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The Death of Stand-Ups

Most people who have had some experience of Agile will be familiar with daily stand-up or scrum meetings.  These meetings have a number of generally accepted practices including the asking of three questions to each team member: “what did I do yesterday?”, “what am I going to do today?”, “what are my blockers?”.  Or something similar.

The “stand up” name refers to the fact that team members will often huddle around a board containing their stories.  Some say that these meetings are done standing up to keep the meeting short.

Given that sensibly-sized scrum teams are meant to be small enough to be fed by a pizza, whizzing through these questions should be a very quick way to catch up and highlight issues.   Somehow however, teams may often end up in never-ending stand-up meetings which ultimately can lead to them killing the idea altogether.

There are a few reasons why this can happen.  Let’s look at some examples.

You are going to need a smaller team

Even if everyone is concise when answering the three questions, times that by a large number of people and you will still end up with a stand up of marathon length.  On top of that, go see how many of your team can absorb ALL the information in a single stand up meeting of that size.  This is all probably nature’s way of telling you that it is time to split the team.

Hail the Latecomers

This issue is not unique to stand ups.  Imagine, you have just gone through 75% of your team’s updates when a key member suddenly turns up.  Late.  Which can of course trigger a complete re-run of the previous updates.  Perhaps the obvious way to deal with this is to not repeat everything for the latecomer.  Not always easy though depending on how key to proceedings the latecomer is.  Another solution is to fine latecomers.  But let’s not be mean.

I need to justify why I am here

How many times have stand up attendees gone on at great length about things that have absolutely nothing to do with the team’s work?  “I’ve been to a meeting”.  “I caught up with a friend for lunch”.  “I’ve had my appraisal”.  You can deal with this by enforcing the three questions and making people align their answers to the ongoing work.  Another method is go through the stories on the board, asking people who have been working on them to explain what they done/what they are going to do next and whether they are blocked or not.

Overpacking

If there are things a team needs to do on a daily basis – for example latest customer issues, market news – it is all too convenient to bundle them into the conveniently booked daily stand-up.  And before you know it, you have a whole set of things to go through before you even consider the famous three questions.

Simple remedy: don’t let this happen.  Or let those things happen AFTER the stand up.

It’s so funny how they don’t talk anymore

This is a favourite of mine.  Developers can be an insular bunch.  Go on, admit it, they can be.

Sometimes having attended the stand-up, devs may decide that that is quite enough talking for the day, put their headphones on and crank out some awesome code without speaking to anyone else for the rest of the day.  And on those occasions when issues occur, they think “oh well, I can bring this up at the stand up tomorrow”.  When that next stand up occurs, the update inevitably turn into a deep dive on a particularly thorny issue.  The way to deal with this is to always be ready to say “please take this offline”.  And encourage people to talk to each other during the day.  And steal their headphones.

Let’s be careful out there

A good stand up can be an invigorating activity setting the scene for the day ahead, much like the opening scenes of Hill Street Blues.  Let’s try and keep it fresh, short and punchy.  People tend to enjoy them more that way.

And let’s face it, working on Agile projects is exactly like working for the NYPD.

2 Comments

  1. Martin Corbett Martin Corbett

    A most excellent piece, Mr Devil. It’s essential to call-out and challenge the all-too-frequent tendency of organisations to devolve from Best Practice to Easiest Practice.

    Keep em coming….

  2. Steven Gordon Steven Gordon

    These are all dysfunctions that do have potential solutions to try.

    Mid-day standups work at least as well as morning standups, and have some advantages, including fewer latecomers, not interrupting the work of early birds, and re-energizing the team when they tend to have a lull in energy.

    Using egg-timers to limit how much time each person talks can help.

    Reserving optional sit-down time after the standup for deep dives into any issues raised can also avoid long tangents.

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