Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Death by Scrum Meeting

My next takeaway from the Agile 2009 conference is a session given by a mentor and coach of mine, Pete Behrens. First let me say that Pete is one of the best Agile coaches I’ve worked with. He’s trained me and even now continues to supply me with a wealth of new ideas and techniques to help me with my current endeavors in the financial industry. Pete shared some of these ideas and techniques at the Agile 2009 conference in his session titled, “Death by Scrum Meeting.”

Many of us can relate to the wasted time and efforts we spend in so many ineffective meetings at our organizations. For those organizations practicing Agile, following lean principles in every sense is the mantra. Therefore we should avoid long, multiple, and unproductive meetings and instead make them lean. If we’re practicing Agile, or specifically Scrum, how do we conduct effective, necessary, lean meetings? Well, below I highlight a few of the tips Pete shared.

The four main elements for keeping your (Scrum) meetings lean and effective:

  • Determine the focus of the meeting. Is it strategic or tactical?
  • Timebox the meeting.
  • Attendees need to be able to visualize what is being discussed by using color, sizes of objects, or calendar/timelines in your meetings.
  • Engage the team/attendees during the meeting by having them participate in it.

How should we timebox all of our (Scrum) meetings?

Pete recommends the following guidelines:

  • Daily Stand-ups: 5-15 minutes
  • Retrospectives: 15-30 minutes
  • Reviews: 30-60 minutes
  • Planning: 60-120 minutes
  • Release Planning: 120-240 minutes

Daily Stand-Ups:

  • They should be collaborative.
  • Team members should care about each other’s tasks, so that there’s vested interest in the outcome of each other’s work.
  • Perhaps try rotating who organizes the stand-ups so there's shared ownership.
  • Use the stand-up as a thermometer on how the team is doing and how they feel about the project and the organization.


Instead of asking the team “what worked”, “what didn’t work”, and “what should we start doing”, try focusing on just two aspects:

  • What went well? (What were the takeaways?)
  • What are the changes or improvements that need to be employed in the next sprint?

By focusing on these two questions at the retrospective you can quickly vote for the top three changes to employ in the next sprint. Also the timeboxing of the retrospective helps to avoid the meeting from just becoming a reoccurring “bitch-session”, or worse, a “bitch-fest.”


Try visually displaying:

  • The team’s commitment compared to what the team actually delivered.
  • Product progress by feature.
  • List specific work done within the current sprint.
  • The focus for the next sprint.

Planning Sessions:

  • Avoid using a software tool to help with planning during the meeting.
  • Try printing out your stories, with their details on a single page, and prioritize them from left to right on the wall.
  • Engage the team to design and break-down the stories via post-it notes or on a whiteboard. Instead of sitting down and talking leisurely about the stories and their requirements, the team is up and actively producing valuable information.

When estimating stories, try leveraging a technique that Pete calls, “affinity-based estimating,” as opposed to planning poker. I call it the “card-wall exercise.” Where we lay out all the outstanding stories on a wall and let the team members sort the stories from easiest to hardest (left to right). Afterwards I assign the story points as columns at the top of the wall and the team will then line up the stories underneath the points accordingly. I have post-its on hand to document any new stories or spikes uncovered during the exercise. This basically helps the team and I to document the conversation. This technique is especially effective when trying to estimate an entire backlog. Trust me; I know from personal experience after trying to get a team to slowly poker plan through each of the 400 outstanding stories over the course of several weeks.

There’s a lot more that was covered during Pete’s “Death by Scrum Meeting” at the Agile 2009 conference. I invite you to take a look at the presentation deck used at the conference (click here). Also to learn how Pete can help your organization’s goals of becoming more lean and agile, check out Trail Ridge Consulting.

1 comment:

  1. It was refreshing to hear Pete mention that Sprint Retrospective meetings should be time boxed to 15-30 minutes. This makes so much sense!! I have participated in many sprint retrospective meetings where teams get stuck spending hours discussing what worked and did not worked well in the sprint. At the end of the meeting, they end up with a long backlog of items that get pushed to the next sprint. It's very important to leverage the retrospective meetings to get teams to focus on the key changes or improvements that will deliver the greatest impact to the team in the next sprint.

    Do you have any tips/practices you can share on how to get teams to complete the meeting in 15 -30 minutes?