The daily stand-up is dead

Well, not really. But the way we do them is. I remember when I became a scrum practitioner and was part of multiple teams, doing standups for every project reserved a lot of time during the day. So much in fact it had quite the impact on my productivity. I know I’m not alone in this, and while most of us believe in the benefits we get from doing stand-ups, something can be improved. When we look at the definition of the daily scrum meeting, this what we get:

In Scrum, on each day of a sprint, the team holds a daily scrum meeting called the “daily scrum.” Meetings are typically held in the same location and at the same time each day. Ideally, a daily scrum meeting is held in the morning, as it helps set the context for the coming day’s work. These scrum meetings are strictly time-boxed to 15 minutes. This keeps the discussion brisk but relevant.

Looking at this you get the feeling it’s a good idea. And it is, I’m not writing this to contest that in any way. But there are a few annoying side-effects with the classic way of doing stand-ups. First off, the same time each day thing. Every team that starts doing stand-ups does so at a designated time. But not everybody starts at the same time, neither might they be at the same location. People that start early will have to do a context switch and thus most likely lose productivity (between you and me, they will). If you need to be present from a distant location, this can also have an impact on the productivity of the stand-up, even in 2016. Technology is a bitch.

Time boxed. Really? We want to make sure the important things are covered but we time-box it just to reduce the impact of the meeting? Somehow that sounds rather contradictory to me. If someone has something important to say, whether the team also feels that way about it or not, he or she should be able to do so. Once we are cornered to only talk for a minute “because the stand-up takes too long”, valuable information will get lost. It will just be “did this yesterday, doing that today, not really blocked”. You don’t want that. At least I don’t. But I’ve witnessed a lot of standups like that.

So, can we remedy this and still keep the benefits a stand-up brings us? Sure, we automate the crap out of it. For about almost a year now, we do our stand-ups using Jell. The workflow is as follows, during the morning everyone can enter their stand-up details. The same fields apply so you get 3 questions to answer:

  • “What did you accomplish yesterday?”
  • “What are you planning to do today?”
  • “What challenges stand in your way?”

There are several advantages using this approach. First off, everyone gets to do this when they choose. There’s no overhead from an extra meeting. If you feel like doing this when you first get in, fine. If you want to read your emails first and then complete it, also fine. There’s no set point in time you have to do this. Secondly, Jell remembers what you did yesterday and will pre fill completed or ongoing tasks. I don’t have to remind you how hard it can be to list everything you did yesterday, this helps you quite a lot. If you feel like going all technical on a certain topic, be my guest. Those who want to read it can, others can safely ignore. You won’t be the person extending the stand-up because of long status updates anymore. Be yourself and don’t feel bad about it. Lastly, you can keep track of what’s been said. Stand-ups status updates tend to be volatile. We all have stuff on our mind and we do wander off. This way you can read through it again if you need to and not bother anyone because you forgot what they said.

Not having a fixed stand-up time allows us to focus on what we want to do. Which is really important if you want to feel happy about your job. Traditional stand-ups do tend to “get in the way”. And in the end nobody will be motivated anymore. Or, we will all laugh our way through and not have anything useful to say, let alone pay attention. Jell has Slack integration, a nice website and even mobile apps so you can complete this wherever you are (as long as you are connected).

Another annoying thing, but not directly related to this, is what is sometimes defined as a team that does a stand-up. Some companies tend to have stand-ups for development teams only. I don’t really see the point if you are closely working together on projects. You should know what’s going on, at least I do. If you have no idea what the guy next to you is doing, you have other problems. Stand-ups should be done with all those involved in a project. Talking to each other about code related issues is easy, the problems usually occur because of unclear or changing requirements.

The number 1 reason to go down the development-team-only road usually is that we assume the business side of things does not have time to participate or that they don’t care. But that’s not really true, mostly they are unaware the stand-up even exists, or have the impression it’s a technical-team only artifact (because we made it so). But it’s not. The most productive projects I ever had were those where everyone took part in the stand-up, traditional or online. You want to get feedback and input from everyone ASAP and be able to redirect where needed. It’s part of being agile. Not doing so implies you will either lose time finding the right people for answers or be stuck waiting on for project status meeting in the (hopefully) near future.

Don’t hold back to provide input and feedback, I’m really interested in reading it. Maybe you recognize some of these issues, or maybe you don’t and everything is fine :-)