Want Better Communication In Your Company? Try Using Scrum

9.08.2016

Communication is important for organizations of any size. It is especially paramount for small start ups where there is no room for inefficiencies. Really, there should be no excuse of why a very small company cannot keep everyone on the same page. 

Atomic Reach is a start up. We have less that 15 employees working within 3 teams sitting around 2 large tables. That's small.

A few months ago we were in a team meeting talking about recent product updates that were launched in the first half of 2016. Our Director of Marketing spoke up saying she had no idea these significant updates were actually made to our platform modules.

This was a wake up call. If our Marketing Director did not know about our product updates than how could she market it?

We decided to find a better way to structure how we communicated what we do and how we can work together.

What is scrum?

Scrum is an innovative framework that encourages better team collaboration for product or software development projects.

Software development is a complex process where an iterative approach is useful for finding the ideal solution. Therefore, it’s imperative to leverage feedback and insights on the fly in order to develop a software that meets the customer requirements. Scrum helps create an iterative feedback loop for software development teams. It accelerates the product development and delivery process.

Used by Fortune 500 companies around the world, Scrum is as a methodology to tackle complex projects and expedite project development, especially in the IT industry.

The invention of Scrum can be attributed to Jeff Sutherland who created this process to improve teamwork, communications, and speed.

Even as Scrum was originally formalized for software development projects, thanks to its simplicity, efficacy and endless possibilities, it is now also being used by many non-IT professionals.

In the previous tech companies our I worked for, Scrum was not just used for software development communication techniques. It was always effective for any type of project for any department, including style of communication, project planning and execution. - Paul VP of Client Success

After doing some research for better alternatives than Scrum, it did not take long to see that Scrum still rules the roost. It was what we needed to adopt...and fast.

What is the Purpose of Scrum?

  1. To share the understanding of goals: Scrum helps team members establish a better understanding of team goals and how to work towards them.
  2. To coordinate efforts: Scrum meetings help team members achieve better coordination and channelize their efforts to attain positive outcomes.
  3. To share problems and improvements: One of the best benefits of Scrum meetings is that it allows team members to share their problems and impediments with others. With the feedback they receive they are then able to refine their approach along the way.
  4. To identify as a team: Scrum helps foster a sense of belonging among the team, enabling them to connect with each other psychologically, and work towards the goals as a team.

What happens during a Scrum Meeting?

Scrum is held through a daily stand-up meeting which is typically scheduled for fifteen minutes, before the start of the day.

Representatives from various departments who are keen on receiving and sharing project status updates attend scrum.

Every scrum meeting must have a scrum master – the one who manages the stand-up meeting, in charge of bringing back the focus when someone goes off-track.

Nobody is allowed to bring laptops except for the scrum master. However, the team follows an Improvement Board – a large and visual tool that allows all participants to view the unresolved obstacles. Problems raised in every meeting are added to this board for detailed discussion by the direct parties involved.

This saves a great deal of time which would otherwise be wasted on conducting multiple meetings and reporting.

One of the key aspects of Scrum meetings is that people who attend are actually responsible for that assigned work item(s). By attending a scrum meeting, you are creating a sense of obligation to other attendees so that you only say things that are relevant to the progress of a task.

Who Speaks?

Each participant is talks about their work item (or user story) they are assigned to. It’s the work items that attend a scrum stand-up meeting, and not the people who represent the work items.

As a rule of thumb, the last to arrive is the first to speak. The sequence is then decided in a round-robin order. To ensure a successful scrum meeting, the team must decide the following:

  • Who speaks first
  • What to talk about
  • What not to talk about
  • How to stop someone when they go off-track

What Do We Talk About?

While in a conventional team meeting, participants tend to get distracted from the actual goals, this kind of meeting follows a more focused format. Typically, these questions are answered:

  • What did I accomplish yesterday?
  • What will I do today?
  • What obstacles are impeding my progress?

Most scrum meetings follow this 3-question format although some rephrase the questions to bring more dynamism to their stand-up meeting. For example, each participant should answer the following questions:

  • What did I do to change the world yesterday?
  • What am I going to do crush it today?
  • How am I going to blast through any obstacles unfortunate enough to be standing in my way?

