sprint Goal and whether they need help with it.

By the end of the Daily Scrum, the team should have clarity on collaborating to get closer to the Sprint Goal. Often, team members have to change their plans to support each other and ensure their efforts contribute to the Sprint Goal rather than individual goals. Asking the right questions is what helps reach the Sprint Goal; Scrum Masters help the team stay on track by asking:

  • How confident are we about reaching the Sprint Goal? If we’re not, what can we do right now to change that?
  • Are your current activities contributing to the Sprint Goal? If not, what would make you work on such activities? Please, raise your hands, and let's solve it as a team.
  • Is any stakeholder trying to squeeze new items into the Sprint? If that's the case, share it with the Product Owner and let them handle it. 
The result of a meaningful Daily Scrum is the confidence to reach the Sprint Goal instead of clarity on what everyone is doing. Scrum teams are self-managing and not micro-managing.

About the author

David Pereira
Product Leader, Content Creator, Speaker

Product Leader with 10+ years of everything. Currently located in Munich, Germany and leading a Product Management team at Virtual Identify My passion is helping product teams overcome their challenges and deliver REAL value faster. Almost every product team is trapped somehow, untrapping them is what drives me.

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