Daily Standup: an easy and effective Agile practice

“Get fit in just 15-minutes a day!”: how many commercial ads have you seen claiming this? Unlike those ads, daily Standup is an Agile practice (most from the Scrum framework) that will really help you in making your organisation work smoother with a little effort.

But, how does it work?

Hi, thanks for inviting me to attend your team’s standup; it has been very interesting: could you please tell me something more? Hi, it’s been my pleasure to see you in the meeting, and I’ll be glad to answer all of your questions.

When do you have the meeting? The standup is held everyday, before start to work. Some teams like to have it before lunch or in other moments, but we like to start our workday with this short ceremony.

Who participates in the meeting? All the team members, without exception, even though it is not mandatory — but highly recommended!

Only team members? Can external people attend? Yes, and in fact, you were allowed to attend. But this should be an exception; externals should attend only sometimes. And they – as you did – do not actively participate, but only listen to what the team says. If he/she wants to add something, he/she has to wait until the end of the meeting.

Do you have a rule to decide who starts to speak and who’s next? Anyone can start, and anyone can be the next. No rules for us, but, if you prefer, you can set an order for speaking. You surely noticed that we used a little ball to give the floor to the next speaker: this is something fun but functional, and you can use – if you want – any soft object as well.

But, you have a formula for the content of the speech…  Yes, of course, each speaker runs through these 3 points: 1) What I completed yesterday, 2) What I’m aiming to complete today, 3) Which obstacles or bottlenecks I have – if any. They can also ask teammates for any help on their problems, if they need, and, in a great team as we are, everyone is aiming to give their contribution to solving problems. It is important to avoid to start any discussion, as they have to be postponed after the meeting.

Why? Because the standup has to be very short in time, and not all the attendees may be interested in that discussion. The standup is to keep the other team members informed and updated, and to notify of any emerging problem: discussions and solutions are then postponed.

Understood. So, only those three points? Some emerging practices suggest to include a fourth question: “Do I understand, do I have the consciousness of what I’m doing”? This is a sort of provocative question, and it is to highlight a situation that you may find sometimes: the purpose of a given task is not clear because the information is not correctly shared, and therefore, the team is not involved the right way. Any person should ask himself this question – always, not only during the standup – and act accordingly if the answer is unknown.

One thing that surprised me (positively, I mean) is the informal setting. Yes, the informal setting has several purposes: first of all, people feel more relaxed and then speak freely; second, an informal setting drives to have more fun, and then jokes and gags will relax the setting even more: can you think of a better way to start your workday?

Don’t we run the risk of taking too long? No, the team has been taught to stay short, and they know that the meeting must last no more than 15 minutes. That’s another reason not to start discussions during the standup.

And that’s also the reason why the meeting is held standing up? Exactly: standing up creates a sense of urgency, so people tend to speak more concisely. Remember: do not allow the meeting to go beyond the 15 minutes limit.

Is the meeting always held in the same place? Yes, it is preferable to hold it always in the same place, to help to remain in a comfort zone, so people are more at ease. If you can, hold the standup in your usual working area, or at least very near to not waste time on moving (as we agilists say, in the Gemba).

A last question: who organises and manages the meeting? In a mature team, the team itself. In the beginning, you may need a coach (the ScrumMaster in the Scrum framework) to help in practising. Here’s a couple of tips:

  • Tip #1 – Being on time for daily standups: The daily standup is a great moment the team members have to inform teammates about their activities and bottlenecks, problems or roadblocks, if any (remember: to inform, not to discuss; the latter is part of the daily work). It also is a moment to share (or to set up) a team’s common vision about the project in general and the current sprint in more details. Being all team members on time for daily standup allows the meeting to start and take place punctually so that everyone can take advantage of the benefits a good standup offers. Moreover, don’t forget that being disciplined is a prerequisite for any agile practice.
  • Tip #2 – During the standup, talk to the team: the standup event is a great opportunity for each team member to inform the team about his/her own activities, and to be informed about other teammates’ activities as well. The event also serves to stimulate discussions (after the meeting, of course) within the team about roadblocks or improvements to the software. Did you notice who is involved? The players are the individual team members and the team as a whole. This is because the standup is not a status report, and therefore, you aren’t reporting to the Product Owner nor the Scrum Master — even though both benefit a lot from the updates. Talk to the team; it’s your audience.

A last question: is the daily standup a practice suitable only for IT teams? Absolutely not: in our conversation, I never cited IT, or developers, or programmers. Daily standup is a good practice for teams working in any field, and everyone can benefit from the adoption of it. It prompts people to talk to each other and to share their experiences and problems, building an effective team day after day.

Thank you! You’re welcome, and… good standup!

About Enrico Di Cesare

Always interested in improving the quality of the software produced for himself or for his customers, Enrico became an Agile enthusiast as soon as he discovered it. With extensive previous experience as a Project Manager and Coordinator, Enrico works as an Agile Coach, Scrum Master and Product Owner, introducing, mastering, facilitating and refining the adoption of Agile with new collaborative tools.

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