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Improve Workplace Productivity (and spend less time in meetings!) With the Daily Scrum

daily scrumMeetings, meetings, meetings. Who hasn’t felt consumed by the amount of time spent in the proverbial office meeting? 

According to industry experts, 15 percent of an organization’s collective time is spent in meetings, while middle and upper management spends upward of 35–50 percent of their time meeting with others. Surely there must be a more efficient way to get things done? There is, and it’s called the office SCRUM. When I heard this term being bantered about the office after a few of my colleagues began engaging in short and intense 15-minute meetings, I knew I had to find out more.

I’m an editor, so naturally, I turned to the dictionary. According to Merriam-Webster’s Unabridged online dictionary, “scrum” is short for “scrummage,” which is an alteration of “scrimmage.” Another example of using a sports analogy in business, much in the way we might use the word “team” to describe our co-workers? A scrum is a tightly packed or disorderly crowd, in addition to being a rugby play in which the forwards of each side crouch side by side in a 3–2–3 formation with locked arms and meet shoulder to shoulder to compete for possession of the ball.

I get the working together part, but it all sounds so messy and chaotic.

Next stop, Google. I watched YouTube videos, looked at images of white boards covered in sticky notes, and read that scrum is a method of quickly bringing software to market. Called the daily scrum in scrum world, there is an entire lexicon that goes with it—sprint, standing scrum, scrum board—and, apparently, you can become scrum certified and even achieve Scrum Master status.

Now it’s starting to make some sense as a disciplined method to complete a complicated and innovative project involving multiple contributors. It's a way to brainstorm tasks and divide them into to-dos, doing, and done.

While the words "office scrum" were new to me, its premise is not.

  • The daily scrum is a quick, focused meeting with the relevant contributors on a project to make sure each member of the team is on the same page and that tasks are being completed.
  • The daily scrum involves mini jam sessions to check in, providing reinforcement that a project is on track and nothing is falling through the cracks, as well as serving as an early warning system of potential roadblocks and issues that can derail a project.

We do it all the time already, right? It’s part of the flow of the workday. Stopping to chat in the hall, popping into a co-worker’s office, searching out another team member at the water cooler.

But the daily scrum is quite a bit more than that. It’s more formal, more scheduled, more planned. Less random, less hit or miss, less casual. The daily scrum happens every day, maybe even at the same time of day, and each member of the scrum arrives prepared to quickly and productively run down their list. What’s going on today with client A? Are these two items finished? Did the client respond? Who needs to track down that bit of information? Did the proofs arrive and how do they look? How are we going to address this issue? What are the resulting action items and how can we divide them up?

Of course, the office scrum only works when a few criteria are fulfilled. Everyone must be:

  • completely organized—come to the daily scrum prepared
  • on top of their to-do list—get it done with no procrastinating
  • focused on the conversation—no multitasking and no checking email
  • brief—don’t go into unnecessary detail

We certainly don’t want to add to an already burgeoning percentage of our time in meetings. According to industry experts, the time spent in meetings each week increases every year. The antidote? Use the daily scrum with discipline, and short meetings between a few people will accomplish a lot—far more than the massively inefficient weekly project meetings we used to hold every Monday morning.

The daily scrum. I like it.

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