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Well we adopted scrum in the past as the project management paradigm. However one of the cornerstones of scrum is the daily standup meeting.

In corona lockdown era (or any time where it is relevant) this is no longer possible as face to face. So the first adaption was to use any of the plethora of online meetup tools. While this is amazing on paper, in practice this didn't work at all.

Some people have a bad connection (one employee works quite far and his connection quite often dropped). Some people (like me) have a lot of environmental noise: I have a neighbour that's constantly shouting. While headphones easily remove that sound the microphone every so often picks up his voice and actually thinks mine is the "noise" and removes it. And the biggest problem are the people with small children. Not only do they kind of often interrupt (which is cute admittedly but adds up in time), but it even now means those people can no longer make sure they are "available at time x". They can only work when the children are asleep so their schedule is quite random.

This has all meant that daily standup meetings are near impossible, and even a meeting every few days is more of a chore and annoyance than that it actually serves its purpose. It's also near impossible to fight this, as each time we solve a "problem" next problem rises which makes the meetup again bad quality.

Which had me think:

Is there a project management paradigm that accepts the fate of the world. And fully embraces the idea that "meetings are particularly valueable and can only happen every so often". Thus focusses on meetings only every other week, and enables other tools to work together? While stressing the ability for each team member to work for longer periods on their own.

We're now falling back on "ad hoc" planning and just doing whatever we can without a clear structure. It would be nice if there was some structure we can put around the chaos that starts to form.

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    "Do what you can, with what you have, where you are" - Theodore Roosevelt. I have neighbors that take advantage of the fact that they work from home to tinker around the house. It sucks to be in a call than all of a sudden to hear noise of hole drilling in concrete walls, but that's just what it is. You obviously need to find some solution to this issue, but I wouldn't look for a new project management paradigm. People need to accept the fate of the world and figure out what to do, not the project management method. – Bogdan Dec 15 '20 at 10:53
  • @Bogdan uh the project management needs to adapt to a different world. In the past communication and time can be regulated. BUt nowadays we can no longer do that (people work at different times and cna't make a schedule to meet up etc). So in that sense a paradigm that focusses on communication is bad and we need to focus shift. – paul23 Dec 15 '20 at 15:40
  • So, if I understand this correctly, you want a management process/paradigm that should rely on less communication than Scrum? – Bogdan Dec 15 '20 at 16:18
  • @Bogdan yes? Or more on situational communication - where, say, you have only a weekly (or biweekly) meeting that is slightly longer. – paul23 Dec 15 '20 at 16:45
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The problem is with the work from home situation created by COVID, not with the Scrum meetings. You should not focus on removing the meetings, but on finding ways to improve the work from home situation for those affected.

Other answers already mention ways to address your concerns and how to approach this, so I won't add any more details on that. What I do want to mention though, is that the Scrum meetings have a purpose:

  • the daily allows the development team to coordinate and plan their work for the next 24 hours;
  • during sprint planning the team plans their work for the next sprint;
  • refinement allows the product owner to add details to what needs to be built next;
  • the review allows the team to collect valuable feedback about the product;
  • the retrospective allows the team to identify issues with their process and improve on it;

Can you replace all these meetings with email, chat, documents, tools and what not? Sure you can. There are lots of open source projects that function like this, with people that rarely see each other face to face, or hear each other in a conf-call, they might work on different continents, on different time zones, etc. However, this setup introduces delays. Things take more time, so care must be taken when synchronizing work and planning things out.

If you give up on meetings and do them rarely, you will introduce delays. You will miss many opportunities to synchronize work and plan things out. You also introduce risk of building the wrong product because problems are spotted later, feedback is received later, and you can move longer in the wrong direction before realizing that you needed to take corrective action.

Like I said, try to focus on ways to improve the way you all work, not on finding ways to go around the Scrum meetings. Find ways to keep the synchronization points and planning opportunities with or without face time in a meeting, with all the people or just with some of them.

You might not be able to fix everyone's issues, but it's better to have some people affected by missing some events, than for the entire team to miss them. Besides, if some of your team members have such an unfortunate work from home situation that they can't attend a short daily meeting, that situation can also prevent them from attending a larger meeting held more rarely. It's also easier to recover from some small missed checkpoint meeting held each day (less damage and information loss also), than from a larger checkpoint meeting held once per week for example.

