What is a scrum meeting (and how can it improve my project outcomes)?
The different types of scrum meetings and when to use them
Who benefits from scrum meetings?
4 tips to help you streamline your scrum meetings
Ongoing communication is a defining characteristic of the scrum methodology.
Project managers, team members and stakeholders share updates through various channels, but none are more regimented than the daily scrum meeting.
Scrum meetings are much more than in-person catch-ups. In this article, you’ll learn how they contribute to team motivation, versatility and better project outcomes. We’ll also explore the different types of scrum meetings and when to use them, and provide best-practice tips to help you achieve more in less time.
What is a scrum meeting (and how can it improve my project outcomes)?
Scrum is an agile project management framework you can use in some circumstances to achieve your objectives faster. It involves breaking large projects into smaller pieces to complete in short timeframes called sprints.
“Scrum meeting” is a catch-all term to describe the various meetings scrum teams use to achieve goals and stay on track, such as sprint planning meetings, sprint review meetings and daily standup meetings.
While many people associate the scrum framework and scrum meetings with software development teams, the concepts can help project managers in all fields. This kind of periodic communication:
Helps the team uncover and address obstacles before it spends too long on an unproductive path
Provides regular reflection opportunities so the team can learn from successes and mistakes and refine its approach in real time
Reminds team members who typically focus on their own task lists of wider project objectives, maintaining motivation and a sense of purpose
For example, during a sprint review meeting (the purpose of which is to reflect on the previous sprint), a team member could highlight a bug they’ve found in their project management software that stops mobile users from receiving notifications. By discussing this early, the project manager has a chance to investigate the bug and mitigate the risk of tasks going unseen during the next sprint.
Sprint planning meetings and daily standups also allow the project manager to explain their reasons for scheduling work. Say they receive feedback from a stakeholder in the middle of a sprint and decide to bring three tasks forward with little notice. Providing context in the daily scrum meeting helps the affected team members understand why the changes are happening.
Another characteristic unique to scrum project management is the involvement of a scrum master. A scrum master is a professional who leads the team throughout the project alongside the project manager, ensuring all parties adhere to the scrum framework (e.g. working in consistent sprints and conducting the appropriate scrum meetings).
A scrum master can be the project manager and a project manager can be a scrum master, but in many cases, they are two different roles with different goals. The scrum master often acts as a coach, with a focus on the team and delivering a high-quality product.
The project manager is typically involved at a higher level, dealing with upper management and project scope. They may be responsible for other duties, such as stakeholder involvement and budget management.
The different types of scrum meetings and when to use them
Although they’re all part of the same agile framework, each scrum meeting type has a unique function. Knowing how the different formats work will help you utilize them at the right moments and maximize their effectiveness.
Daily scrum meeting (or daily standup meeting)
The daily scrum meeting is what most people picture when they hear of scrum project management. It’s a short daily meeting that allows team members to raise project-related concerns, deliver progress updates and plan out their collective work for the day.
Most agile teams hold their daily scrum meetings in the morning to set the tone for the rest of the day. It means anything raised is fresh in the mind as everyone gets to work. The sessions are typically 10–15 minutes and, as many teams stay standing throughout to maintain focus, are sometimes called “standup meetings” or “standups”.
When to use a daily scrum meeting: Set 10–15 minutes aside at the start of every workday to run through your meeting agenda. Keep the topics consistent so team members know what to expect and can prepare accordingly. Otherwise, you risk the sessions eating into productivity.
Sprint planning meeting
Like other agile project management methodologies (e.g. kanban, lean and extreme programming, or XP), scrum uses sprints to optimize team productivity.
The Atlassian illustration below shows a software development project using an agile framework. Instead of a single main outcome at the end, there are multiple smaller deliverables, each built in short sprints.
In scrum, each of these sprints begins with a sprint planning meeting, where the team determines how long the sprint will be and which items on the agenda to prioritize.
A typical sprint planning meeting has three key elements:
What. The project manager describes the sprint’s goals and explains which backlog items contribute to the desired outcome.
