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Who Is Late For Daily Scrum?

27.7.2010 | 6 minutes of reading time

The Daily Scrum just takes fiveteen minutes and is the central tool for every agile team, to coordinate and structure the day. You should expect that every minute counts and everybody values the meeting with the priority and usefullness it deserves. Still, experience shows, that it happens that team members show up late for Daily Scrum. What’s the best way to deal with that situation?

A few days ago, a lively discussion on twitter took place (which was effectively shortened and surpressed by the 140 character limit). Initiator was an idea from it-agile to have late comers pay a donation to good cause on . What followed was a storm of ideas and opinions, which I take as an opportunity to review the situation from a different angle.

Basically, every behaviour leads to some results, which in turn have one or more consequences. When we want to analyse the results “late for daily scrum” and “on time for daily scrum”, which behaviours can lead to those results, and which consequences do they have?

Result: “Late for Daily Scrum”

  • Left home too late
  • Left other meetings too late
  • Has something more important to do
  • The watch is behind
  • Absorbed with work and does not realize it’s time for Daily Scrum
  • Late for Daily Scrum
  • (and others, which we are not interested in at the moment)
  • Other team members are mad
  • Time of other team members is wasted. In order to keep the Sprint commitment, most important points most likely will be repeated
  • Information exchange basically works
  • Punishment

Result: “On Time For Daily Scrum”

  • You stand up in time and walk into the appropriate meeting room
  • On time for Daily Scrum
  • (and others, which we are not interested in at the moment)
  • Good meeting that ends on time
  • Information exchange works
  • Reward

Who is coming late?

The situation gets more interesting and also disturbing, when the frequency reaches a certain threshold. This means that either the same person is late over and over again, or all team members have their share with being late. Now, at first glance, there are two obvious options by using rewards and punishment.

One option is to punish those who are late. When the punishment is high enough (let’s say, one finger chopped for every minute late), no one is going to be late for the near future. But this is happening at the expense of other activities, since everybody will take all measures to be on time. Other important meetings will be canceled. The family get’s neglected, since you start your commute at 5 a.m. to take huge traffic jams and cancelled trains into account. Of course, I’m exaggerating, but the point is getting clearer: of course I can enforce a certain behaviour, but at what cost? Besides: responsible for the Daily Scrum to take place is the Scrum Master. Does he have the required power in order to enforce the punishment? Maybe not, that would be in stark contrast to the expected self-organization from the team. A dead end.

Then, what about rewards? When you’re on time, you will get a litte “Thank You” note with $ 100 attached in cash. Alas, why so close-fisted: Let’s make it $ 10,000. And, does it work? Neglecting the fact that the product owner probably will not welcome the slightly risen cost per Sprint, the effect of the reward will wear off by the one-hundredth Daily Scrum: millionaires may come late. Apart from that, one thing is as plain as day: without the reward, noone will come.

Granted, chopped fingers and millions of dollars are absurd (I hope!), but it helps to understand the effects that are in place. What could happen when we look at slightly reduced punishments and rewards?

What about a free coffee for everybody, who is on time? What initially might be a well-meant idea to help a team new to agile get used to the process, can quicly become a boomerang. We humans have a quite particular property: even when we do something because we want it ourselves, when there is a reward for that, we tend to re-attribute in retrospect our behaviour to reaching that reward. The extrinsic reward undermines the initially intrinsically motivated behaviour. To keep the expected behaviour in place, the reward has to be payed every time or must be even increased. At some point, nobody will come to Daily Scrum because of a lousy coffee. It should be a nice and foamy Latte Macchiato. Or an Irish Coffee in the winter. A reward shifts focus from the goal (just to remember: a smooth and quick Daily Scrum) towards reaching a reward. That this effect is even stronger, when the initial behaviour was not intrinsically motivated, is only natural. So rewards are no suitable means to get rid of latecomers on the long run.

On twitter, there have been numerous ideas on how to punish latecomers: donating a small amount of money to a good cause or even public singing. But also smaller punishments can have a desaterous effect. As an example, there the study “A Fine Is A Price” (2000: Gneezy, U. / Rustichini, A): Day-cares for children also have the problem that sometimes parent are late to pick up their kids. Some day-cares established a small fine for picking up your kids late. Not only did the frequency of late parents nearly double, they stayed on that level after the fine has been removed again. The authors explain that behaviour with an incomplete contract. Carried to the situation at the Daily Sprint, we could state the incomplete contract as: “We meet every day, same place same time, for Daily Scrum. We respect that meeting as valuable and right. When someone is late, most of the time we wait for him and repeat the most important bits, so that we can keep our Sprint commitment. When late arrivals get common, something will likely happen.” This unconcrete something, that is going to happen, is potentially not wanted by team members, but very unspecific. This gets more explicit by the fine that has to be paid, which makes the fine to the worst thing that can happen to a team member.

Unfortunately the paper does not give hints for better options, how the contract can be completed.

Informing or Controlling

According to Cognitive Evaluation Theorie it makes a huge difference, if an extrinsic factor, like a reward or punishment, is regarded as informing or controlling (or if you view your behaviour with an internal or external locus of control). While controlling factors have a negative impact on intrinsic motivation (which might result in either rebelling or adapted behaviour), factores that are only informing show no negative impact on intrinsic motivation. This means, to have all team members on time on the long run, the team has to find a way to inform the late comers about their disapproved behaviour, without to emphasize on the controlling aspect of their feedback. This could happen with “I messages”: xplaining the situation how you experience it. When everybody agrees, consequences for being late could be public singing, bringing a cake, or something completely different. In any case, the “concrete contract” will be as individual as the team.

Are there rules to enforce meeting discipline in place in your team? I’m looking forward to your comments.


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