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A Practical Guide to Distributed Scrum: Distributed Daily Scrum Meetings

Chapter Description

This chapter talks about how to answer the three Daily Scrum questions and provides some tested techniques for conducting effective Daily Scrum meetings with distributed teams.

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Practical Guide to Distributed Scrum, A

Practical Guide to Distributed Scrum, A

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Ways of Communicating During the Daily Scrum

Teams can use different ways to communicate during their Daily Scrum meetings, from face-to-face meetings to using an instant messaging tool. Teams need to select the methods that best suit their needs as well as their distribution level.

Face-to-Face Meeting

We recommend face-to-face Daily Scrum meetings for collocated teams. They foster stronger communication between team members, put pressure on team members to deliver on their commitments to their team, and encourage the Scrum Team to self-organize.

When a Scrum Team meets in the same location every day, it creates a routine for the team members as well as accountability for the meeting to start at the scheduled time. Manmohan Singh, a ScrumMaster in IBM, shares the following story about how the Daily Scrum meeting evolved in his Scrum Team:

  • In the early days of our Daily Scrum meetings, I often had to remind team members to come to the meeting. There was lot of inertia in the team because we were transitioning from traditional waterfall to agile. After a few months, the meeting became part of the daily routine of the team because team members found value in the meeting. I believe conducting the Daily Scrum meetings at a fixed time every day instilled the habit of attending the Scrum in the team, and today the team meets daily at the scheduled time in the conference room. When I am absent that day, a senior developer or QA member starts the meeting, takes the Scrum notes, and then communicates the blockers and issues to the entire distributed team. This is a clear signal of my team starting to turn into a self-organizing team.
  • I find the real value of the Daily Scrum meeting is the verbal communication that occurs between team members. Often, when a team member verbally updates the whole team on his tasks, dependencies, and issues, other participants have new information related to the tasks and everyone benefits from this. We also have cases where a team member has a dependency or an issue and someone else on the team immediately has the information on how to address the issue. This is a great way ffor us to unblock the team quickly.

Table 6.1 summarizes the pros and cons of the Face-to-Face Meeting approach.

Table 6.1. Summary of Pros and Cons for the Face-to-Face Meeting Approach

Pros

Cons

  • Highest collaboration level.
  • Richest communication level.
  • No loss of nonverbal communication.
  • Promotes team self-organization.
  • Whole team takes part in each day.
  • Requires a collocated team. A distributed team with several team members in one location can meet face-to-face and use a teleconference call to include others in the Daily Scrum.

Teleconference Meeting

When a face-to-face meeting is not possible for fthe entire Scrum Team, members can use a teleconference to call into the Daily Scrum. This method works well for distributed teams and for collocated part-time teams.

Distributed teams with overlapping work hours should find a time during the overlapping hours to meet every day at the same time and on the same teleconference number for the Daily Scrum. Collocated part-time teams may also find this approach useful as a backup to the face-to-face Daily Scrum. If a collocated team member is out of the office visiting a client site, at a conference, or working from home, he or she can dial into the Daily Scrum. It can be helpful to the Scrum Team to use the same teleconference number each day. This creates a routine for the team and makes it easier for team members to dial into the Daily Scrum. Sirsidynix shows teams can successfully combine the Daily Scrum of a collocated and a remote Scrum Team (Sutherland, Viktorov, Blount, and Puntikov 2007).

Daily Scrums can be harder to facilitate in a teleconference call format than a face-to-face format; the "Tips for Distributed Daily Scrums" section, later in this chapter, provides some additional guidance to help make the meeting run more smoothly.

Table 6.2 shows the pros and cons of this approach.

Table 6.2. Summary of Pros and Cons for the Teleconference Meeting Approach

Pros

Cons

  • Ideal for distributed teams with overlapping hours.
  • Good backup for collocated teams when team members are working remotely.
  • Allows team members to interact directly.
  • Whole team takes part in each day.
  • Team can discuss blockers and remove them immediately.
  • Loss of nonverbal communication.
  • Hard to keep the people on the phone engaged.

