Let’s say you are on a team that is both newly formed and new to practicing agile. Your daily standup meetings appear to be going well and you are looking forward to your team’s first demo. The big day comes, you get in front of the customer, and then the floor drops out. Your app starts acting in a way that is definitely not as intended—all because of a hidden blocking issue.
As the team dusts itself off and gets ready to start the second sprint, you wonder to yourself, “How can we ensure that the team drives out those blocking issues in the daily standup?”
Add in the fourth question.
In the daily standup meeting, start with the three questions as you normally would:
- What did I do yesterday?
- What will I do today?
- What blocking issues do I have?
Then add the following:
- What is your confidence, on a scale of one to ten, that the team will accomplish the goal of this sprint?
I recommend using the fourth question at the beginning of any new project. Even if people know each other, they may not have built the trust required to have the open and honest conversations that ensure project success. I've made it a required element for any team that is new to each other, to Scrum, or to both. Even if you’re an established Scrum team, if you are going through your daily standup meeting without uncovering many impediments, yet during the sprint or the review, issues “keep cropping up,” you need to add the fourth question of Scrum.
The fourth question is powerful on its own, but it’s even more effective when the ScrumMaster is also on the lookout for the following:
- Nonverbal communication—Look for small signs that a team member might be unsure or uncomfortable. If you see a behavior that seems out of place, ask about it. And stick around long enough to hear the answer.
- People who are not comfortable with conflict—A ScrumMaster doesn’t have to be a psychologist, but the best ScrumMasters have probably done some research on how humans work and interact. Different personalities and cultures often respond to conflict in dissimilar ways. Get to know the people you are working with, ask those who have worked with them in the past about their natural tendencies, and spend some time chatting with them informally. Establishing trust goes a long way toward increasing communication.
As your project progresses and the team bond and trust grow stronger, you might find that the fourth question is no longer needed. Most teams I work with use it for the first two to five months. The team will know when the question is no longer needed, so the team should decide if and when it should be dropped.
To read more about why adding the fourth question works, see The Scrum Field Guide, Practical Advice for Your First Year.