The Secret Sauce, Ep. 14: What's a Scrum, Anyway?

So what's a scrum, anyway? Are they valuable? If so, what’s the best format them? And what’s the role of a scrum master? Project Manager Chad Goodrum shares his knowledge on the subject for this week's The Secret Sauce podcast.

If you've ever worked on a web project at any scale, you may have participated or lead daily scrums. These mini meetings provide regular touch points for projects, and help keep it humming. However, those not familiar scrums may have heard the term, but don't exactly understand what they're all about. So why do we have scrums? Are they valuable? If so, what’s the best format them? And what’s the role of a scrum master, anyway? Project Manager Chad Goodrum joins Account Manager Allison Manley and shares his knowledge on the subject.

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Allison Manley [AM]: Hello and welcome to The Secret Sauce, brought to you by This is a short podcast, just a few minutes long, that offers a quick tip on some small thing you can do to help your business run better.

I’m Allison Manley. I’m an Account Manager here at Palantir, and today’s advice comes from Chad Goodrum, one of our Project Managers. Chad is going to talk about meetings in the development world known as scrums.

Chad Goodrum [CG]: Hi, this is Chad Goodrum with I’m a Project Manager here at Palantir. I’d like to talk today a little bit about scrums. We use those every day in a 15-minute standup with the development team, which includes our developers, designers, Product Owners from the client side, project managers, strategists, and other stakeholders inside the Palantir team.

The format of our scrums take place on video conferences. We find that scrums are more useful when they are face to face. If they can’t be face to face, we find that at least a visual representation or through video conferences work better for us.

Why do we have scrums? We use scrums daily as a way to look back in 24-hour increments what the team has worked on, what they’re going to be working on, and any issues or blockers they may have.

What’s the format of a scrum? The format of a scrum is pretty casual. People refer to them as “standups” where people used to stand up together in a 15-minute scrum. But typically what we do is we have a short conversation, and go around the room or the video conference with each individual discussing what they have worked on. So let’s say we have a developer named Jan. Jan will say what she worked on the day before, go over tickets at a high level and discuss what she worked on; she will say what she’s working on today . . . maybe it’s a continuation of those tickets, maybe it is starting something new; and then she will mention any blockers that she may have. These could be feedback from the client, feedback internally, issues with the user story or ticket that she’s working on . . . this gives the team a perspective to take a look at that issue as a whole and give immediate feedback or schedule a later call or conversation to discuss that. It’s a high level conversation that we can have internally to make sure that we are on track every day.

Some things we use to manage scrums: we have something called a scrum log. Scrum log is a basic document with each team member’s name on there discussing what they’ve done, what they’re going to do, and any blockers they have. A requirement is that it’s filled out prior to the meeting every day. The meetings are going to be at the same time every day for consistency’s sake.

Another requirement that we have is not being shy or conservative to talk about issues you are having. Sometimes this comes up with the client product owner is on the scrum. But it’s more detrimental not to talk about an issue that you’re having then to talk about it and bring it the attention of everyone on the team.

What’s the role of a “scrum master?” The scrum master is not a stakeholder in the conversation itself. The scrum master is the mediator or moderator. They are the ones who are going to facilitate the conversation. They’re not there to give opinions about the process itself. So the scrum master is going to call the meeting, make sure everyone’s on time, go through the meeting, set up further meetings if there needs to be meetings internally or externally with the client.

There’s been a lot of talk internally here at Palantir about having product owners on the scrums daily, or not having the product owners on. And there’s been a lot of pros and cons of that. The pros of having the product owner on the scrum with us: it gives them daily visibility into what we’re working on. It’s a transparency at Palantir that we really like to have. That way there are no questions or concerns maybe at the end of a sprint, in two week increments, where they are unaware of what we’ve been working on for two weeks.

One of the cons that I discussed earlier was about being shy or conservative around the product owner. If someone has an issue maybe with the architecture, or some of the strategy, or some conflicts with the overall process, many times developers (myself included) will tend to be a little shy about bringing those issues up to a product owner. So sometimes we’re not as candid as we could be without the product owner. There’s talk about where being shy or not as candid could actually lower velocity for the team.

Another concept of scrum is the idea that scrums are self-managing, that there’s not one person that is responsible for the scrum. And by self-managing that means that everyone is accountable for all things. That includes the scrum log being filled out, being on scrum on time, being on video, and being candid about your issues or concerns that you may have on a daily basis. And by self-managing that means everyone on that team has the right, as well as the duty, to speak up if something is not going accordingly . . . whether someone’s late, misses scrums, or a known issue that isn’t discussed.

Scurms in general at Palantir provide an immense amount of value to the team, to the client, and to the overall success of the project. Without doing daily scrums, it would be very difficult for everyone on the team to know what others are doing on a daily basis. Check-ins once a week are not enough for us to have a consistent, transparent view of the project as it moves forward. When we’re working on any sort of format that’s agile or agile-like, daily standups or daily scrums are imperative to the project’s success.

AM: Thanks Chad! And thank you all for joining in on this week’s Secret Sauce! For more great tips, follow us on twitter at @palantir, or visit our website at Have a great day!