Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Scrum Mistress' Guide to Standing Up Daily

This is my second of two posts on my experiences while attending a CSM course. The first post appeared a couple of days ago.

Just before lunch on the second day, Mike wanted to do a short exercise on running daily stand up meetings. He asked for a volunteer to be a scrum master. I paused a moment to give other people a chance to have the educational experience, before I enthusiastically put up my hand. Although I've studied scrum, I've never actually had a chance to use it.

After I trotted to the front of the room, Mike started to look for other volunteers. He jokingly said that it would be fun for everybody except the scrum master. He handed an index card to each of the volunteers, who joined me at the front.

I wondered what was on the cards. Could it be the user stories that they were working on?

When we were assembled, Mike stepped out of the way and told us to have our meeting. I turned to the group and they all started talking at the same time. I thought to myself, "Oh, it's like that is it?"

I started to pull out my various tricks for crowd control. In my day job, I teach classes of 50-100 undergraduate students. There's always a joker/talker in the class. Also, some days are more difficult than others. It's like a whole bunch of them had something in their breakfast that made them extra fidgety and extra talkative. Here are some of the strategies that I used.

  • I put my hand up, way up, to get attention. I'm about 5 feet tall (~150cm), so putting my hand up gets it about eye level for most of the guys. This is the universal signal for I have something to say and it usually gets people to stop talking for a split second, so I can get a word in edgewise. As a woman, one must never shout, because one ends up sounding shrill.
  • I used my eyes to place a laser-like focus on the person who was supposed to be talking. The other team members will use my eyes as a cue for their attention as well.
  • I used my aerosol can of "ssh" (in the style of Austin Powers) on one particularly disruptive team member.
I managed to get through all eight team members in under ten minutes. I managed to connect four people who needed to have a side meeting and arranged a follow-up meeting with a team member who was heading off on their own direction.

Needless to say, I had a lot of fun. A lot of these tactics are very heavy handed and I wouldn't necessarily use them in a normal team situation. I definitely took advantage of the fact that this was a classroom exercise that involved role-playing. In an actual work situation, I would let the team have some runaway meetings, maybe have a meeting where we discussed protocols for daily standups, and met one-on-one with the most problematic team members.

At the end, Mike said, "Wow, you got them through it. Susan is small but scary." He also asked the group if the meeting looked familiar. A number of people in the class, all of them women, agreed enthusiastically. One woman said that the exercise was too close to home.

I was taken aback by this. I had seen some daily standups led by a woman, where the team members were infantile and even rude to the scrum master. But I always thought that this was an exception. So, I started to wonder.

Do women scrum masters encounter special challenges because of their gender? How many of you out there are dealing with unruly meetings? Do you have an advice or war stories to share?

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