Ditch “The Three Questions” And Adopt The Agile Mindset Already
Scrum teams that have been using Scrum for a while are most likely settling into the new framework. The chaos and dust from the change has settled and things are normalizing a bit. However, each team has their own unique way of doing things and, from the outside, managers may be holding onto their “command and control” mindset. Shouldn’t a process, like the daily scrum, be repeatable and look the same for all teams? Perhaps their mentality is that Scrum is a “methodology” and it should be strictly adhered to vs. a light weight framework in the “Agile toolbox?” Maybe they’re too focused on accountability of individuals vs. team autonomy? Whatever the cause, the Agile mindset just hasn’t quite set in yet. With a little bit of coaching, they’ll get there. Exercise patience.
One thing I’ve observed from leaders who haven’t quite fully adopted the Agile mindset yet is their insistence on strict adherence to “The Three Questions” during the daily scrum. There exists a feeling that “Vanilla Scrum” is the best way to do Scrum (There’s no such things as ‘Vanilla Scrum’ by the way). There’s a perception that the best way to do Scrum is to make everyone answer the three questions:
- “What did you do yesterday?”
- “What will you do today?”
- “Do you have any impediments?”
While I agree that the scrum guide can be prescriptive at times, the three questions listed above are not, in fact, mandatory. Seriously, read the section on the Daily Scrum and then come back.
Welcome back. So now that everyone’s educated, let’s talk about creativity. There’s a lot of room for creativity from each team and every individual. The Scrum Guide tells us “What we should do,” however, each team is left to figure out “How best to do it.” The format of the daily scrum is no different and there’s a lot of room for creative and constructive discussion questions. Strict adherence to the three questions can become an impediment to communication.
When speaking to your leaders, it’s usually not a good idea to open the scrum guide and show them where they’re wrong. It’s not very tactful and you miss a great opportunity to make the conversation a teachable moment.
When discussing this with leaders, start by asking some simple questions. I usually start with, “what does ‘vanilla scrum’ look like to you?” Their answer will likely reveal one of two things.
- Focus on the process; or
- Focus on individual accountability.
It makes sense, doesn’t it? As a manager, their ability to reliably deliver products, services, or projects is a reflection on their ability to lead their unit. Managers are accountable to stakeholders, customers, and their bosses. Yes, managers have bosses too. It’s pretty simple when we put ourselves in their shoes and I think we can empathize with their position. It can be a great deal of stress. Management isn’t for the weak of heart.
Yes, managers have bosses too.
Creativity Over Strict Processes
Command and control via processes can be effective. Set up a process. Follow the process. Repeat. But at what cost? I’d argue at the cost of creativity. I’d argue at the cost of low employee engagement. I’d argue complete and utter mediocrity. Of course I’m not advocating for zero processes either. That would be irresponsible. The people and process dependency is a balancing act, but let’s not rehash that discussion.
My recommendation would be to challenge the manager’s perspective about creativity and engagement. They may say they value it, but their actions may speak differently. Perhaps they view the daily scrum as a status report? That’s an anti-pattern you don’t want to have. Trust me. Been there. Done that. Got the t-shirt.
Scrum shouldn’t be “standardized across all teams.” If the pain point of the organization is variable quality and unreliable delivery, Scrum won’t fix that for you. But if you allow creativity to happen, then your employees will become engaged. And engaged employees who are empowered can move mountains. They’ll fix things on their own because at the end of the day, everyone wants to go home at five thirty, have a beer and spend quality time with their family. It’s the mindset, not the framework that we should strive for. Intrinsic motivation, not another carrot.
Responsibility Over Individual Accountability
I’m not advocating for zero accountability. Again, that would be irresponsible. But, the need to hold people accountable for their actions is another “command and control-ism” and it makes people fearful for their jobs. As a result, it stifles creativity and people will do just enough to stay of the RADAR and out of trouble. This is a much tougher problem to address because a manager focused on “holding people accountable” likely suffers the same from their own management. We can all empathize with our managers on this. Just like us, they’re subject to the same influences of organizational culture. As a coach, you must be courageous enough to address this with everyone in the organization, especially when another witch hunt is just around the corner. Are we trying to figure out who put crappy code into production? Or are we trying to figure out how crappy code got into production? You see the difference? The first question is about assigning blame. The second question is about addressing a problem. Stop with the witch hunts. People make mistakes. It’s a part of doing business.
My recommendation would be to re-frame the conversation around responsibility. Accountability is for Product Owners who must own the success or failure of a project. They are the single wring-able neck. However, responsibility can be shared and is something reserved for teams who share the responsibility of managing risk, keeping on schedule, staying within scope, and producing quality work. Product Owners are accountable for the overall performance of the project and guiding the team with a product road map. The Product Owner provides the what. The Team provides the how.
Stopping the flow of communication so they neatly fit the mold of the three questions can introduce risks into the project. It jeopardizes the quadruple constraint (Scope, Schedule, Cost, and Quality). So let your team discuss the sprint goal. Let your teams talk about the future beyond the next 24 hours. Let them self-organize in a way that’s most comfortable for them. They’re responsible for delivery — have the courage to step back so they deliver.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on the daily scrum or the anti-patterns you’ve recently spotted. If you’d like to have a discussion, leave a comment below or contact me. Feel free to connect with me on social media as well!
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Scrum Anti-Pattern: Daily Stand-Up As A Status Report
The People and Process Balancing Act