A Daily Scrum can be Strategic!

I’ve spent a good portion of the past 11 years as a product coach, working to introduce scalable agile techniques to hundreds of product engineering teams.  My work has brought me around the globe in pursuit of helping enterprise teams accelerate product development, doing so in a manor which helps increase individual performance and promote healthy interactions.

In my travels, I’ve met some amazingly talented and creative product teams, and as you might imagine, my sessions with these bright contributors are often filled with insightful interactions and meaningful exchanges.  More often than not, I feel as though I’ve left with more gained than I’ve imparted.  There could be no better reward for a coach and just recently, I had one of those sessions.  However, this was not the typical session.  There was no classroom, the instructors were not product people; and this time, I was the student.

Etched at the top of my notepad that day was:  “Daily Scrum can be Strategic!“.  I’ve been practicing Agile since the signing of the Manifesto, so one would think that by now I would have already learned the values of a Scrum!  Believe me, I was just as surprised.  Equally surprising if not shocking was the fact that I learned it not from an engineer, not from a product owner, or even someone in the product world at all.  I learned an very valuable lesson on Scrum from an athlete.

Sitting in an airport lounge having been delayed for several hours, I struck up a conversation with two gents who were scheduled to depart on the same flight.  Both traveling towards the States and both interested in why I was connecting my Mac to a banana and orange.  Having explained Makey Makey as if I were talking to two electrical engineers, they stopped me and said “… we have no idea what you are talking about, but controlling donkey kong with fruit is awesome!“.  I quickly turned the conversation back over to them.  I asked them where home was and whether or not travel was for business or pleasure.  They both said that they were more into sports than computers (I had my suspicions).  I asked them what sport and one of them quickly replied rugby.  As it turns out, both were on the USA Rugby Team, traveling back from the Sevens tournament.

The Outrigger on the Lagoon – Fiji So Close in the Coral Coast Sevens!

Half jokingly, I then said: you know, we have something in common.  “… You play rugby?” one of them inquired?”.  Hah.  No, I replied.  I told them that although I don’t play the sport, I have studied rugby as one part of the game often makes it’s way into my work as a product coach. I then went on to describe Agile Scrum and the typical activities that occur within a daily Scrum.  One of them piped up and said, “..but it seems you have part of it wrong!“.  Oh?  Thinking to myself, how could I have it wrong?  I then asked:  Which part?

They both went back and forth for a few moments describing what takes place within a Rugby Scrum and in essence what they described was the fact that not all of the moving parts and team interactions within a Scrum are meant to be tactical in nature.  What they described was that the actions and techniques, which formed the basis of a play were more strategic than tactical in nature – in fact far more strategic than they appear in real-time on the field.  Both emphasized that the goal wasn’t just about moving the ball forward.  It wasn’t always about “this play“, or “this portion of the field“, or “what the current scoreboard reflected“.  Sometimes the situation called for more strategic thinking.  The kind of big picture thinking that wins games and not just plays or position.

WOW!  I was speechless.  For two guys who struggled to understand microcontrollers and simple circuitry, they certainly had a way of connecting the dots with Agile!  For years I’ve struggled with how to keep teams thinking big picture, while driving ceremonies centered around small parts of a larger whole.  Is it possible that through airport conversation, I inadvertently found a solution?  While boarding the plane, I couldn’t help but smile.  Who better to teach me the true value of a Scrum than members a Rugby team!

Do you struggle with keeping your team focussed the big picture, while working continuously in “the now”?  If so, have you changed or altered your ceremonies in a manor which stimulates strategic thinking?  One idea that Nick and I have been discussing, is to possibly add a fourth question to your daily Scrum.  So in addition to the typical three, how about adding #4 to the list:

  1. What did you do yesterday?
  2. What will you do today?
  3. Are there any impediments in your way?
  4. What strategic things are you thinking about / working on?

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