Jimi Wikman is an experienced and much appreciated consultant that have worked as team lead, scrum master and project manager for many years. He is also a popular work process designer and educator with a specialty in the Atlassian products. With more than 25 years practical experience as a frontend developer, graphic designer, tester and requirement analyst he knows the pain and pleasures of what the teams face on a daily basis.
The Daily Stand-up - can we make it better?
If you have worked in IT in the past 10-15 years or so, you probably have endured the endless regurgitation of meaningless information in a daily stand-up. You have probably felt the anxiety of being judged and been annoyed over your teammates doctoring their results to look more productive. You probably also wished you did not have to go to the meetings once or twice. What if I told you there is a better way to manage daily stand-ups? Because there is.
First let us figure out what the purpose of a daily stand-up is and where it comes from. The need to organize groups and to collaborate is as old as time itself and while many consider the daily stand-up, or daily scrum to originate from the Scrum framework, that is not true. Regular meetings have been a common practice since long before Scrum, and it is also why it is the most used aspect of Scrum in less than Agile work processes.
What Scrum did however was to add psychological stress to the formula with the intent of increasing productivity. This was done by putting emphasis on proof of progress rather than collaboration. It is an effective way to shame people into becoming more productive, and it is a typical behavior for extroverts to seek the admiration and praise of others. The downside is increased levels of stress, which is counterproductive. In many cases it also leads to manipulation of data and fragmentation of work, especially in continuous delivery situations where people tend to work on multiple things at the same time.
For many years Scrum had three questions that was the law to regurgitate every daily meeting:
- What did I do yesterday that helped the development team meet the sprint goal?
- What will I do today to help the development team meet the sprint goal?
- Do I see any impediment that prevents me or the development team from meeting the sprint goal?
In the 2020 scrum guide they have backed off from this a bit, but they still focus on the feeling of guilt by pushing the conversation towards progress.
"The purpose of the Daily Scrum is to inspect progress toward the Sprint Goal and adapt the Sprint Backlog as necessary, adjusting the upcoming planned work."
This is even more emphasized in the statement of the benefits of the daily stand-up:
Daily Scrums improve communications, identify impediments, promote quick decision-making, and consequently eliminate the need for other meetings.
Again this is clearly written from the perspective of an extrovert because for many introverts this is NOT a forum for improved communication. The idea that the daily stand-up eliminate the need for other meetings is not true. It most certainly can consolidate questions into a more focused forum, which does reduce the need to bother developers and others multiple times, but you often find reasons for more meetings, not less.
How do we make this better?
Let us first decide why we want to have daily meetings in the first place. The most obvious reason is to gain control. This is how most managers that are detached from the team see the daily stand-up because it is the only way they can stay on top of things, so they can look good in other meetings. That is not what daily stand-ups are for however and as a manger you should instead manage your time and make sure you work with the team and not act as a proxy.
The reason we have daily stand-up should be to make sure everyone in the team have a voice and to make sure everyone is informed. By making sure everyone in the team get a voice we can find impediments and help each other solve problems. We can lift concerns and ask questions in a safe setting that allow the team to feel safe. It allows for a common forum for information, so everyone can feel that they have the information they need at all times.
We do this because questions and doubt are the bane of productivity and team health.
The first thing we do is to remove the time cap. Our minds are very sensitive to time and performance under pressure, so we remove that. Instead, we add a 30-minute slot every morning where we spend as much time as we need. Sometimes it is just 5 minutes, sometimes we extend the 30 minutes and change it into another type of meeting.
The second thing we do is remove the need to report what has been done. This is the cause of much anxiety and in a healthy team you should not need that type of information anyway. Instead, we focus on questions, impediments and requests for help. We make sure everyone in the team get a chance to speak, and we make sure that everyone feel safe, so they dare to say what is on their mind. This is important because one thing we want to capture is if time estimates need to be extended or if new tasks might be needed.
We sort things that come up as team related or personal, so we can focus on the team related issues first and then take personal questions after the meeting to make the disruption as small as possible. To make this disruption even smaller we put the daily meeting as early as possible without limiting peoples freedom. This means that you most likely have people in the team that have kids or other family situations that require them to have some flexibility in the morning and afternoon. 9 or 10 are common times, but you can just as well do this after lunch for example. The aim is to avoid disrupting the team as content switching is bad.
The final part is for the team lead and architect to inform the team of things happening outside the team that is relevant to the team.
I strongly suggest that you make this daily meeting as comfortable as possible instead of actually making it an actual stand-up. The reason for that is that most people are more likely to raise questions and ask for help when they are comfortable. If you can align this around a coffee break or breakfast, then that is excellent.
- Schedule the meeting as early as possible without limiting the flexibility of your team members.
- Go around the team and let everyone ask questions, request help and raise concerns if there are any.
- Team lead and Architect give information relevant for the team.
- Confirm activities such as additional meetings or request for information or to solve impediments
- Grab some water or coffee and then return to work again.
I find that these types of daily meetings often lead to better productivity for the simple reason that people feel less stressed when they get information and can get their problems solved. The outcome of these meetings often lead to technical discussions to answer technical questions and sometimes new activities to refactor things that might not have been captured otherwise.
So if you are stuck in a daily routine of regurgitating Jira numbers where you feel the need to adjust numbers a bit just to look good, then I suggest you give this approach a try instead.
Management by fear and intimidation is a poor substitute for making your team feel safe and informed.