How. The scrum team determines what tasks they’ll work through to meet the sprint objective. They agree on details with the project manager and product owner (a person responsible for maximizing the value of a project’s final deliverable).
Who. The team leader and scrum team determine individual responsibilities, so everyone leaves the meeting knowing what’s required of them.
When to use a sprint planning meeting: Hold sprint planning meetings on the first day of every new sprint, and take two hours for every week of sprint time (e.g. for a two-week sprint, set aside four hours for planning). According to the Scrum Guide, written by the methodology’s originators Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland, your sprints should be no longer than one month.
Sprint review meeting
Sprint review meetings take place at the end of each sprint. They allow the project manager and scrum team to demonstrate their latest accomplishments to the product owner and other stakeholders. For example, an accomplishment in a software development project could be a new app feature.
The feedback team members gather during sprint review meetings may require them to revise existing work or adjust their priorities for the following sprint. Either way, it helps to keep everyone on the right track.
When to use a sprint review meeting: Hold sprint review meetings as close to the end of each sprint as possible. With recent work still fresh in their mind, team members can enthusiastically demonstrate their accomplishments, confidently answer stakeholder questions and gather the information they need to start planning the next sprint.
Sprint retrospective meeting
Sprint retrospective meetings also occur at the end of each sprint. They’re a chance for the scrum team to reflect on the last sprint’s successes and challenges without involvement from the product owner or other stakeholders.
During a retrospective meeting (typically lasting one to two hours), team members will aim to answer three key questions:
What went well with this sprint?
What went wrong with this sprint?
What could we do differently in the next sprint to achieve a better outcome?
Answering these questions regularly allows the team to keep improving throughout each project.
When to use a sprint retrospective meeting: Hold the sprint retrospective meeting after your sprint review and before your next sprint planning session. This way, you’ll be able to answer the three key questions above with stakeholder feedback in mind and pre-empt any challenges that could affect the next sprint.
Scrum’s flexibility and ongoing communication make it useful for projects in which the final deliverables aren’t clearly defined. Short sprints and regular reporting also allow stakeholders to be more involved in the process: the feedback they provide in review meetings immediately impacts the scrum team’s work.
Every scrum meeting should benefit one or more parties involved in the project. Team members, managers and stakeholders may take something different from each session, but the aim is always to keep project work running smoothly and in line with broader business objectives.
Here’s how each party uses and benefits from scrum meetings:
Project managers generally book the scrum meetings, meaning they choose the time and set the agenda. Structured sessions allow them to:
Track project progress. Speaking regularly with team members allows the project manager to measure progress against the schedule agreed upon during the project’s planning phase. They can update stakeholders to manage expectations if the initiative doesn’t advance as expected.
Refine their project strategy. Discussing successes and failures throughout the project (as opposed to just at the end, as you would with a waterfall project management approach) helps the project manager steer their team in the most productive direction. They can repeat winning patterns and adjust their strategy to account for unexpected challenges.
Hold team members accountable. Organized check-ins allow project managers to see that all team members are fulfilling their responsibilities. Suppose one team member falls behind or performs poorly. In that case, the manager can address the issue before it impacts a deliverable by reallocating work, motivating the team member or requesting additional resources.
Scrum meetings help team members tie their responsibilities to broader project objectives and business outcomes, and research tells us that context contributes to better project results.
In Asana’s 2021 Anatomy of Work Index Survey, less than half of workers understood how their day-to-day tasks contributed to organizational goals, yet “uncertainty over priorities” was found in 2022 to be the third-biggest cause of missed project deadlines.
With scrum meetings allowing regular communication with project managers and stakeholders, team members can see how their tasks impact others. They can then make decisions based on what provides the most value to the team.
For example, if a daily standup meeting uncovers a productivity bottleneck linked to one task, the individual responsible for that task could reorganize their day’s to-do list to improve the whole team’s productivity.
Stakeholders (including clients)
Sprint review meetings ensure stakeholders maintain regular contact with the project manager and team. Stakeholders can directly influence a project’s direction by providing actionable feedback between each sprint.