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  • the last sentence is interesting: would two daily meetings with both 2/3rd of the people and never everyone together be more useful than a single meeting with everyone every week? – paul23 Dec 15 '20 at 21:11
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    @paul23: one daily should be enough if people catch up on what they missed and notify everyone else if they have something to add. One meeting per week can be problematic. Think about it! If some of your team members have such an unfortunate home situation that they can't attend the daily, what makes you think they will attend the larger weekly meeting? If they miss that, they will still need to catch up and add their input. It's easier to recover from small, few checkpoint meetings each day (less damage and information loss also), than from a larger checkpoint meeting held once per week. – Bogdan Dec 16 '20 at 8:41
  • Yes but a weekly meeting we can plan in advance and take into account all unique circumstances that are happening right now, constantly choosing a better day/time. While daily meetings you're basically limited to a static time which doesn't fit the current shifting world where each few days the government rules can make work cohesion different again. – paul23 Jan 7 at 20:53
  • @paul23: I still don't see how "plan to talk tomorow at the daily" is any different than "plan to talk at the meeting this week". People still need to respect their promise to be there. If people's children prevent them from attending dailys, then the kids can also prevent them for attending any other planned meeting. Can't you move the daily sooner or later in the day when people have better chances of attending? – Bogdan Jan 7 at 21:11
  • Cause if something is occasional it's easier to shift things around it; they can more easily say to teachers: "hey sorry but monday at 10 am the computer is blocked so my children can't be online", then "hey they can't be online every day at 10 am". – paul23 Jan 7 at 23:01
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The advantages of Daily Scrum are undisputable. To me these are all issues that can be fixed after discussing together during Sprint Retrospectives and you'd then be able to enjoy a nice and productive Daily Scrum.

Sprint Retrospectives are helpful because they're the last thing to do in a Sprint and they're meant to help the team reflect on how is everything going as well as to find ways to improve it. This includes the issues you're raising.

Addressing all the single concerns you bring

  • Having kids is no excuse to not being able to compromise in a particular given time each day. It's one's job and what one is paid for. Best I can think of that could be done here is to all discuss a time that'd fit in particular for that person with kids and adjust. If the meeting is going on, close the door or so. It's not like this is a long meeting anyways.
  • Having poor internet connection... this can mean multiple things - the person doesn't know how to select a good provider, there's no good providers, the person can't afford, the person isn't connected through cable but WiFi, ... These are all issues that can be addressed too. If it means in the end extra monthly costs for the person, I'm sure even for that a solution could be found.
  • Ocasional shouts are understandable for the team. If that still disturbs you then speaking with the neighbor that you've got a meeting always at a specific time and ask for comprehension from neighbor's side can be helpful too.

When we really want something, we find a way for it.

In the end I always suggest to bring these questions up during the restrospective gatherings. It's not guaranteed that all problems would be addressed right away but the team can decide together the priority of these issues and address them together. You'd be surprised by how many of these problems get fixed and by seeing how the team is able to find the best solutions together. It's great for bonding too.

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  • Why do you focus on "still have a daily scrum" - that simply is no longer the case. The law has made that impossible. This is a passed station. It has been brought up, and the consensus was that meetings just not work until at least the schools open again. Closing a door is not really an option: many people live in areas where there simply isn't an extra room to separate the children, or do you want to confine them to their beds or something? That reeks of child molestation. I also can't speak to the neighbour, lest I might get attacked with a knife or something: he gets a lot of help.... – paul23 Dec 15 '20 at 15:41
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    @paul23 in regards to close the door, that was one option with the information you shared. If you, or the team, care thaaaat much about some particular ocasional shouts (even though there's a particular Health issue from a neighbor involved) that block you, or the team, from doing a 30min meeting then you could be muted most of the time and unmute when you'll be speaking or go to a cafe nearby or so and held the meeting there. For every problem you'd raise I'm nearly sure that I could point out a solution. Did you try to find a solution to any of the issues? If so, how did it go? – Tiago Martins Peres 李大仁 Dec 15 '20 at 19:34
  • The "solution" we found is to have each person just work on their own stuff and in 2 months time hopefully we can meet again and then we will start up again. I personally am fearing the worst and think this will continu till summer hence I am looking for a more permanent solution that doesn't require change at people's houses. – paul23 Dec 15 '20 at 21:23
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I'd like to share my thoughts on your question in the heading of your post. How to substitute daily scrum.

