Keeping Daily Scrums short

This article is part of my online newsletter called the Scrum Addendum. If you enjoyed this article you should signup for the complete series.

Many teams have difficulty keeping their daily Scrum meetings short and concise. Today I’d like to discuss the Native American tradition of using a talking stick, and how this ancient tradition can be used to keep your daily Scrum meetings focused and relevant.

When introducing Agile/Scrum practices to a new team, it’s common for the team to have very chaotic or drawn out meetings. Often the daily scrum will degenerate into a long conversation over topics that are of little interest to the team.

Long daily meetings are insidious for Agile teams. If the team spends more than 15 minutes in a daily meeting, they are more likely to stop having them. It’s important, therefore, to keep the meetings short and to the point.

The Talking Stick

“The Talking Stick is passed from person to person as they speak and only the person holding the stick is allowed to talk during that time period.” – First Nations Traditions

Indigenous peoples have been running well-organized tribal meetings for thousands of years. One of the methods they developed involves a token often called a talking stick. Traditional talking sticks are decorated with carvings, feathers or other items of significance. The use of the talking stick is very simple: only the person holding the talking stick is allowed to speak. When he or she is done, it’s passed to the next person.

Whenever I start a scrum team, I use this simple idea to help the team focus on what is important. In addition to the three Scrum questions each team member must address (What did you do yesterday? What are you going to do today? Do you have any impediments?), I also introduce the concept of a talking stick, or team mascot. The team’s talking stick can be something as simple as a ball, and it provides the team with two benefits:

  • It allows each team member the opportunity to complete what they have to say without being interrupted.
  • It forces other team members to listen to what’s being said.

So, if you’re finding your daily Scrum meetings are taking too long or meander without much focus, you may want to introduce your team to the concept of a talking stick.

Next week, I’ll share some ideas on the common patterns I see with Sprint burn down Graph signatures.

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