Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Yammer/Chatter as an alternative to your daily scrum

The daily standup meeting, also known as the daily scrum, did not work very well for me. One day, we looked at each other and asked "does anyone actually want to do this?" Nobody did, so that was the end of the daily scrum. The intention is admirable: you want team members to get a status update and know what's going on with the rest of the team. But the daily scrum seems the wrong way to accomplish that. There must be better ways.

First, here's what I see as the problem with the daily scrum. When executed poorly, it can be a mind-numbingly frustrating waste of time. But even when executed efficiently, the very idea of a daily scrum is problematic. You're supposed to keep the meeting ruthlessly time-boxed. "What did you do? What will you do? Any blockers? OK, now shut up." Basically, you aren't supposed to have any significant discussions. So what's the point of a meeting where you aren't allowed to, well, have a meeting?

That's why we've started using Yammer. Yammer, and competitor Chatter, are private social networks. They both look, feel and work like Facebook, except that access is limited to a company. You can post Facebook-style updates or pictures, upload files, create groups, discuss, chat, follow or even "like" others. These updates are only visible within your company, or a group in that company. Each morning, we each post an update that serves as our daily scrum update. We can read and reply to each other at our leisure, and in fact updates can go on all through the day. The asynchronous nature of this communication means we don't have to disrupt our work to participate, and works equally well for onsite and offsite members.

If there is a weakness to using this method, it is that there is no enforcement mechanism. When people are physically present in a room, they speak in turn and it's usually obvious when somebody is missed. But Yammer postings are self-initiated, so the system relies on each individual to independently make the effort. If participation dries out, then the whole endeavor will collapse. Time -- and the team members involved -- will tell if Yammering can truly replace the daily scrum.

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