Agile Ceremony

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Too Many Meetings: Recognize the Signs

We have received a lot of feedback on our post: Scrum Events – The too many meetings problem. Many people are reaching out to us and provided feedback on the frustration stemming from meetings.  

Meetings in the United States are a big problem.  Nearly 37 billion dollars is wasted annually on unnecessary meetings, and in the Agile community, Scrum meetings are getting the blame.  Our stance is that Scrum is not the issue but rather how companies are their conducting meetings.

Below is a list of the 9 top meeting “smells” to recognize and avoid in meetings:

  • Lack of clearly documented Agenda.
    • If a meeting invite doesn’t have an Agenda, I automatically question the importance of the meeting.  Why should I attend a meeting that the organizer doesn’t think is important enough to generate a clearly defined purpose?

My rule: No Agenda NO Meeting.

  • Lack of definition or goal.  What type of meeting will this be?
    • Status:  Share Information, Provide Status, Give Update.  Participants generally will restrict their participation to questions or clarification about the subject at hand.
    • Advance Thinking: Define and\or analyze a problem, planning session, evaluate options.  Participants are asked to advance the knowledge on a meeting topic.  Decision is not necessarily required.
    • Make Decisions:  Address issues, determine solutions, and bring to closure.  Decision required
    • Obtain Input:  Sponsor is looking for group input.  Decision is not required
    • Retrospective: Strengthen Relationships, Improve Process. Determine what is working? What is not working? What improvements can be implemented?
    • Team Building: Strengthen Relationships, build Mutual Understanding, build community.
    • Skill Development: Training, Increase subject matter knowledge.
  • Lack of defined roles.
    • How do you expect meeting attendees to participate in a meeting?  Are they a subject matter expert (SME), note taker, active participant, observer, or other?  Give those who will be attending the meeting an opportunity to prepare for the meeting based on the Agenda and the Role that they are expected to perform.
  • Scheduling too much time.
    • When a 30 minute conversation blocks off an hour of your day. Did the participants get off topic? Was proper preparation completed in advance before the meeting was scheduled?
  • Meetings that continually go over their time limit.
    • Did you invite the right people? Was proper preparation done? Does the meeting organizer have the necessary facilitation skills?
  • Scheduling meeting to ‘discuss’ when a quick conversation is enough.
    • “Discuss” is never a valid meeting topic.  If you just want to discuss something how about we go to coffee or sit in the break room and have quick chat.
  • Meetings with more than 8 people.
    • Meetings with too many participants can be difficult to manage.  If you are scheduling a meeting with more than 8 people check to make sure the right 8 people are invited.  Ask yourself if the proper pre-meeting preparation has been completed to make the meeting valuable for everyone.
  • Meetings that could be covered in an email or quick conversation.
    • Why waste time with a meeting that could be simply done in an email? If you are not sure, start with an email. Better yet, a quick face to face conversation.
  • Meetings to review previous meeting (rehash)
    • We have all been to meetings that rehash a previous meeting.  Why? Was the first meeting not enough? Did we not send out notes for the meeting? Did new information develop?

Always ask why

Every company has issues with too many meetings.  If you would like to develop skills to help your staff have more productive meetings, check out our Facilitation course.

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Shake Up Your Daily Standup

The Scrum Guide says the following about the Daily Standup:

The Daily Standup or Daily Scrum is a 15-minute time-boxed event for the Development Team to synchronize activities and create a plan for the next 24 hours. The Daily Scrum is held at the same time and place each day to reduce complexity.

During the meeting, the Development Team members explain:

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

The Development Team uses the Daily Scrum to inspect progress toward the Sprint Goal and to inspect how progress is trending toward completing the work in the Sprint Backlog. The Daily Scrum optimizes the probability that the Development Team will meet the Sprint Goal.

Daily Scrums improve communications, eliminate other meetings, identify impediments to development for removal, highlight and promote quick decision-making, and improve the Development Team’s level of knowledge. This is a key inspect and adapt meeting.

Agile Daily Standup-breaking out of the mold

We all the know the importance of the Daily Standup, but how many teams are actually gaining real benefits from the Daily Scrum or Daily Standup?  This ceremony is not meant to be a ‘Status Report’, but in reality that is exactly what this meeting has become.  If you have fallen into the ‘Status Reporting’ trap, then you may want to consider cancelling your Daily Standup all together or making some simple changes to shake it up!

5 suggestions to shake up your Daily Standup:

1. Extend the length of your daily scrum

Yes, you read that correctly.  If a team of 8 people all have to give an update at a 15 minute Standup, that is less than 2 minutes per participant to provide valuable information.  If someone has a question, then forget about finishing in 15 minutes.  Given the time crunch, team members will hesitate to provide all the information needed in order to allow the team to gain the full benefit from the meeting in favor of meeting the 15 minute deadline.  Stretch a little; give the team some extra time to collaborate – isn’t that what it’s all about?

2. Stop answering the three questions

We all know that a team should be limiting the Work in Progress (WIP).  Let’s say your team should be working on only three stories at a time: review each WIP story in-depth.  Allow each person who is contributing to that story to provide their insights.  Address all issues or questions, or put them in the parking lot for ‘Post Standup’.  (See number 3, below.)  Once you have completely discussed the WIP stories, ask if people are working or need to work on other stories.  This should avoid the schizophrenia that occurs with the round robin approach.

3. Create a post standup meeting

As the team is reviewing each story they will have in-depth questions, concerns, and ideas.  Use the time right after the Daily Standup to pair program or swarm around items from the Standup.  I like to keep a white board at hand and I write down  ‘Post-Standup’ items as they come up.  This gives everyone an opportunity to participate, including Developers, Product Owners and Scrum Master. There is no set time-box for Post-Standup-it is all about collaborating and getting stories to completion.

4. Allow the product owner to participate

If the Product Owner (PO) has questions about the story or wants to provide insight – let them.  Why Not? This is the time when the team is trying to make sure they are meeting the objectives of the Product Owner.  If the PO asked a detailed question that will take more that a few minutes, move it to Post-Standup.

5. Have fun

Banter a little! Life is too short to just jump into the heavy details of the Daily Standup or Daily Scrum.  Take a few extra minutes (see #1) to strike up conversations with your teammates.  Use it as an opportunity to do a little team building and get to know each other. Come prepared with an interesting topic and throw it out to the group such as “Name three things that you think will be obsolete in 10 years”. You will be surprised how far a little fun will go!

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