Why Your Standup Needs A Scoreboard

“The scoreboard doesn’t lie. Never has.” – Charlie Sheen

Bottom of the ninth. Late in the period. Two-minute warning. Shot clock winding down.

Each of those statements relates to a different sport, and each communicates the same sentiment. Time is winding down. If you’re doing to try something, it needs to be now. As cliched as that sounds, we reach that point with our teams more than I’m willing to admit, and the time to huddle is in your daily scrum — also referred to as a standup.

Enter the scoreboard.

There is extreme value in being able to look to a single place to know how your sprint is going. Your scoreboard can take on a variety of looks. Kanban enthusiasts love columns and swim lanes. Roman Pichler teaches how vision boards to help product teams keep their eye on the prize. More sites than I can count have tools available for virtual teams to look in a singular spot for the score.

All are viable options. The format is not near as important as what you use it for.

Setting up your board properly means you can assess where the team stands in your sprint. It should also give you the context of how the team is progressing through the necessary tasks already planned out. It should also contain other relevant information to the team such as housekeeping items (like out-of-office days for the team) and goals. If all of that is properly set up on your scoreboard, you can better answer three questions every standup.

What’s the goal?

Unfortunately, a sprint is not a game that is measured by simple black and white “wins” like the aforementioned sports. Too many times, I notice scrum masters and project managers have “finishing” as the goal of their team’s sprint. I know that because they don’t take the time to come up with a tangible goal. They just want to watch the cards move to the right.

Can’t say this more plainly: if your team’s sprint goal is to move all of the cards from left to right, you are letting them down as a leader.

Releases have context. Deliverables aren’t decided in a vacuum (most of the time). Dependencies have a particular order that can help aggregate tasks. Think of the goal as the latest in a series of sign posts along the way towards a release. Your product owner can help you find those signs. It’s your job to lead your team towards it.

Even if the goal is to knock out a number of bugs, achieve a certain metric in production, or post the newest round of creative for review, there is a goal for your team out there. The board helps you remind them of that goal and focus them when they speak. If they aren’t considering it, point to it.

For leaders, the goal assists product owners and project managers in aggregating sprint tasks in a thoughtful manner. It supports prioritization, focuses the team on a singular point, and enables better client or stakeholder communication. At Bottle Rocket, we validate the client expectations for a sprint with a goal and demonstrate it at the end of a sprint. There are no surprises, and retrospectives are fueled with that feedback.

For more information on how to write an effective sprint goal, read the words of the master.

What’s the score?

During Jeff Sutherland’s media tour for his amazing book Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time, he spoke at the Dallas chapter of the Agile Leadership Network in October. It had been a while since I had last heard Mr. Sutherland present, and he didn’t disappoint. The book has given him the chance to reinforce the same basics of Scrum to a new audience. To tell a new audience why he chose rugby as his sport of inspiration, and why it is the perfect metaphor for team-based efficiency. Chief amongst those principles should be the main focus of our daily ritual.

Swarm the ball.

If we have our scoreboard set up and understand the flow of work on a daily basis, we should be able to see when problems arise. When that happens, we swarm it and take it down.

You may be asking how you’re supposed to know when this happens.

Burndown charts can signify if the pace is off the lead car, but most teams don’t need a line to tell them a sprint is dragging on more than anticipated. You can tell by the look on their faces when gathering around the board. If you’ve done your homework of observing their body language, you can respond accordingly. Find the card that is bogging the sprint down, get it cleared and then watch the dam break.

For leaders, it’s important to know the score because it lets your team know you care. Call out work that got done the day before. Give the team their day in the sun for tackling a big problem. There’s nothing wrong with handing out gold stars because when you care to give your team that kind of attention it tells them you care that they are busting their tails.

What’s my part?

In training sessions around the world, scrum masters are taught how to handle team members who ramble or aren’t specific enough. While hard to communicate, those are symptoms of someone who isn’t speaking for the benefit of others. The quickest way for everyone to pull their phones out and start surfing Twitter is to have someone speak in a self-serving manner. Stand-ups aren’t for reporting, bragging or complaining. It’s to help everyone around you reach the goal.

Scoreboards resolve this by focusing the team on the work, not each other.

When we stand in a circle and focus on each other, things like plans for the weekend become important. Granted, creating moments of camaraderie on teams bring me the job as a team experience strategist. I just want them to wait until we walk to the kitchen after stand up. In the moment when we gather around the scoreboard, I want the work to be the focus.

This also removes any temptation for SMs or PMs to get too talkative. Most of the time, my addition to standup will be related to shout outs or updates on roadblocks. There’s no need for me to give a five-minute soliloquy on where we stand on the project. If I can make myself focus on the board and the work, I don’t feel the need to talk as much.

“I get it, what’s my next step?”

In your next retrospective, it wouldn’t hurt to have a small conversation around this subject. They don’t need to know how sorry you are for not creating one sooner, but it’s important to remind them why it’s important to have a board set up. Ask them what information they would find valuable on their board. Solicit what kind of board they want, with the understanding they need to be willing to update it. if you have a virtual board, find a way to project it during standup.

The stand up is usually the first meeting my teams have every day, and always the most important. If you can take these tips with you into your next sprint, you can also make it your best meeting.

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