Improving the Daily Standup

All the agile methods include some kind of a daily checkpoint. It's often called a "scrum" or a "standup" and it's point each day where the entire team comes together for a quick meeting. Most teams don't understand the point of the standup and therefore don't get the benefit from it that they should.

This is intended as a coordination point, not a status meeting. This is where the team re-synchronizes and gains a shared understanding of what's going on with the work.

Keep it short

A standup that's taking more than one minute per person (on average) is an indication of problems. Perhaps people are giving detailed status reports. Perhaps we have too much work in progress. Perhaps we have an overwhelming number of obstacles that need to be discussed.

For the most part, we don't care that people had to sit through meetings yesterday or that they spent the day debugging some problem. We care about the work that's left. We care about the things that are going to impact us today.

When the conversation starts to ramble on then everyone begins to disengage and that makes it go even slower which causes more disengagement. Keep it short and to the point. Keep everyone engaged and interested in the conversation.

Menlo Innovations reports that they regularly do a standup with 80 people in under fifteen minutes. This doesn't mean that going this fast is right for you team. It does mean that it's possible to go this fast and still be effective.

Hold the meeting where the team works

Many teams will book a separate meeting room for their standup and will leave the team space for this purpose. Aside from the obvious loss of time as we all march over to a different location, there are psychological reasons to not do this.

When we are working in a specific place or even in a certain way, we anchor to those locations and behaviours. When we change our anchors then we actually have difficulty accessing all the work we need to talk about.

Have you ever walked into a room and then forgotten why you'd come in there? That's called the doorway effect and it's a well researched problem having to do with how we store memories. When we walk though a doorway, we're changing the anchors around us, which makes it easier to recall some memories and more difficult to recall others.

The work we do in the team area is anchored the physical space around us and when we change spaces, it makes it more difficult to recall information about that work.

Note that it's actually anchored to more than just the physical space but for this point, that's enough.

Hold your standups in the same place where the team does the work. In the case where the team is distributed then they want to be in the same configuration that they normally use for doing the work.

Keep it focused on the work

The traditional scrum questions are all about individuals.

  1. What did you do yesterday?
  2. What are you going to do today?
  3. What obstacles are in your way?
This unfortunately encourages individual accomplishment, not teamwork. By asking these questions, we've embedded the unconscious message that we don't value teamwork and want you to work by yourself.

If we wanted to send a message of teamwork then we'd be better asking these questions.

  1. What will it take to move work item X to done today?
  2. What obstacles are in our way?
Note the focus on the work and the team, not on the individuals. Everyone will unconsciously optimize their behaviour to match whatever we measure. If we measure individual accomplishment, we'll get more individual work. If we measure teamwork, we'll get more of that.