Do Your Daily Agile Standup Meetings Suck? This Is Probably Why…

WRITTEN BY Mike Cottmeyer

Agile Standup Meetings

Probably the most visible component of Scrum are the daily Agile standup meetings. There are groups I’ve met that claim they are doing agile due to the mere presence of this one meeting. It’s as if people think that adopting a quick 15 minute meeting is the answer to every dysfunction in their organization. Bad requirements… no business strategy… terrible architecture… no unit tests? No problem… let’s just get together for 15 minutes a day and that should fix everything. You think I’m kidding?

Even if folks get that adopting agile is more than adopting a daily stand-up meeting… stand-up meetings often devolve into a total waste of time. Why? Somehow the daily stand-up meeting became about the three questions. We are advised that in every daily Scrum each team member is supposed to answer three questions… what did I do yesterday, what did I do today, and do I have any impediments? How often have you had a team tell you there are no impediments and totally fail delivering their sprint?

There is nothing inherently wrong with having a daily stand-up, it’s a great practice. The thing you have to realize though is that three questions are just a starter kit… they help you understand the kinds of things you might want to talk about… they are not the reason you meet for your daily meeting. As a Scrum team, you have made a commitment to your customer, and to yourselves, to deliver a certain amount of product at the end of the sprint. The daily Scrum is a recurring opportunity for the team to get together and discuss their progress against that shared commitment.

If we approach Scrum with a mindset that says there is no such thing as your work or my work… there is only our work. If we approach Scrum with a mindset that says there is no such thing as untested software. If we can acknowledge that no developer can be done until everyone on the team is done… the daily stand-up meeting begins to take on whole new meaning. There is a sense of urgency around the meeting… we have to talk… we have to touch base… we need each an everyone of us to be successful.

Running good standup meetings is seldom really about the standup itself. More often than not, it’s about the quality of backlog… the way we do sprint planning… how well we are working together to swarm around backlog items… how committed we are to each other for shared outcomes… and what is expected when we ultimately do the demo.  If you get the fundamental stuff straight… good daily stand-up meetings usually follow. 

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13 comments on “Do Your Daily Agile Standup Meetings Suck? This Is Probably Why…”

  1. Peter Saddington

    Great notes on this. A standup is team alignment towards commitment.

    Reply
  2. Peter Graves

    Great post. Seen this same happen, we are agile from use standups!

    Reply
  3. Tim Wise

    That last paragraph is beautifully stated. How to get them in that mindset (and the business) is a different matter.

    Reply
  4. Jeena

    “If you get the fundamental stuff straight… good daily stand-up meetings usually follow.”
    Can’t agree more. In one of my first teams that followed Scrum, there was a lot of scepticism (naturally) at the new set of meetings (daily scrum, review/retro, sprint planning etc.) and there was also a sort of inertia, that made people to *not* collaborate. I can’t explain it, it was frustrating. It took a while for things to fall into place, but when it did, it was a giant leap.
    - Jeena

    Reply
  5. aggressive saver

    our stand up meetings are terrible. they turn into all manner of things – status meetings, discovery meetings, etc. they seldom synchronize the team, and more likely, they tend to alienate people, waste time, and create animosity.

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  6. Michael Dubakov

    Very nice. We’ve been running daily meeting more than 4 years. Maybe this is the only practice that survived so long almost without modifications in our team. For us daily meeting is a very short coordination event with some jokes and cheer ups. It is good to get together in the morning, say “hi” and so on. Maybe we even don’t need daily meetings now, but still spend 10 minites every day together.

    Reply
  7. swiss IT bridge

    Interesting article, we also working with Scrum at our company and these daily stand ups are still necessary and useful for us.

    Reply
  8. scram

    I agree with aggressive saver–I hate scrum. It’s torture. I had much better relationship with colleagues before scrum was imposed. Scrum seems coercive to me, and the trainers have a coercive attitude about it. It’s as if I’ve lost my humanity since scrum was implemented, this is ironic since scrum claims to adhere to “people over process” value of agile manifesto. I used to be a fan of xP, had training, immersion training, even suggested we had daily working sessions — never again. I have lived through two different scrum projects under two different managements and they both sucked and were both completely out of contact with reality in terms of the backlog and making mountains out of molehills.