As a result, the project’s main deliverable is much more likely to meet stakeholder expectations and the project manager can get their work signed off sooner.
For example, as part of a web design project, the scrum team might dedicate a sprint to planning the site’s structure. In a sprint review meeting, the client reveals they’re in talks to sell one part of the business and that this section of the website should be created last, if at all. The project manager takes this information into the next sprint planning meeting, where it influences the team’s priorities.
Scrum has its critics, with some professionals arguing that such regimented meetings disrupt day-to-day work more than they help productivity.
Misguided or poorly organized meetings can be counterproductive, but that’s true in any working scenario.
If you’re organized and build your scrum meeting agendas around value, your team should find it easier to stay aligned with one another and you’ll achieve your desired outcomes faster.
With that in mind, here are four tips to help you get scrum meetings right the first time.
1. Set team member expectations early
Overcome any team member’s apprehensions by being fully transparent.
Right at the start, explain why you believe scrum is the most suitable framework for your project and provide a full meeting schedule, so team members can plan their time around it.
Take questions and suggestions from your team, too. This will allow you to address concerns before they become reasons for poor performance.
For example, a team member might ask if they can join some scrum meetings from home. By confirming this is possible and that the project will fit with their other commitments, you increase motivation before work starts.
2. Organize your meetings with a question-based agenda
The easiest way to stop your daily standups from becoming informal morning chat sessions is to build and follow a repeatable agenda.
Seeing as the purpose of any scrum meeting is to obtain information, it’s sensible to build that agenda around questions. Effective questions to ask in a daily scrum meeting include:
What did you achieve yesterday?
What’s on your to-do list for today?
How long will your tasks take, and do you have enough time?
Is anything (or has anything been) hindering your productivity? (maintain positivity by framing answers to this question as “impediments” rather than “productivity blockers”)
When you use the same carefully chosen questions in every meeting, scrum team members can arrive equipped with the right information. That means you consistently get what you need and that everyone uses their limited time effectively.
Dedicate five minutes of each meeting to non-agenda issues to ensure team members feel comfortable raising other concerns when necessary.
3. Set your scrum meeting time limits and stick to them
If your scrum meetings often overrun, team members will struggle to schedule other work and may even resent being involved.
You can employ various tactics to keep everyone focused on the agenda. For example:
Use a visible countdown timer to keep attendees mindful of the time limit
Allocate time limits to each team member
Ban talk of anything that isn’t related to the current sprint
For a more extreme time-saving approach, follow the advice of Mountain Goat Software founder Mike Cohn (but make sure everyone on your team is open to this tactic first):
Whoever is giving their update during the daily scrum needs to hold a 3 kilogram (6.5 pound) medicine ball at arm’s length. This is light enough that you can hold the medicine ball while giving your updates, but it’s heavy enough that you don’t want to give a long update.
4. Don’t completely time-box your communication
While it’s important to keep in-meeting updates short, you should encourage your team to communicate freely outside of organized sessions.
Regular contact gives everyone an immediate outlet for ideas and minor issues, so they don’t need to unload everything in the daily standup or sprint review.
There are two types of tools that can help keep scrum team communication flowing:
Messaging apps allow staff to ask questions, raise concerns and get feedback on the fly, even with other users who don’t share the same working hours. Popular messaging apps include Slack, WhatsApp and Microsoft Teams.
As well as facilitating status updates, a good project management tool will provide a visual overview of project progress and team performance.
This screenshot from Asana shows how individuals’ status updates contribute to a project progress dashboard:
You could use a dashboard like this to add context to scrum meeting progress updates. For example, we can see that there are 16 overdue tasks and that the busiest assignee has almost twice as many jobs as the least busy – a good reason to reallocate some work.
Well-organized scrum meetings can keep an agile project running smoothly, improve team performance and optimize project outcomes.
Every team, project and business is different, so you might have to develop your perfect process through a few scrum initiatives. Reflect on your agendas, time limits and objectives between every meeting so you can eliminate inefficiencies and repeat successes.
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