One of the most recurring topics in many organizations is time spent on meetings. If you are a Scrum Master, you may find yourself rolling your eyes like in a Robert Downey Jr meme and you wish you would get a euro for every time you hear someone saying in agile there are too many meetings.

Here we are again

Some managers may ask you to exempt their subordinates from attending some Scrum meetings but to invite them to others. Often business stakeholders, sales, customers, security, operations, legal do not attend sprint reviews. They usually appear with some extra costy request for change (RFC) a few weeks before a first or major release.They would like to have a say in what in their mind is a waterfall-like final sign off. Despite being invited, these types of stakeholders usually don’t want to waste time attending meetings, inspecting the backlog, reading documents, interacting with Product Owners or Scrum Master, staying updated, providing feedback.Few days before the due date they are going to put a veto on deliverables and trigger emergency meetings.

After reading this article you will learn or refresh basic concepts on how scrum helps reduce unnecessary meetings, keep everyone in sync, improve efficiency and quality throughout the whole SDLC.

Scrum events are time-boxed which means they have a maximum duration. Whenever the purpose of the meeting is achieved before, the meeting ends saving time and costs.
I avoid using terms like “ceremonies”, “rituals” or “liturgies” to describe scrum meetings. I simply call them scrum events or scrum meetings. Most of the people I work with know very little about Scrum and using a simpler terminology helps.


One misconception around “Agile” meetings, especially when they are called “ceremonies”, is that they are meetings dedicated to Agile rather than core business activities. Agile is not the ultimate purpose. Agile is an enabling mindset. Scrum is not the ultimate goal. Scrum is a framework. Agile and Scrum support organizational objectives also through their meetings. 

Let’s synthesize what time is really spent on during scrum meetings:

Sprint Review – max 4 hours/month:Team meets with stakeholders to get feedback on what has been done and to gather what is expected at the end of the next iteration.  

Sprint Planning – max 8 hours/month: The Product Owner and the team sync on what the sprint goal is and negotiate on the scope of the highest priorities expected to be done in the next sprint.

Sprint Retrospective – max 3 hours/month: The team improves the process to iteratively increment performance, quality, satisfaction.

Daily Scrum – max 15 minutes/day:Team members sync on previous progress, expected next progress and call out if there are impediments. To run this meeting efficiently, check my previous article: “Run daily scrum like a pro

If any of these meetings is not effective, the empirical process offers the solution to fix them through inspection and adaptation.The time to fix them is already accounted for within the retrospective. No need for extra meetings.  If everyone contributes to get these meetings right, you can achieve high predictability without renouncing time for experimentation, learning and improvement. 
The total is 15 hours a month which is less than 2 working days a month.It’s about 30% less than the time a team would spend in a month for a 1-hour lunch break.


Why do people have the perception that these meetings are so many?

  1. Because Scrum meetings are recurring while many other meetings are not.
  2. Because these meetings are labelled as “Scrum meetings” while all other meetings don’t fit into a single category. 
  3. Other meetings don’t have such a strong connotation or identity so they fade from the memory of attendees.
  4. Because Scrum meetings are booked in advance, when they clash with other meetings, Scrum events have the priority. 
  5. This conflict sticks into the memory of other meetings’ organizers or agile antagonists and reinforces their selective perception bias.

I could go on… but I timeboxed the time dedicated to writing this article so I will move on.

What else?

Design sessions, architectural meetings, swarming calls, backlog discussions are part of the development activities and are all contained within the sprint which is time-boxed as well. A sprint is usually between 1 and 4 weeks and all activities necessary to achieve the sprint goal or product increment can be easily measured reducing risks of time-wasting. While backlog reviews aren’t officially scrum events, booking a 10% of Sprint capacity is recommend.

What’s wrong with non scrum meetings or most of non facilitated and not well prepared meetings?

