Monday, June 15, 2009

Okay, But Where Are We?

Your typical daily standup - in SCRUM or otherwise - consists of each person talking about two things:
  • What did I do?
  • What am I going to do?
  • Anything stopping me?
This is all good stuff. I walk out of there sometimes, though, wondering if we're actually on track. I feel like I have a lot of trees, but I'm not at all clear on the forest.

This kind of overall progress is supposed to be charted on your burndown chart, if you're keeping one. But that doesn't always measure everything. It can only tell you if what you've done so far is on expectations (or behind or ahead). It can't tell you if there's something on the horizon.

I kind of want to add a fourth question to our daily standup:
  • How do you feel about the release overall?
This is a chance for the person to say, "I know I just started this story, but it's looking like it's going to be really hairy", or "Now that I'm into this feature I was scared about, I think it'll actually be pretty straightforward." I think of it as the early warning system for what your burndown chart will tell you in a few days. And the earlier the warning, the more you can do about it.

That extra 15 seconds is worth it to me. So ask what happened and what you're doing, but also look at your place in the overall effort by simply asking  about it explicitly.


  1. I love this idea, but I have two main problems with it:

    * over the course of my (10 years so far) career, I have seen very few employees who have the guts to point out schedule problems before they're obvious, and even fewer bosses who want to hear (despite assurances to the contrary) any such pessimism instead of a "can do" attitude

    * developers' feelings have so little correlation with reality (unless it is a project of trivial size) that their hunches are more or less useless

    On a truly good team, this would be a great addition to stand-up meetings.

    IMHO, though, on most teams it would simply be a test of morale.

    You want it to be more than that? Have the manager/leader leave the room during this portion or, even better, provide an anonymous way to say "I know we promised this to the client and they'll kill us if we don't deliver on time, but ..."

  2. Oh, Joe. I think I'm much more of an idealist than you are! I like to believe that we can create an environment where it's okay to say, "there's a storm a'comin'" (or something slightly less colloquial).

    I'll have to think some more about just how to do this. It's not really as simple as comfy chairs and a warm room... and you're right that people's guts need to be trained before they can be considered reliable indicators. There's probably something to your idea about reducing the audience to a group it's safe to speak in front of.

    That being said, I have worked with people who spoke up in meetings and said, "there's something wrong with X. I haven't put my finger on it yet, but it's shaky", and a week later we've found a major problem with X. So I believe it's possible.

  3. In my current team (teams) we have started doing "long scrums", 30 mins, every monday of the sprint where we look to the horizon and discuss our current course and if we are heading the same way.

    Of course this is much dependant on the team members' "clear sightedness" and if they feel comfortable sharing insights and questioning each other.

    I feel it really helps in avoiding upcomming obstacles. It's like driving, keep your eyes just in front of the car's hood will help you avoid every pothole but you will not see the fast approaching wall further ahead.