Daily Stand-Up Demystified – Help your team kick …. challenges out of the way

As organizations dabble with the idea of starting Scrum or Agile one of the 1st things implemented is the daily stand up. This is with good reason – it is a powerful tool and, on the surface, takes little effort (just 15 minutes a day!). If you’re thinking of instituting the daily stand up with your team you should ask yourself 3 questions:

  1. What is it, and how will it help me?
  2. What can go wrong?
  3. Can I pull it off?

What is it and how will it help me?

The daily stand up is a 15-minute meeting the team has “daily”, and generally actually “stands” up during. The meeting has each team member answer 3 critical questions:

  1. What did I accomplish yesterday
  2. What will I accomplish today
  3. What impediments (if any) stand in my way?

That’s it, and payoff is generally huge. In just 15 minutes your team members commit to a day’s work, get a shared understanding of what is being worked on by whom, and find out if any issues need to be worked out to keep everyone productive. This shared understanding helps prevent duplication of work, prevents conflicts if people are about to work on dependent or related items, and avoids down time as you can help team members resolve impediments almost as soon as they arise.

The meeting typically happens 1st thing in the morning so people do not wait all day to get impediments resolved or find out about dependencies after the fact – and it sticks to that hard 15-minute rule. This means it is critical for team members to be on time and stick to the 3 questions.

“We have all seen the workout infomercials promising the body you want in just 15 minutes a day. It often feels like a similar promise is being made around achieving agility and the daily stand-up in scrum. Getting your team to reach agility is a lot like getting fit. Those 15 minutes are a start (and can get you noticeable improvement), but they must be paired with discipline and other good decisions to reach your end goal.”

What can go wrong?

A 15 minute meeting seems innocuous, but quite a bit can happen that quickly wipes out the benefits discussed above. I’ll go through the 3 most common challenges I’ve seen and what you can do to mitigate them.

  1. Failure to stick to the questions: You only have 15 minutes (and that’s on purpose). Too often I’ve seen teams try to resolve impediments during stand-up; leading to a derailment where a 15-minute meeting with the entire team suddenly takes an hour. Have your team stick to the 3 questions. If an impediment is raised, note it and meet with the affected subgroup or individuals after the meeting. This means you may have to be vocal in telling people to shelf their conversation and move on.
  2. Lack of engagement: This is especially true as companies go remote or become geographically disbursed. If you do stand up over the phone you have additional challenges. You will likely have to take action to prevent team members from timing their dial-ins or multi-tasking – but how? Randomness is your friend! Don’t go in a set order, keep people engaged and on their toes. You can also come up with working agreements that are fun. I recently had a team enforce a rule “1 minute late and you sing a song”. After the 1st rendition of ‘Old McDonald’ we’ve had very punctual starts.
  3. Glorified Status Update: This is almost an extension of the engagement challenge – but you need to prevent your stand-up from becoming a status update meeting for management. The real beauty of this meeting is in the commitments teammates are making to each other. When people commit to getting something done it is much more likely to succeed (vs having been directed). If you’re a manager or invite a manager to the call it should be as no more than a silent observer – this call isn’t about management, it’s about the people doing the work.

Can you pull it off?

Of course, you can. Believe it or not you might find some resistance if a team has never done this before (oh great, another meeting!). This is were selling the benefits and sticking to the 15-minute promise can come in big. I’ve seen some teams do “daily stand ups” 2x a week with some success and maybe that can get you a toe hold. Once the benefits are apparent resistance to doing it daily should go down.

It is important to note that doing a daily stand up alone does not make you agile. We have all seen the workout infomercials promising the body you want in just 15 minutes a day. It often feels like a similar promise is being made around achieving agility and the daily stand-up in scrum. Getting your team to reach agility is a lot like getting fit. Those 15 minutes are a start (and can get you noticeable improvement), but they must be paired with discipline and other good decisions to reach your end goal.

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