The bottom-line is that a successful scrum must encourage participants to stay focused on sharing updates to their respective stories, the potential roadblock they’re facing, and how they’re planning to overcome the impediments.

Methods for Success

While conducting a stand-up meeting, successful scrum meetings depend on the following best practices:

  • Don’t bring any laptops or cellphones to scrum. Only the scrum master is allowed to use a laptop.
  • Scrum is a peer-to-peer update. The participants are not reporting to any manager – they are sharing their updates and challenges with their peers.
  • Everyone must stand in a scrum because, after all, it’s a stand-up meeting. Besides, it adds dynamism and purpose to the meeting.
  • A prepared group always starts the scrum on-time; understands the sequence of speakers, and signals when someone goes off-track.
  • Problems raised in the scrum should be added to an Improvement Board, visible to everyone. They should be discussed by the direct parties involved.
  • All scrum members should speak clearly and loudly, intending to engage others.
  • Scrum is held for fifteen minutes. The purpose is staying focused on work items, challenges, updates and progress.
  • The scrum master keeps the meeting focused when it goes off-track and clearly signals when a scrum is over.

Mistakes To Avoid

The success of a scrum depends largely on following the format and sticking to the goals.

Scrum doesn’t work when…

  • Participants present work updates similar to when they’re sharing them to their team leader. Remember, it’s a team-based project. Share your updates/obstacles with the peers only.
  • The scrum master tries run the meeting. Scrum masters only facilitate meetings and bring the focus back when a meeting goes off-track.
  • People are the ones communicating and not their work items. In scrum, you are the work items.
  • People are late to scrum. It doesn’t work because this is only a 15-minute meeting.
  • Communications are replaced with too much socializing or storytelling. Keep your updates/obstacles short and simple.
  • Team members aren’t prepared. When you’re not prepared for the scrum, you have nothing to contribute or gain from the meeting.
  • Energy is low and people feel demotivated. Scrum is supposed to be filled with dynamism and positive energy.
  • Obstacles are not raised. Scrum exists to share and resolve obstacles in a timely manner. If you don’t raise any obstacles, scrum fails to work.
  • Obstacles are not removed. The primary objective of scrum is adding raised obstacles to the Improvement Board and removing when they are resolved.

Where We Are Now

Well it took barely a week to implement the system. Every morning at 9:30 am all team members get together around a table. No one sits or brings electronics.

 

Blog post image - Axosoft

The only laptop to appear is the one that lists all the tasks we’re working on this week/sprint. We use a program called Axosoft to track this.

Within 15 minutes everyone in every department has updated the company on what they finished yesterday, what they’re working on today and if anything is blocking them. This is when we come up with a solution to unblock them.

Anything that we’re individually working on is shared with the whole company. This connects every department to the operations and priorities of the business (ie. the timing of a product release and how this affects the Marketing, Sales and Client Experience communication plans).

Once those 15 minutes are up everyone heads back to execute work and assist others who need help.

Scrum has fixed the way we used to do things, where ideas and to-do’s would slip through the cracks. The 9:30 am check-in is our most important 15 minutes of the day, and creates an environment where we’re all communicating and sharing with each other.

I really like Scrum meetings. It is a levelling mechanism where the introverts (half the company) and the extroverts (the other half) can talk to each other. Everyone is given the same time and respect to share how we contribute as individuals, teams and as a company. -Paul VP of Client Success

The Bottom Line

Daily scrums can make your product development process fast and seamless if done right.

This 15-minute daily stand-up session can do a world of good to your team if these best practices are followed, and obstacles are raised and removed within the expected due date.

What are some of the toughest challenges you have faced at scrum meetings? Share them with us in the comment box below.

 

About the Authors:

Paul is the VP of Client Services and Success at Atomic Reach. He is known to be verbose, but in a good way; the office athlete, and consumer of carbs. He loves getting feedback about the platform and helping users get the best experience possible.

Susanta Sahoo is founder and chief content marketing strategist at Top League Technologies, a digital marketing start-up in Bhubaneswar, India. By offering SEO consulting services, he helps SMB’s build their online presence and boost ROI. Follow him on Twitter:@sushantsahoo

 

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