The New “Three Questions”

Scrum gave us the Three Questions to help structure discussion at daily standup. These questions provide some idea of micro-goal setting and accountability for each team member and can be a healthy practice:

  • What have you completed since the last meeting?
  • What do you plan to complete by the next meeting?
  • What is getting in your way?

For teams who are increasingly focusing on optimizing flow or teams who have simply fallen into a pattern of rote repetition and are in need of a fresh approach, I offer what you might call “the new three questions,” inspired by Mike Burrows in his book Kanban from the Inside:

  • How can we improve flow today?
  • What is blocked and why?
  • Where are bottlenecks forming?

A colleague observed that those questions sound like a mini retrospective, which is not a bad analogy insofar as they are about improvement, though perhaps not as backward facing; they focus on the present and near-future reality. They’re about making a plan to improve flow, with the scope being merely a day. I like the questions because they orient the team toward the work, rather than the worker. For teams that already follow the practice of making work visible, the new three questions are a natural complement to “walking the wall.” Furthermore, the answers to these questions over time can inform the conversation at operations review and risk review, helping the team analyze their work-in-progress limits and blocker clusters.

Like any practice, without attention to the “why” and context, they can lead to to mindless repetition. But if flow is important to you — and it should be — “the new three questions” can help you improve it with a simple twist on an old reliable pattern.

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