Best Practices for Running Productive Agile Scrum Meetings

If you’ve ever attended a sprint planning session that was hijacked by a teammate with an alpha personality, or a daily stand-up that got lost in the weeds, you know that even with Scrum, things can go terribly wrong.

With Agile adoption growing within organizations, running an effective and efficient meeting is critical to ongoing project (and career) success. Two Agile coaches reveal their secrets to running a successful meeting—and some mistakes you definitely want to avoid: 

Have a Clear Purpose

Even short meetings (such as daily stand-ups or sprint reviews/retrospectives) can go off the proverbial rails when they lack a clear purpose or objective, warned certified Scrum trainer and Agile coach Mitch Lacey, author of “The Scrum Field Guide: Agile Advice for Your First Year and Beyond.”

“The key is to understand why you are having the meeting,” Lacey explained. The facilitator should state the intent and purpose of the meeting at the outset, and structure the agenda accordingly.

For instance, since the goal of a standup is to plan for the next 24 hours, not to review yesterday’s work, he recommends that facilitators focus daily Scrum questions around progress rather than tasks. For example:

  • What have you accomplished since the last meeting?
  • What do you plan to accomplish by the next meeting?
  • What could get in your way?

“I like to close each meeting by asking a fourth question,” Lacey said. “’On a scale from one to 10, how confident are you in your ability to achieve the goal of the sprint?’”

Posing this “litmus test” question can galvanize the team around its goals and draw out individuals who seem reluctant to voice issues or concerns, he added. If obstacles are not brought up in a timely manner, the Scrum Master can’t help remove them.

Don’t Get Lost in the Weeds

To keep meetings fast-paced and succinct, get rid of the chairs, advised Martin Wickman, an Agile coach focused on development and author of “Running Effective Scrum Meetings: Boost Your Team’s Productivity with Agile Retrospective Meetings.”

“Ask the team to come up with ground rules, such as cell phones and laptops must be powered off, team members need to arrive on time and not interrupt the speaker,” Wickman added. To build trust and self-reliance, the Scrum Master should then ask the team’s permission to point out the guidelines if violations occur.

He also recommends creating a “parking lot” on a whiteboard, where the facilitator can post unrelated topics or issues that require further analysis. Use sidebars for more detailed discussions of complex problems, such as product backlog issues.

To prevent anchoring bias in decision-making during sprint planning sessions, facilitators need to coach dominating team members to step back and be more inclusive. Or they should make an effort to call on more timid contributors first, in order to keep rock star developers from pushing their ideas at the expense of others.

“Don’t fall into the trap of relying on one or two key contributors,” Wickman said. “Encourage team members to take the initiative and volunteer for assignments and tasks during meetings.”

Mistakes to Avoid

Conducting meetings via phone or e-mail: Create “esprit de corps” and encourage self-reliance by meeting in-person (or via video conference for distributed teams).

Taking formal notes: Don’t waste time taking notes or implementing a complicated collaboration tool. Remember, the Agile Manifesto emphasizes people and interactions over processes and tools. Jot down ideas on sticky notes and keep moving.

Letting meetings get stale: To keep sprint retrospectives from becoming dull and routine, analyze the data after a sprint and let the team select one or two important issues to discuss and improve.

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