Implementing the “Chrum” daily stand up @ SoftwareMill
At SoftwareMill – we’re fully distributed. That means that you end up working with people from all around Poland (or Australia, Africa, or the United States), and there’s no place you could call the “company office”. It has it’s upsides as well as downsides – as most things. I personally really love the freedom such way of working gives you… and the project is fun too! ;-)
Anyway, one of the issues a team has to face when working in such environment is: “How to feel united with the other people and teams in the Company?” A hard question indeed. Just chatting won’t do, if you’ve ever worked as “the remote person” you know that. The typical scrum standup doesn’t make sense, especially if:
- the “team” on such standup is the entire company (that’s around 18 people),
- there’s a bunch of projects in the company, usually with small teams of up to 4 people on board,
- the goal… isn’t to dumbly/boringly answer the boring 3 scrum questions.
The Daily Chrum *
- Chats – we use Skype , although most of us would like some other tool (XMPP based), still – most clients know and like Skype, so instead of having one more tool to chat with, we stich with this one. It’s also the place where most of the communication takes place, you can share links etc here – even during the daily call,
- PushToTalk – we use TeamSpeak, yeah the one people use for Counter Strike ;-) It works way better than Skype for 18 people, and some teams also use it during their day – to get the feeling of “working in the same room”, you just push and then talk. We use this as Audio tool during the Chrum, as it eliminates any background noises from the 17 other participants,
- Video Conferencing – we use Big Blue Button for this. For a number of reasons, one of them is: it’s free and open source. Another is – best video quality out there for such big meetings (remember – we’re up to 18 people). We’re hosting it ourselves on EC2, and I’ve created a small cron util that starts the BBB server right before the meeting, and shuts it down again after it. The reason behind this is that we need the most powerful instance there is on EC2 to handle this call nicely, and that costs quite a bit – and we don’t need this instance to be up for all the day obviously ;-) PS: For smaller meetings, we found Google Hangouts to be the most pleasant to work with.
A brief introduction to Chrum
The flow of the meeting may seem a bit weird, but remember – it’s something that evolved out of two years of experimenting with it, and we’re quite happy with the current formula, but we’re always trying something new to improve it nevertheless.
The Chrum has two iterations and then we open up a free discussion, which is marked by saying “bakłażan” (pl. eggplant):
0. The Chrum Master assembles everyone and reminds the "4th question" 1. Project round 1.1. Feelings in the project? 1.2. Personal round questions 2. Personal round 2.1. "4th question" 2.2. [optional] What's blocking you? 2.3. [optional] Got something cool to showoff today? (work / non-work) 3. Bakłażan
So… this may seem a bit weird and confusing, so let’s explain it a bit in detail.
The first step is to get everyone on BBB and audio – sometimes people are “in the zone” or AFK, so you have to do some “ping ping” on the global chat – this, and thinking of a 4th question (we’ll get to it) are the responsibilities of the Chrum Master (and keeping the chit-chat short – until the Bakłażan phase).
First, in the projects round – one person from a team reports the general “feel” of that team on that day. Maybe there’s a release coming up, or there was a great success etc. We think that by formulating this question like this, we get to know what’s up in the other projects, and avoid getting into technical details, which people from other projects wouldn’t understand (too much domain knowledge involved). Then that person continues with answering the personal questions.
Once the “projects” round finishes, team members who didn’t speak yet are asked to answer the “4th question”. Why is it called the 4th when in reality it’s the 2nd now? Well, for legacy reasons – while we did a classical scrum standup, it was the 4th indeed, because: 1) what I did yesterday? 2) what I’ll do today 3) what’s blocking me? and then the 4th, which we’ve added ourselves. The idea of the 4th question, is to think of some, fun question that allows us to get to know each other, even though we’re not collocated. So it may be a music or literature question etc. By the time we’ve ran out of “typical” questions for this, and it gets more fun to think of a cool 4th question to ask. The chrum master (which is chosen once a week – well, usually just someone want’s to do it anyway :-)) gets the privilege to ask this question.
We recently added the “showoff” question, as sometimes we have such things – like we’ve found a cool library, or something else but forget to tell everyone about it – maybe it’s team specific but may interest other people too. We’ve been trying it out since monday and so far I feel it will be a nice addition.
It’s worth mentioning that the last questions are optional. Up until recently it wasn’t and typically there was a full round of people reporting “no blockers on my end”. So we’ve made it optional now – if you’re blocked, yell out – if not, well there’s not much to talk about then, right?
After all participants have answered the questions, the chrum master says “Bakłażan”, and we’re free to either leave the call right now, or hang around for however long you want and chat a bit. Possibly following up the blockers mentioned, or the cool project someone just showed etc.
So… this is how we chrum. It may seem a bit complicated, but I’ve found that it’s shockingly well organised, and everyone knows when and what to say. We get the benefit of knowing, on a level we care, about other projects and we have both a bit of induced getting to know each other (the 4th question) as well as the free for all chat after the chrum call – the bakłażan phase.
* Chrum – well, that’s my name for it. Let’s see it it gets accepted ;-)
If you want to know a bit more about us, ping me via email or chat or if you’re the passive type – there’s a nice interview with Paweł Wrzeszcz on web.gov.pl – definitely worth checking out IMO :-)