    One of my mentors however sees value in scrum, particularly the “adaptive” aspects of it. He stresses backlog. I realize our backlog sucks and my understanding of and contribution to our backlog sucks. I can see the problem is perhaps with the backlog.

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  9. Fred

    “How often have you had a team tell you there are no impediments and totally fail delivering their sprint?”

    Frequently! In my experience, that’s because people stop talking about the actual impediments, because it becomes clear they won’t be resolved. For example, it’s common for the major impediment to be “I get interrupted 93 times a day, and I need a quiet office to do my work (and here’s a boatload of studies that support me)”, but the manager will say “Sorry, the boss believes in Open Floorplan here, so just suck it up”. After a day or two, people will stop mentioning it in the stand-up. Or “We’re wasting a ton of time doing all this merging, so can we upgrade to a DVCS?”, or “The internal bug tracking tool is outrageously slow, can we get it fixed?”, or “We don’t have enough licenses for everybody to use this software at the same time, so can we buy more?”.

    If the stand-up meeting actually consisted of people saying “You get me X, and I’ll deliver Y to you, on time!”, and managers who were capable and willing to deliver on every X, then we’d meet every deadline ever. In practice, what happens is that programmers say what they need to get their work done, and then managers say “Sorry, no can do” (or they go to management, who tells them this), and then it’s late. Well, no surprise there. We told you what we needed in order to deliver on time, and you didn’t give it to us. I guess Open Floorplan and the old CVS server and saving $150 on a software license is more important to the company than shipping on time. Remember the story about the boy who cried wolf? When you ask workers what they need, and then never give it to them, they’ll stop telling you they need anything. It’s unfortunate, but hardly surprising.

    I’ve worked at a couple places that were enormously successful at shipping software. What’s the one thing they had in common? Management never gave anybody any excuse to fail at anything! You want a private office? Done! You want a better bug tracker? Install it! You want a license for software that will make your job easier? Here’s a company credit card! At the end of the day, stuff got done. We didn’t have stand-ups, but people spontaneously volunteered suggestions of ways to make own their jobs easier, because they knew that these things always got resolved immediately.

    “how well we are working together to swarm around backlog items”

    This sounds like you have 10,000 little typos on your website and you need to fix them all. Most software development isn’t like that at all. As Brooks observed (decades ago), it takes longer to redistribute a single large problem to new workers, than it does for the existing person to finish their work.

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  10. Eric T Cat

    My issue with the Scrum is that it is typically the only part of the Agile method instigated by many sites. It rapidly replaces the more useful meetings that predated it, and becomes a daily squabble about nothing in particular, and rapidly becomes loathed by those with a bad back or other ailment, as standing about achieves little other than to make bad backs worse.

    My current site has a mix, my team we do things the old way, I manage and take responsibility for the work getting done. I support my team, I remove barriers to progress, and ensure they have the tools to do their job properly. As a result we have a strong work ethic, achieve our goals and have a team that others want to join. Those who engage in scrums stand about, deliver nothing on time, and usually spend their time blamecasting. The actions of those scrums make Rugby League scrums look well organized and run!

    I am not a fan, sorry.

    Reply
  11. Mike Cottmeyer

    Mike Cottmeyer

    Eric… if you are only doing daily standup meetings, you are not doing Scrum. I realize this happens a lot, but that isn’t Scrum’s fault. I’d go a step further and say if you are a large, complex organization and you are only doing Scrum, the full package even, you are probably not doing effective agile at scale. I’m well aware that the misapplication of agile principles and oversimplified Scrum processes is going to kill the agile movement. For now, we are trying to help clients with a blended approach that incorporates Scrum, XP, Lean, Kanban integrated at times with more traditional program and portfolio governance and metrics. Just because some folks are doing Scrum poorly doesn’t mean we have to throw away the stuff that works.

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  12. Jim Benson

    Mike,

    I agree, the three questions suck the life out of any standup.

    The division between your work and my work is huge. In many companies I see this carry over to the Product Owner who will come in and assign stories to coder drones. Those stories are then done in parallel with little conversation. (Waterscrum)

    What I like about the visual boards is that, even if people remain disenfranchised, they at least _see_ that they are disenfranchised. More often though, they can’t help but discuss what’s on the board. Then change happens. If Eric had a kanban board on the wall, he could at least point at the bullshit and identify it. Then his standup would have some meaning.

    Jim

    Reply