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Five tips for making a scrum meeting sing

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Project professionals seeking to make a project faster and more efficient may be tempted to try scrum – a methodology that uses continuous iteration to get the most out of a design and build process.

In scrum, a small team breaks the process down into a series of sprints. Each sprint has a specific incremental goal, to ship a minimum viable product. Daily meetings chart progress towards that goal, with time then dedicated to reflection before the cycle repeats with the next sprint.

Scrum is collaborative, fast and flexible, and the results can be compelling. With products shipping sooner and feedback coming faster, those who use it well often experience greater productivity and efficiency.

But scrum is often misunderstood, and leaders can easily end up derailing progress by falling into familiar top-down ‘waterfall’ habits.

These five tips will help your scrum meetings to soar, rather than stumble…

1. Know what the meeting is for

There are several types of scrum meeting, from sprint planning to sprint retrospectives, and sprint reviews involving other stakeholders. So it’s critical to know where you are in the scrum process and what the meeting is meant to achieve.

The daily sprint, for example, is a frank 15-minute stand-up meeting to assess progress towards the sprint goal; adapt the sprint backlog (task list) accordingly; and adjust the plan for the next 24 hours. That’s all.

Those in charge of scrum need to keep that focus on the stated goal. This is what builds a sense of commitment among team members.

“It’s all about collaboration,” says Helen Garcia, scrum master and founder of Maykit Projects. “Every single piece of work someone does is for the team and for the product.”

2. Eradicate old ‘waterfall’ habits

Traditional top-down and linear techniques don’t work in scrum, which hinges on self-organisation. There’s no room for a project manager telling the team how to do things, for example, while a waterfall process tends to involve not moving on from a certain step in the process until it’s signed off.

As such, managers often end up bending the concept of scrum to accommodate old habits.

“I often see teams using a hybrid approach, incorporating a sprint dedicated to a single task, such as design,” says Garcia. “But a design sprint just involves doing a whole bunch of design in two weeks, and doesn’t get to the critical point of scrum – of having a potentially releasable product at the end of every sprint.”

3. Empower the team to find solutions

One of the great strengths of scrum is that the people doing the work are the ones dictating how it’s done.

If a problem needs a solution, the leader’s role is to coach the team towards it.

“Bring it out in them,” says Garcia. “Ask what they think they can do to resolve the issue. The very last resort would be to guide them in a better direction, and help shape who does what within that. But that’s something they should be coming up with themselves.”

4. Know how much the team can handle

As scrum is all about delivering these short sprints, it’s crucial to understand how much progress your team can make in each one – otherwise meetings will begin to sour as goals are missed, corners are cut and tasks spill over into future sprints.

“If you delivered five things at the end of the sprint, but had committed to 10, what value are those other five items bringing to the business?” asks Garcia. “None, because they’re not finished. If a client comes in stressing that a new task is super urgent, you have to decide which one thing you would want delivered if the world was ending. Otherwise you end up working crazy hours, and may not deliver what anyone wants.”

5. Focus on delivery, not process

Both Gray and Garcia relate the process of improvement in scrum to Shu-ha-ri, a martial arts concept that breaks mastery into three distinct phases. Given Gray’s previous advice, anyone seeking to truly master scrum can expect to face an apparent paradox.

“A practice is only effective when you are focusing 100 per cent on the value delivered,” writes Gray, citing Shu-ha-ri principles, “and not expending any thought or effort on the how.”

The good thing about scrum is that each new sprint provides room for reflective, iterative improvement on that journey too.

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