The purpose of the daily scrum is (and this you probably already know) that the team members share information with each others. So in a normal situation we would meet and share this. But times are definitely not normal, so You should ask yourself and the team "how can we share this information successfully now?". You mention having difficulties using audio due to a noisy neighbor, well could you use some kind of online-chat in the team for sharing this information?

As of the question about any particular methodology that are good on "handling the fate of the world" I'd say that all methodologies have some kind of setup on how to handle any kind of difficulties/challenges. To me it is all about being pragmatic and use whatever method that suits you and your team.

Good luck handlings the lockdown going forward. There is a light at the end of the tunnel and hopefully it's not a train...

Have a nice day.

Harry (@homeoffice since march...)

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  • +1 While most companies have switched to video call meetings, if that doesn't work for you, the team has to find a way that works for them. The standup is only informative anyway (no back and forth), so that could easily be captured in a chat. The retro requires more communication, but maybe you could replace that with a document where everyone can note down problems, and in a second step, everyone can suggest solutions. – Llewellyn Dec 15 '20 at 17:43
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There's absolutely nothing wrong with using online tools, such as Google Meet, Microsoft Teams, or similar to hold virtual face-to-face Daily Scrums. If you are prevented from using audio/video tools, you can always use tools like Slack, Discord, Google Hangouts, or Microsoft Teams.

The particular issues that you are facing seem to be related to the current forced work-from-home situation. In my experience, companies that allow remote work also require the individual to have an appropriate workspace set up. Having a poor Internet connection that precludes the use of video and audio chatting tools, loud neighbors, or interrupting children on a regular basis would also prevent working from home. Ideally, most companies would understand that these things do happen sometimes and this may be beyond the control of the remote worker, but that the remote worker would mitigate as much as possible. However, today, far more people are working remotely, including some who do not have an appropriate environment and would otherwise be in the office.

Fortunately, it looks like the current situation is approaching the end and, in the not-too-distant future, the people who want to return to the office may be able to.

The only issue that I can see that is worth addressing, from project management or an organizational policy perspective, is the scheduling. I'm not sure what has changed that prevents people from working their scheduled hours, but people should be expected to work with their teams. That includes being available for meetings and events, in whatever form they occur in.

Adjusting your project management processes for a temporary circumstance is not the right solution here. Having a daily synchronization meeting adds a lot of value in reducing risk and being able to adapt the plan to a changing circumstance. Assuming that you are having success with this event in general, I wouldn't change the fact that it happens, but rather how it happens. Instead of voice chats, consider a period where everyone participates in a chat session using Teams, Hangouts, Slack, or whatever messaging platform your organization uses. It's not quite as high-fidelity as a video chat, but addresses concerns about poor Internet connections, noisy neighbors or children, sharing the space with roommates or significant others also working from home, and more.

If you do make more significant process changes, I'd recommend that you do so in order to improve your way of working, and not to work around temporary issues. Other events may have similar opportunities for changing the specifics of how the meeting or event is held, rather than reducing the occurrence of the event or removing the meeting entirely.

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  • Using typed chat is a good idea we probably have too quickly dismissed. But the problem of timing still stays. There is one parent with a "difficult" child who's partner needs to work as nurse so can't help. And he really hence needs to spent full time the child is awake with that child (normally there's special education). So he now works either an hour early morning - or late in the evening. Then another parent wished to do the same, and same circumstance same rules. Yet for me and others those times are just impossible. It's also not "soon", government has hinted late summer before return. – paul23 Dec 15 '20 at 18:59
  • @paul23 What did this person do before they were working from home? Again, this is a temporary situation. Soon is relative. You don't need to make drastic changes in how you work for a temporary situation that will return to normal. You just need to hold things together. – Thomas Owens Dec 15 '20 at 19:28
  • Just bring the child to special education for people on the spectrum? – paul23 Dec 15 '20 at 20:51
  • @paul23 So, it's temporary. Eventually, these services will be available once again. Until then, the organization and team can figure out how to best handle it. However, if the person needs to give their child full-time care because of a lack of services, I don't see how they can be expected to also work a full-time job at night. Their productivity and team cohesion is bound to suffer. There may be opportunities to take them off the critical path, but still support the team in other ways that don't require tight collaboration with the rest of the team, for example. – Thomas Owens Dec 15 '20 at 21:07

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