“Pass?” What Does “Pass” Mean?

When I was a process consultant, I flew all over the world installing and implementing Team Foundation Server. Because I was a certified Scrum Master, I would stay on staff and help customers transition from the Waterfall world into the Agile world.

Even if I was not there to help the customer with their transformation, if I found out they were practicing Scrum, I would ask if I could sit in on their meetings. I figured I might learn something by seeing how others run their teams. There was one customer that agreed to allow me to sit in on any meetings I would like while I was on site. The first meeting I attended was their daily stand-up.

The Scrum Master came by my desk so I could join their stand-up. She was carrying a folded tri-fold project board that is typically used by students for projects. Once we made it to the conference room, she opened the project board to reveal a task board with three columns (new, doing, and done) with Post-It notes on it. One of the team members was remote, so she conferenced them in on the speaker phone. While she was calling the remote team member, others began to join us in the conference room. While everyone was joining, I took a quick look over the tasks on the board. They appeared to be well broken down. Once everyone was standing around the conference table the Scrum Master started the daily stand-up. The first person to speak simply said “Pass.” I figured they were just collecting their thoughts and we would just circle back around to them. But when the second person also said “Pass,” I started to wonder what in the world was going on. Then the person on the phone finally said something I would expect during a stand-up. She shared what she had gotten done and what she would be working on that day. At this point, I know they know the point of this meeting, and I started to ponder what the hell “Pass” meant.

During your daily stand-up (also called your daily scrum), you are to answer three questions:

1. What have you gotten done since the last meeting?

2. What do you plan to get done before the next meeting?

3. Is there anything stopping you?

So, the best I could come up with was pass means that I have gotten nothing done, I plan to get nothing done, and nothing is stopping me from getting nothing done!

I was a guest, so I stayed quiet as I watched most of the team members simply say “Pass”. Once the meeting was over, I asked the Scrum Master, “What does ‘Pass’ mean?” She explained that the people felt they are being micro-managed. What? Micro-managed? She went on to explain that many of them do not have tasks they can work on yet because they are waiting on others. While they wait, they can simply pass. Then I asked, “How do they not have anything to do? I looked at your task board. This was my first day at your company and I could do some of those tasks. How can a team member have nothing to do? How could they not start on some of the tasks? Team members can always test. Always!”

I tell every team I run to check your title at the door. You are no longer the DB person or the UI person; you are a Team Member. We succeed or fail as a team. You might not be an expert in databases and you never will be if you refuse to learn them. Nor do you need to be an expert to create a table. Take a task to create a table and at least try it. Even if you only shave a little time off a task it is better than that task not moving at all. Break the tasks down so people can grab the parts they can help with and move them along. At the very least, they can start testing features as they are delivered.

I also shared with the Scrum Master that a stand-up is not about micro-managing. It is about enabling your teams to be hyper productive. This is where impediments are identified so they can be cleared. This where team members have an idea of what others are working on so they can help. I have witnessed a team member being unblocked because of a stand-up. Two days in a row, a team member reported they were working on the same task. After the stand-up, another team member offered to help them and the task got completed. Agile is all about inspect and adapt, and that is what the team does daily via this meeting.

The core problem was the team was not educated on the point of the meeting. They were just told every morning you must give the Scrum Master a status report. That could not be further from what a stand-up is about. It is for the team, not the Scrum Master. On a high-performing Scrum Team, the stand-up should start regardless of if the Scrum Master is there or not. If any impediments are identified, someone should share that with the Scrum Master so they can work on clearing them.

This team had other issues that I might share in future posts that all stemmed from the lack of education on Scrum. The Scrum Master did not take the time to educate everyone on the purpose of the rituals of Scrum. I have found that education is crucial, not only for my team members but everyone that interacts with my team. If they do not understand the purpose, they will resist.

Before I lead a team, I sit down my entire team and every stake holder and share how we are going to be running this project. Before I started doing this, I had people resisting simply because they did not understand. They held to the old way they did things, which was in direct conflict with Scrum.

Once the team understood the point of the daily stand-up, none felt the need to “Pass” anymore.

Comments (5) -

  • While I completely agree that there is *always* something for a team member to do....

    The "what I did", "what I plan", "what is impeding" is something that is often just a redundant status meeting. Each of these three items should already be "knowable" to the team members before the meeting!!!!!! (just look at your ALM tooling - TFS/VSTS or others).

    In fact waiting until the meeting to share this is an unnecessary delay is someone is going to make use of that information.

    As an alternative, consider what information is most effectively communicated under the specific conditions of cadence [typically daily meeting] and attendance [the entire team] which can not be communicated more effectively in other ways.....

    I am not giving any recommendations here on what that might be...simply because this is one of my favorite topics for a retrospective and leaving just the concept here will eliminate any bias I might introduce....
    • Is the data knowable? Yes.  Does every team member look at what every other team member is doing everyday? None that I have ever met. They are heads down focused on making sure they can report positive movement in the daily standup. If you have time to go and look at what else everyone else is doing...
      • I see a lot of variance among teams, so I don't believe their is a "one size fits all" for anything. My previous comment was based on working with many teams, and having a survey (done in many different ways over time) that basically asks "Will you accomplish more, same, or less because of what happened in that meeting?".  When the focus is on [only] those specific three elements, the answer is rarely [in my experience] a resounding more for those teams that have good communication.

        I agree that "having to go an look" can quickly become a problem... But if Microsoft Teams, or Slack, or ... is being used with notifications, many keep this window open on one of their monitors - so they are already being notified of many things - including state changes of work items!

        Another item I have seen to have an impact is how stories are addressed during a sprint. For example if a team has 6 members and 12 stories, do they get round robin type scheduling or do the developers swarm/mob on the top priority ones to knock them out first?  In the latter, the people are working so closely together that the awareness of what is done is much higher.
      • "If you have time to go and look at what else everyone else is doing..."

        ...you must not be heads down, actually contributing meaningfully to the team...

        unless you are a scrum master and your removing impediments. Wink

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