Standups – Do the three questions work?

Most teams that have adopted Scrum   have established a pattern for running their stand up meetings.  The traditional standup consists of asking each team member three questions.

  1. What did you do yesterday?
  2. What will you do today?
  3. Is there anything blocking you?

These are reasonable questions and can provide insight into a team member’s activity.  HOWEVER…… the danger of these three questions is that it assumes that all team members understand the goals and are executing to the correct priorities.    After working with dozens of teams, the biggest problem I observed was team members reporting status via the three questions that did not reflect proper priorities.  Furthermore, neither the team nor the scrum master corrected this individual.  They would go off frustrated but were reluctant to reset priorities in the standup meeting.

My running joke about how people respond to the three questions is:

  1. What did you do yesterday? – I saw a Unicorn
  2. What will you do today? – Wash my car
  3. Is there anything blocking you? – No

This is obviously an exaggeration, but I have seen equally irrelevant answers given to these questions without a reaction from the team.  I remember a senior manager visiting a stand up for the first time and asking “How do you know when the a story wiill be done?” and the answer was “we don’t really know”.

One of the many benefits of Kanban was replacing the three questions with a review of the Kanban board and focus on identifying when a story will move to the next column.  The standup becomes work-centric not person-centric.  The active stories drive the standup.

People

If you are practicing scrum, I would recommend refocusing the stand up on the work and not the individuals.  The questions should be

  1. Confirming who has ownership for a story and progress made.
  2. Find out when they expect it to be done, not just what they are doing today.
  3. Is there anything blocking them that may require assistance from the scrum master or management.

It is also useful to review sprint goals on a regular basis and assess progress towards those goals.  This reminds the team of what is important during that sprint.

One other point of contention is how much time is allowed for team discussion during the stand up.  Teams that are a mix of onshore and offshore staff, this may be the only time of the day that they can exchange information.  Most successful teams allow time at the end of the standup for questions, or they split off individual discussion.  Try to time-box an individual’s report out to 1 or 2 minutes, and be prepared to take further discussion offline.

Doug Morrison

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