How you can improve your (daily scrum) status meetings

I am a big fan of processing status meetings, especially the daily scrum meetings, like this: use a sophisticated timer in combination with a holder or stand to which the timer is attached.

Background, Problem Description & Motivation

I have been working in multiple roles in scrum teams – as developer, as scrum master and as project manager of 3 distributed teams. Also, when it wasn’t called daily scrum but we just had status meetings I kept experience the same behavior of participants and situations. Whenever there is a situation in which multiple people want to equally share information in a limited timeframe you experience the following situations:

  • speakers are talking too long (too much details, show off in front of others, don’t have a feeling for the time, …)
  • the meeting time needs to be extended to get the status of all participants or the meeting must be stopped without having heard everybody
  • the listeners get bored, nervous, think “the speaker is talking too long, now it must be my turn”, side talks increase
  • people question themselves “who is going to say something, should I say something” until finally somebody speaks up “please, come to the end”

All these points can result in having an inefficient meeting in the sense that the information are not that well shared. On top of that personal issues might occur. If the same people are talking too long and keep getting stopped or interrupted tensions between those people can occur. All kinds of consequences are possible, in the worst case that people don’t show up any more in the status meetings.

One easy way to solve this (Simple Solution) is to empower somebody (in a moderator role) to do the time keeper maybe with using a stopwatch, split the time equally and speak up if the speaking time limit for one is reached. In the context of the daily scrum most likely the scrum master will take over this role. Disadvantages are that it puts the moderator/scrum master in the (unpopular) exposed position to monish the colleagues frequently.

Another way (Good Solution) would be to pass an “improved” stopwatch itself from one to the next person then and with a beep all participants in the room know when the talking time for a person is over. By this the time is very tangible and the moderator is less in charge for enforcing the time. When the timer is passed the disadvantage is that there can be interrupts if people say “oh, I don’t need a timer…”. Even though this is already a very good variant to do the status meetings.

My proposal for running a successful status meeting

For me, doing all these different ways of running status meeting (and many more), the use of a sophisticated timer in combination with a holder or stand to which the timer is attached turned out to be the Best Solution. This variant is based on two main aspects:

1. Put the timer in a position where everybody can see it
For instance right on the scrumboard using a holder or on a stand on a table. This setting has the following advantages:

  • the speaker can gesticulate free hand, when using KANBAN or scrum boards move his cards free hand, can make notes on their tasks and most important can peek on the timer to see how much time is left and react
  • all listeners see the time all the time and know that the speaker has still the time and right to speak
  • the timer represents a neutral way in the sense that a “machine” completely and autonomous is in charge for controlling the time (no one has the unpopular role to interrupt)

2. use a sophisticated timer
There are lot of timers out there: egg timers, timer apps on different devices can be found via google „Scrum Daily Timer“, „Daily Scrum Timer“, „Agile Scrum Buddy“, „iStandup“. Since none of them fitted exactly to my needs I wrote myself a free ios app with the following advantages:

  • the timer also works without internet connection. This is important because of two reasons:
    • You don’t have everywhere internet access where you proceed your meetings.
    • If you use your own device you want to turn off internet (e.g. by switching on flight mode) to make sure that no messenger, email… popups show up that interrupt the meeting or show confidential or private information.
  • divides the time by the number of participants to calculate the talking time
  • can add participants during a running daily scrum (divides the remaining scheduled time by the remaining members + 1) since there are always people coming late
  • uses big digits that can be easily recognized even from meters away
  • uses alerts when the talking time is over (visualized by red color, sound played, device vibrates)
  • creates further alerts each minute if the speaker keeps talking
  • can play different sounds, also fun sounds
  • you can use different (non-mother tongue) languages which can be also some kind of fun factor
  • 4inch_2_StartVC_NEXT_es

The status meetings get more efficient and by this more accepted. There are less side talks since the talking time is respected and at the same time taking more time is not that frequent. Even then each regular meeting will get boring from time to time, therefore the fun stuff shouldn’t be underestimated – from time to time using a different sound, like “Horn of a ship” which puts a smile on the people’s faces. Apart from this, some practical tips for the usage of the timer:

  • Sometimes you might question yourself if you use the timer if only e.g. 5 people are doing the daily. My experience is that the same kind of behavior (people getting nervous…) also with such small groups occur. Even worse people think, now that we are only a few people I can talk longer, with all its consequences. Also, not consequently using the timer will always create some irritation in the beginning of the meeting. Questions like, is it useful or over engineered to use the timer with 5 persons, 6 persons and so on should be avoided.
  • On the other hand it is a little bit weird to do a “full” daily scrum if you are only 3 people. Why is the Scrum Master now enforcing this sort of bureaucratic daily?
  • You should start the status meeting when a critical mass is present. By this all members know that you don’t wait for them but try to start (and finish) on time. The timer has the functionality to add people that are joining late. This perfectly fits to the point made in the bullet above, since you might be 4 people when starting but already 30 seconds later 8 people are in the room, since 4 are coming together from another meeting.
  • Changing the sound each week or month is enough. Changing it daily will make the fun part too fast something usual.
  • To get the people showing up on time you could prepare the timer, choosing the new sound, right before the meeting. The people can hear these preparation. This is an additional reminder.
  • If the position of the timer is hard to reach because e.g. yor are having the status meeting in a room standing around a big table, then I would rather pass the timer from one person to another. Participants need to easily reach the timer, otherwise the process flow of the daily is very likely to be interrupted. Avoiding interrupts is more important, than all members seeing the time permanently.

To get some more information/impressions or download the timer, please visit this the Daily Scrum Time Keeper-page.