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Tips for Distributed Daily Scrums

After the team decides on the times that they will meet for the Daily Scrum, they will start attending the Daily Scrums through a teleconference. And, while the general teleconference tips presented in Chapter 2 apply for the Daily Scrum meeting, the team will find there are some special nuances to the Daily Scrum.

The distributed Daily Scrum is unlike the other Scrum meetings in that the Daily Scrum is not a brainstorming, collaborative working session. Instead, it is a brief, intense 15 minutes with members' one-by-one answering questions. Although team members may ask quick questions for clarification, they should handle any in-depth discussion outside the Daily Scrum. This section offers tips to help teams to be more effective with the Daily Scrum.

Removing Side Conversations

Side conversations during the Daily Scrum are a distraction during a co-located Daily Scrum, but they are even more problematic during the distributed Daily Scrum. Side conversations introduce two main problems for the distributed team:

  • Increased distraction. Background noise can be distracting on a teleconference. If the quality of the teleconference or phone lines is already making it difficult to hear everyone, background noise and other voices can make listening even more difficult.
  • Exclusion. If the Scrum Team is a new team just beginning to learn to work together, and if there are issues between team members or new members on the team, background discussions can cause members on the phone to feel excluded.

Side conversations can be problematic where part of the team meets in one room and other members have dialed into the teleconference using separate phone lines, as shown in Figure 6.5.

Figure 6.5

Figure 6.5 Scrum Team with collocated and remote team members

One method to prevent side conversations is to have all members dial into the teleconference. Each person dialed in is immediately in an equal position to everyone else. Everyone is speaking directly into the phone, which can make it easier for everyone on the team to hear the conversation. And, verbal side conversations are less of a problem.

Of course, to promote teaming and to give everyone a chance to speak without disruptions, members of the team and the ScrumMaster should help to end any side conversations quickly.

Keeping the Team Engaged

Distributed team members who have teleconferenced into the Daily Scrum can become detached and distracted by other tasks.

Unfortunately, most of us have heard the clicking in the background as one person types away on an email message while another team member is diligently answering the three questions. Most of us who work as part of a distributed team have ourselves had distractions at one time or another by an email message, an instant message, or some other tasks in the middle of the Daily Scrum. Some of us have also heard the ever-popular excuse of "I was on mute" from a team member called on unexpectedly and scrambling to think of a response.

Because the Daily Scrum is an intense 15 minutes, it is especially important for team members to remain actively engaged during the call. If necessary, close down applications, step away from the machine, turn on a screen saver, or just commit to stay focused.

Possibly the best way to stay engaged and to make sure that others on the team stay engaged is to make the time as valuable as possible for the team. Bill Krebs, a coach with IBM Quality Software Engineering, suggests:

To help your team members to find value in your responses, focus on the three A's of the Scrum meeting:

  • Awareness. Build awareness of what the team is working on.
  • Advertising. Advertise for collaboration.
  • Attack blockers. The team and ScrumMaster should strive to fix all blockers within one hour of the Daily Scrum.

Facilitating the Meeting

Facilitating a Daily Scrum meeting can be more challenging for the ScrumMaster working with a distributed team. On collocated teams, members are able to read body language and use body language to show a speaker they are taking the meeting off track. The distributed ScrumMaster and team members have to rely on other techniques.

As an example, the ScrumMaster with a co-located team starts with the person on his or her left and goes around the room asking for responses to the three questions. In a distributed environment, as individuals come into the call, they will identify who they are. The ScrumMaster then calls each person and asks for their response. They may respond in the order they arrived at the teleconference or the ScrumMaster may choose to call on each person. One team member reported:

  • Early on, we experimented with having the team members go in alphabetical order by name, so the ScrumMaster wouldn't have to call on individuals. We found it to be distracting and much less efficient than just having the ScrumMaster call on people.

Another example is a case where the ScrumMaster is trying to move on from one team member to the next. In a co-located environment, the ScrumMaster can turn his or her body to the next team member when someone is being too verbose or elaborating beyond the responses to the three questions. By teleconference, this technique is not available. Instead, the ScrumMaster is likely to have to interrupt the speaker verbally. Although this would be rude in other cases, verbally interrupting can help the team to more efficiently use the Daily Scrum time.

Using a technique for getting people to focus on just the three questions and to streamline their responses can help to prevent having to interrupt. One technique presented by Bill Krebs of IBM Quality Software Engineering is to focus on the "top two":

  • I like to ask teams to give two headlines of what they did yesterday, two headlines of what they are going to do today, and any blockers. This helps to keep them from getting into too much detail about how they did the work.

Jean-Louis Marecheaux has used a countdown timer to streamline responses:

  • I have used a countdown timer in the past, visually displayed on a web conference like NetMeeting or ST Unyte. It helped speakers keep track of the time left within the allowed time slot.

Taking Daily Scrum Notes

Notes are typically not taken during the Daily Scrum; the team must only log the blockers. However, when working with a distributed team, it can be helpful to have the notes available in a common location. Wikis that allow multiple users to write at the same time can be a good repository for Daily Scrum notes. Regardless of the archiving tool used, it is easier for the team to use a single, common archive.

Having the notes available in a common location allows those not able to attend the Daily Scrum to share their tasks with others and provides them with a way to learn about the tasks of other team members.

Taking notes for the Daily Scrum can also help distributed teams that are dealing with language difficulties. For those who are using their second language on the teleconference, having the text prepared earlier can help them to state their responses. And, it can help others who are using the primary language of the meeting to understand what they are saying.

Daily Scrum notes are especially important for teams working in a regulatory compliance environment (such as the FDA, HIPPA, or others), which one-third of agile teams claim to do (Ambler 2009).

Dealing with Language Barriers

The Daily Scrum is an intense meeting with rapid communication. When a distributed team uses a language that is not the first language of all participants, communication becomes more difficult. Although one-on-one meetings and interactive meetings provide opportunities for those members using their second language to ask questions, translation on the Daily Scrum call can create significant delays.

There are two ways teams can use to deal with language barriers:

  • Use a chat session. The person who is having difficulty can ping one of the team members who is not speaking to get clarification.
  • Set a longer time-box for the Daily Scrum. Scrum is about the team working together effectively. If the team is consistently unable to complete the Daily Scrum in 15 minutes because of language issues, set a time-box that works for the team and stick to it. This is not an excuse to poorly manage the Daily Scrum, but instead is a way of handling a language barrier. Matt Ganis shared the following story:
  • One of our Scrum Teams had a daily 15-minute Scrum scheduled between team members in India and the U.S. We quickly found that 15 minutes was not enough time to resolve issues or come to a common understanding on what we were discussing. We decided that since the Daily Scrum was the one time the team was sure to talk during the day (because of time zone issues) that it would make sense to expand the duration to 45–60 minutes. The first part of the meeting, we did a traditional standup meeting, followed by a more detailed discussion of issues and plans to address the "blockers."
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