Videoconference Meeting

An alternative to a teleconference is to do a videoconference instead. The main advantage of this approach is that team members get to see one another, so there is less nonverbal communication loss. The main challenge of this approach is how to be able to see everyone depending on the number of participants in the Daily Scrum.

This approach needs added hardware as each location joining the videoconference will need a webcam. To be able to conference multiple video streams at the same time, the team may also need extra software. There may be software and bandwidth limitations as well, which could cause problems with the video feed.

The other challenge is when there are multiple participants in one of the video streams—where should the focus of the webcam be? When only focusing on the current speaker, the remote participants will lose any nonverbal reactions of other participants at that location. When focusing on a larger group at a location, it may be difficult to see everyone.

Table 6.3 shows the pros and cons of this approach.

Table 6.3. Summary of Pros and Cons for the Videoconference Approach

Pros

Cons

  • Potentially richer communication experience than a teleconference.
  • Allows team members to interact directly.
  • Can be challenging to see everyone.
  • Needs added hardware and software.
  • Bandwidth or software limitations may affect the video streams.

Group Instant Messaging Approach

Another way to communicate during the Daily Scrum is to use an instant messaging tool with a group chat feature. At a regular time every day, the ScrumMaster invites all team members to a group chat to have them answer the three Daily Scrum questions.

This approach works with collocated or collocated part-time teams as well as distributed teams with overlapping work hours. The benefit is that by creating a transcript of the chat session, the ScrumMaster can send a set of notes to all team members by email or post on a wiki. These notes can help keep track of commitments individuals are making to the team and provide a way for members who are unavoidably absent from a Daily Scrum to review the tasks, commitments, and blockers of the Scrum Team.

Another benefit of using a group instant messaging session is that team members can type as much information as they want in the chat session. The approach allows team members not fluent in the language to prepare their text ahead of time and paste it into the group chat.

Doing the Daily Scrum this way can be chaotic depending on how the ScrumMaster conducts the meeting. There are two ways to approach it:

  • All team members type in their answers to the three questions and post them in the chat whenever they are ready. The ScrumMaster sorts through stuff the answers each member provides and asks clarifying questions. This approach can make the discussions that happen in the chat difficult to follow because other team members may be posting their comments during a discussion.
  • Conduct the chat session like a teleconference and have the ScrumMaster go around each participant in the chat and ask them for their answers to the Daily Scrum questions. When other team members have questions for the current participant, they can ask them right away or can wait until it is their own turn to speak. At the beginning of the meeting, the ScrumMaster should ask the people to queue up their answers to the three questions and wait for their turn before sending it out the team.

When using either of these methods, it is good practice for team members to prepare the answers to the questions five minutes before the Daily Scrum meeting. This allows team members to pay closer attention to what other team members are saying in the chat session.

Using a group instant messaging session to conduct the Daily Scrum also has some challenges. Because team members are not face-to-face in the same location, there is a loss of nonverbal communication as well as subtle verbal cues, such as tone of voice or inflections. It becomes more important for team members to ask for clarifications when there are doubts.

The Daily Scrum works best when it occurs at the same time every day as this helps create a routine the team can get into. One of the traps of the Group Instant Messaging approach is that it can fall solely on the shoulders of the ScrumMaster to launch the group chat session at the chosen time. To work around this problem, the team can name two or three people to serve as initiators for the instant messaging session and to coordinate among themselves to make sure the meeting always starts on time. Before taking part in a group chat, people typically wait for a meeting invitation to arrive before engaging; if it does not appear, they will focus on their work instead and forget about the meeting.

Table 6.4 summarizes the pros and cons of this approach.

Table 6.4. Summary of Pros and Cons for Group Instant Messaging Group Approach

Pros

Cons

  • Whole team takes part in each day.
  • Team can discuss blockers and remove them immediately.
  • A transcript of the chat can easily become a set of notes for the meeting.
  • May be easier for non-language speakers to write their thoughts instead of speaking.
  • The team loses both face-to-face and verbal communication. Unlike teleconference interaction, the Scrum Team cannot hear voice inflections.
  • No guarantee the Scrum Team is paying attention to the chat session.
  • Full accountability for the meeting occurring at the same time every day is fully on the ScrumMaster.
  • Can be chaotic depending on how the team conducts the meeting.
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