3 More Questions to Ask During Stand-ups

Most everyone is familiar with the three traditional Scrum questions answered during the daily stand-up as presented in the 2016 Scrum Guide by Sutherland and Schwaber:

  1. What did I do yesterday that helped the Development Team meet the Sprint Goal?
  2. What will I do today to help the Development Team meet the Sprint Goal?
  3. Do I see any impediment that prevents me or the Development Team from meeting the Sprint Goal?

The purpose of the daily stand-up is for the Development Team to review the previous day’s plan and then arrive at a plan for the next 24-hours. In most cases, the Development Team can do this pretty well. The daily stand-up is a straight forward and simple meeting that focuses on the sprint goal but what could be done different to enhance the team’s daily goals and daily commitments, commitments which the Development Team will hold themselves accountable for.

To help focus the Development Team on the day’s planned delivered value, “What will I do today to help the Development Team meet the Sprint Goal?”, it is helpful to expand this into 3 questions before taking about today’s plan:

2.1 What is the customer value you’ll deliver at the end of today?

2.2 Is there something you can show the Product Owner today?

2.3 Is there something you can do to help get the most important story done today?

Now these three questions are not simply the fantasy of the Scrum Master but are arrived at jointly with the Development Team. Each of the above questions have their roots in team retrospectives and, in the beginning, the team wanted the Scrum Master to ask them. It’s very important that the team agree to any enhancements to the daily stand-up. For teams still early in their Agile journey, these questions will probably not seem unreasonable. However, for more mature Agile teams, there definitely needs to be a strong motivation to adopt them. In my particular circumstances, the Scrum Team was very mature and each of these 3 questions addressed a very specific problem the team recognized.

2.1.  What is the customer value you’ll deliver at the end of today?

When the question is asked, the team provides an answer in terms of acceptance criteria/tests that would pass at the end of the day that currently fail.

I started asking this question of the Development Team several years ago when it was brought up during a retrospective that during the daily stand-up, the team was focusing on the technical aspects of the work more than the customer problem they were actually meant to be solving. It wasn’t that the technical stuff wasn’t important, it is, but we wanted the team to keep some focus on what why and who they’re doing the work for. During the retrospective, the Product Owner said he was unclear of the progress of the user story, specifically the progress of the user story from a value perspective. More focus on the acceptance criteria and tests was a natural way to convey progress on value completed. The Product Owner was happy and the Development Team added the acceptance tests results as part of their daily planning.

This question provides an additional opportunity to further communications and collaboration between the Development Team and Product Owner. This is achieved by tying the customer, the acceptance criteria, and the solution together as a daily goal, a measure of value delivered each day.

2.2.  Is there something you can show the Product Owner today?

This question sprang from the Developments Team’s observation that some work was being rejected by the Product Owner, especially user interface work, too late in the sprint to correct it. The problem was the team was waiting until the story was complete before showing it to the Product Owner. This usually resulted in a new user story being written and added for the next sprint.

During the retrospective, the team recognized that some user stories and the intended value were being missed during the sprint because of the delay in showing progress to the Product Owner. The Development Team and Product Owner quickly saw that viewing incremental progress was the answer but the Development Team needed to alter how they broke down the work into tasks to facilitate this. It was breaking down the work differently that was the real challenge for the team as it required some work to be done that would ultimately be thrown away. This was the occasional stub or driver code to get some display components looking ‘right’.

This question provides an excellent opportunity to further collaboration between the Development Team and Product Owner. It serves to help focus on what ‘done’ means for a particular user story and helps reduce rework through a more collaborative approach to solving a problem. It can also make for a better product faster as the Development Team and Product Owner make any adjustments as a story progresses.

2.3.  Is there something you can do to help get the most important story done today?

This question got its start while 4 teams were working the same backlog and it was observed that new stories were being started while higher priority stories were still in progress sometimes with a large number of tasks in ‘To Do’. Although this question came from a Large-Scale Scrum (LeSS) implementation, it scales down nicely to a single team working a single product backlog.

What the Development Team was trying to improve during a retrospective was their ability to swarm until done. When I was developing, I would prefer to work it alone, without outside help whether I could use it or not. The Development Team saw that this mindset tended to slow down getting stuff done and suggested that the question be asked during the stand-up to heighten awareness that getting to ‘done’ was important. The way it eventuated was tasks still in ‘To Do’ for the higher priority stories were picked up. It also helped in identifying tasks that needed further breaking down.

The question provided additional visibility to getting stuff done rather than getting stuff in progress. Getting work done quicker gives the Product Owner maximum flexibility in releasing or A/B testing of new features. Unfortunately, companies sometimes look at 6 developers and wonder out loud why there aren’t 6 stories in progress.

Outcomes

After having the Scrum Master ask the 3 additional questions at the start, the Development Team began using the questions in context to their plan for the day and the questions themselves weren’t asked after a time. These 3 questions helped the team find the deeper meaning to the question, “What will I do today to help the Development Team meet the Sprint Goal?”

Please drop me a line and let me know what you think and your results if you give this a try.

Author: Robert Boyd

I’m a CSP (Certified Scrum Professional), CSM (Certified ScrumMaster), and CSPO (Certified Scrum Product Owner). For 30 years I’ve been streamlining processes and systems. I’ve introduced agile methodologies to software and product management departments, resulting in a 300 percent increase in feature deliveries.

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