  • It happens in many organizations that meetings are created without an agenda, a defined goal or expected outcome, without agreed responsibility or facilitation format, or consistent audience.
  • You may have found yourself invited to meetings without knowing why you should attend, what’s in there for you? Who should do what?  
  • Other company meetings aren’t time boxed. Yes, they have a duration, but how many times meetings end up, acknowledging you need another meeting due to lack of time or right people. How many hours does everyone spend on these meetings in a month or a year? For instance how many hours in meetings are spent around wrong tech or architectural choices? How many hours in dealing with stubbornness or difficult people? No one knows. No one even bothers asking.
  • Some company meetings aren’t defined so well. They will require each time to go through negotiating, asking, agreeing on purpose, outcome, calendar availability, audience. As these cost time, money, and energy, many end up just sending empty invitations to large groups of people. 
  • Some meetings will need ice breakers. Not being part of a framework, a habit or defined anywhere, these meetings start with 5 minute of chit chats, often followed by other 5 minutes of “should we start? or should we wait?” yet followed by “sorry to be late, why are we here?” or “where were we last time?”
  • Some meetings have no clear roles, rules, responsibilities, facilitation techniques. When there is a different facilitator, participants need time to establish trust and understand style and rules. With no facilitator, it could be a mess or simply useless.
  • Team, stakeholders, anyone is not sure on what to do. Every meeting seems new. One thinks “should I speak?” “Is this meeting for me”?
  • No inspectable artefact or measurable progress at the end of the meeting and no follow ups.
  • No rhythm, no responsibility, no accountability, no roles.
  • Redefining conventions and dictionaries at any meeting or every time someone new joins.

How scrum meetings solve these issues?

Scrum is not prescriptive as often depicted. Scrum is a well defined -yet open- framework and events are one of the core elements very well described.
Any organization can benefit from a template that per each meeting offers a definition of the goals, expected output and outcomes, main players and their roles. Meetings are recurring to build up a routine, a sort of muscle memory that reduces the need for sugar and lysine. Scrum events provide rhythm for the team, yet they are open and their format can change to address organizational needs and growth over time. 

When sending invitations, whilst I could just link the paragraph from the Scrum Guide as text, I prefer to explicit the agenda of each scrum event, mentioning or summarizing the main goal and outcome. Everyone is then responsible to read the agenda and know what is expected. No excuses. This helps me to coach the team as well as external stakeholders, no formality and no laziness. Not often but from time to time it can happen that I change the text of the invitation to reinforce messages or tailor improvements.
For example if the Sprint Review tends to become just demo-time, I emphasize that one of the main points of the meeting is to gather feedback on the increment. Anyone is invited to challenge the latest result. Are they good? Is the product secure? Easily maintainable or deployable?Welcome topics include what’s next or what direction the team is expected to take in order to address next priorities. As Scrum Master, I remind the audience that the expected output from the meeting is an updated backlog.

The main advantage in choosing between an implicit blank agenda and an elaborated agenda created for each sprint is that in the latter you benefit from Scrum events agenda template and consolidated best practices, conventions, implicit organizational pattern.Well defined yet, open to change. This makes us save a huge amount of time, energy, money.  

Takaways

  1. Scrum events are core business meetings specifically designed to enable radical transparency and relentless improvements.
  2. These meetings are an opportunity to inspect and adapt the “what” and the “how” optimising time and costs.
  3. Scrum meetings allow all stakeholders to stay informed, synced and to be listened regularly. 
  4. At the same time, these events keep everyone focused on top priority goals.
  5. For each step of the Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC) time-boxing simplifies performance metrics, minimises risks, improves predictability, and reinforces efficiency.  

* * *

I write about organizational patterns, transformational leadership, healthy businesses, high-performing teams, future of workplace, culture, mindset, biases and more. My focus is in leading, training, and coaching teams and organizations in improving their agile adoption. Articles are the result of my ideas, studies, reading, research, courses, and learning. The postings on this site and any social profile are my own and do not represent or relate to the postings, strategies, opinions, events, situations of any current or former employer.

This article has been published for the first time on danieledavi.com by the author Daniele Davi’.
© Daniele Davi’, 2021. No part of this article or the materials available through this website may be copied, photocopied, reproduced, translated, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published, broadcast or reduced to any electronic medium, human or machine-readable form, in whole or in part, without prior written consent of the author, Daniele Davi’.