How To Coach Your Team to Run a Daily Scrum Meeting When You Cannot Attend

The daily scrum is likely the most misunderstood event in Scrum. The short 15-minute daily scrum meeting can be either the fuel that drives a team’s collaboration each day or the bane of the developer’s daily existence.

As a Scrum Master, taking a back seat is one of the most important things you can do to help your team get the most from this event. All too often Scrum Masters become the center of attention during daily scrums, which can lead to a whole host of dysfunctions. The Scrum Guide says this activity is “for the developers,” so it’s important that Scrum Masters coach their teams into taking ownership of this activity as soon as possible.

Although that may sound easy, it’s not. Many subtle decisions you make along the way will point a team toward ownership of this event or let them fall back knowing that you are in charge instead. Scrum Masters need the vital knowledge that in the daily scrum, the developers are the only ones who are required.

Don’t get me wrong—a Scrum Master has a great influence on this event and should absolutely attend as many as they can. If they are out sick or on vacation, though, the event can (and should) still take place.

Scrum Masters need to coach their teams to reach a point in their maturity where the team can function independently at daily scrums. Let me give you a few key steps to do just that:

  1. Keep the daily scrum from becoming a status update.
    This is likely the most common mistake a team can make, and this mistake makes the Scrum Master the center of attention. Daily scrums are not just for Scrum Masters! Recognize when it’s happening, and apply countermeasures to turn daily scrums back into an event that creates a plan for that day’s work. Developers aren’t supposed to report to the Scrum Master: they are supposed to plan with one another.

    When a developer provides you an update in a daily scrum, you need to be ready to redirect them back to the other developers. When in person, perhaps staring at your shoes and refusing to make eye contact will be enough. Or place the developers in a circle while you stand outside it. When remote, try turning off your camera when that person is speaking, to help them get the message. Remote or in person, you might even arrange an “emergency that needs your attention,” giving you an excuse to duck out of the meeting. Anything to help the developer(s) understand that they need to be talking to each other, not at you.

  2. Facilitate daily scrums such a way that the team takes control. 
    I’ve seen many Scrum Masters who call on each developer to speak next in the daily scrum. 

    When this happens, the developers wait for their turn until called upon. Crosstalk is limited, as is true collaboration. The subtle act of simply calling on people can imply authority and might therefore lead to a misunderstanding that the Scrum Master owns this meeting and benefits from it. When you facilitate this event, I encourage you to find ways to facilitate without creating that power dynamic. It can be simple: Pick the first person, but then ask them to call on the next person. This will show that the power is not in your hands in this event.

  3. Turn control of the format of the daily scrum over to the developers.
    If this event is for the developers, why not give it to them entirely? A previous version of the Scrum Guide said that Scrum Masters facilitate “when needed or requested.” If neither of those are specifically true on a given day, there’s no reason that a Scrum Master should host the daily scrum that day.

    My opinion? The sooner you can turn over control to the developers, the better. Encourage them to experiment with the format and try new things. If daily scrums aren't working to engage the team, the team might consider breaking out of the person-by-person approach to daily scrums. They can experiment with a story-by-story approach to daily scrums instead. 

    Your team has to find out what works best for them—it may be different from any other team. Show them what self-organization looks like and give them the power to take full control of their event.

It’s often said that a good coach will eventually coach themselves out of a job. For Scrum Masters this is certainly the case when it comes to the daily scrum. Guide your team through their early daily scrums. Help them when team members talk too much. Or when team members won't talk at all. 

But as time goes by, turn more and more of it over to them. Daily scrums can default to being dependent on you or they can be an opportunity to nurture a team’s self-organization while simultaneously helping them to get the most out of this event every day. Take full advantage of this daily inspect-and-adapt opportunity. Your teams may not even know to thank you for it...and that’s OK.

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Brian Milner

About the Author

Brian is the Senior Vice President of Training and Coaching with Mountain Goat Software and is a Certified Scrum Trainer. 
Starting out as a developer, Brian worked up through management layers, then transitioned to Scrum Master and then Coach. His practical experience in both waterfall and agile organizations helps him clarify what works and what doesn’t, plus he has many years’ experience helping teams transition to agile. 

Brian also brings more than 20 years of software development experience to his classes. People remark on his ability to answer even tough questions with ease, enthusiasm, and insight. 

Scrum Certifications include: CSM, CST, CSPO, CAL-Educator, CAL-1, A-CSM, A-CSPO, CSP-CM, CSP-PO, Path to CSP Educator, Scrum Foundations Educator.