Injecting advanced questions

One of the great problems with Scrum is that the ceremonies become repetitive. The ScrumMaster runs all meetings using the same agenda, and small omissions never get rectified. This means that even with the best intentions, after six months or a year, you may be routinely missing out on something.

For example, the daily standup can become a repetitive meeting where you just rehash the three basic questions. People think that the daily standup is just a reporting meeting, and forget the opportunities to improve flow and reduce risks.

Photo "Scrum standup seriousness" by vishpool

One way that an external coach can help is by injecting advanced questions. Coaches by definition are process experts, but can be excused for not having local domain knowledge. This means that it’s easy for us to ask those “stupid” questions that employees don’t feel inclined to ask.

In the daily standup, for example, a coach can ask questions like:

  • Are you going to make it this sprint?

  • Which story can you get done tomorrow?

  • Are you doing any work that is not in the sprint backlog?

  • What’s your major technical challenge just now? And next week?

  • Do you have here all the information you need to make good decisions?

  • Is somebody unhappy with the plan for today?

While you can of course draw up a pre-defined list of questions to inject, the best questions tend to arise from observations. Look at how the team is doing, try to understand where the team is lacking and come up with a question that highlights this problem. If possible, try to focus on items and events rather than people and decisions. It can also be good to state the observation that led to the question.

Pose the question immediately if it makes sense to do it. Otherwise jot it down and bring it up later, for example at the end of the meeting or in the retrospective.

Advanced questions like these help the team and the ScrumMaster get out of the rut and make better use of the ceremonies. Try it out in the next meeting — better ask and find problems than stay silent and not find them!

Photo “Scrum standup seriousness” by vishpool – http://flic.kr/p/7kFP2S