Fixing Your Daily Scrum …with Football?

An effective Daily Scrum is crucial to a healthy Scrum Team. So why is it so often boring, ineffective, and unhelpful? Jason has an idea on how to make it better, drawing inspiration from an unlikely source: American Football teams.

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The Daily Scrum is the heartbeat of Scrum. It happens every day (as the name implies) but have you ever experienced a Daily Scrum like this? 

[Cutaway to Example Daily Scrum]

Uh…yeah, yesterday, I did a bunch of things. And I’m now going to proceed to explain them all to you in exhaustive detail. For today…I don’t know…I’ll just find something to do off of the backlog. Oh, and no blocks. That’s how you know I’m done. 

[End cutaway]

Sound familiar? Daily Scrums like this are all too common. I mean, first, so much detail about what happened yesterday (often motivated by a need to justify one’s existence). Second, little to no detail about today’s plan of action. And finally, this weird verbal punctuation of no blocks that for some reason means “now it’s your turn”. This is not effective. This is not helpful. And frankly, it’s just no fun.

Thankfully, there are some easy things we can do to fix this. And we’re going to start by looking at a football team. Now before we go any further, a few quick disclaimers. One, I am by no means the world’s biggest “sportsball” guy. So take this next analogy with a grain of salt. 

Second, if you’re not from the US, we’re not going to be talking about what you and the rest of the world call football, that for some reason we call soccer. We’re going to be talking about American football.

Alright, so what in the world do a Scrum Team and a football team have in common? Well, there’s quite a few things actually. Both a football team and a Scrum Team have a large overarching goal to achieve. For a football team, it’s to win the game. For a Scrum Team, it’s a Product Goal. 

A football team’s smaller goal is to score in the current drive. In Scrum, that’s their Sprint Goal. Both teams advance towards these small goals and small steps: for a football team it’s a play, and for a Scrum Team it’s a day. 

Alright, so what does this have to do with the Daily Scrum? Well, you see a football team after each play and before the next, they usually get together in a huddle. Now the point of the huddle is for them to look at where they are in relation to their goal, and then for them to plan the next play. Maybe the next best thing they can do is run the ball and try to get a first down. Maybe they need to pass the ball midway down the field. Or maybe their other attempts have failed and it’s time to desperately Hail Mary towards the answer. 

If you’re lost and don’t know what any of these things mean, I promise you this sports lingo is almost done. 

Here’s what a football team doesn’t do in a huddle: They don’t spend all their time talking about what happened in the last play, what went wrong, what got in their way, the fact that they were really very busy even though they didn’t really seem to be. The last play is over! It’s time to look at how close they are to the goal and figure out what the next best play is. 

And that’s where a Daily Scrum comes in. You see, the Daily Scrum is not a time to focus on yesterday and pour over it in excruciating detail. It is, however, a time to inspect your progress toward your Sprint Goal and figure out what’s the next thing you can do for the next play – or – day. Figure out what you think will get your team closer to your goal. 

It’s not supposed to be task driven. It’s goal driven. And that nuance difference has a huge impact.

With that, I’m gonna go play some video games. You go make your Daily Scrum better.

Jason Malmstadt

Jason has been teaching Scrum since 2017, more recently joining the community as a Professional Scrum Trainer. He helps teams grow in agility, build healthier team dynamics, and deliver more value. He leverages almost two decades of software development, IT architecture, and consulting experience to help people from all backgrounds work better.