The Daily Standup is a core practice of successful teams and one of the first practices that most teams adopt as they seek to improve their collaboration. But despite its prominence, many teams struggle to grasp the point of this event.
For example, let’s look at a typical Daily Standup for a team building an ecommerce product. We’ll start with our product manager, Jenny.
Jenny: “OK, let’s circle up for the standup. Joe, how about you go first?”
Joe: “Sure. Yesterday I continued testing the shopping cart story and made it through the bulk of it. Today, I should finish it and be ready to move onto my next item. I have no blockers.”
Jenny: “Great. Sue?”
Sue: “Yesterday I made pretty good progress on the story to track inventory of items and automatically mark them as out of stock when we’ve sold the last one. There’s still a good bit to do for this one, though, so I don’t expect to finish it until tomorrow, at least. I have no blockers, either.”
Jenny: “Thanks, Sue. Pedro, that leaves you.”
Pedro: “OK. Yesterday I wrapped up the data import of the next batch of new products and started work on importing our old customer contact list into the new app. This data is pretty messy, so it’ll probably take me the rest of the day to wrap that up.”
At first glance, that may have seemed like a perfectly adequate Daily Standup. The team circled up, talked about what they had been working on recently and what they would continue to do during the day. But if you listened closely, you may have noticed a common thread: Each member of the team focused on a status update to their product manager—not what they were actually doing to move their work forward.
Teams who are new to the Daily Standup often fall into the trap of using this event as a simple status reporting meeting…especially if they’re transitioning from an environment where a large emphasis was placed on status reporting.
But the Daily Standup is much more than a status meeting. This ceremony is intended to be an opportunity for the team to synchronize and make a plan for the day about how they’ll work together to move closer to delivering their goal for the iteration. In fact, just as the purpose of the iteration planning meeting is to give the team the chance to plan their work for the iteration to come, the purpose of the Daily Standup is to give the team the chance to plan one slice of that iteration’s work for the day. But to do this, the team needs to avoid simply reporting the status of their work each morning and instead shift their focus to what they’re doing to advance their work forward that day. It’s only with this level of transparency that the team can actually work together to plan their day’s work.
Let’s look at that same Daily Standup again, but from this time from the perspective of treating it as a planning meeting:
Jenny: “OK, let’s circle up for the morning standup. Who would like to start us off?”
Joe: “I’ll go. Yesterday I tested the ability to add items to the shopping cart and it looks good. I still have a bit left to do, though, so today I’ll be testing the ability to remove items from the shopping cart and update the quantities of existing items. It looks like the product review story is ready, so I’m going to plan to start that after I finish the shopping cart story.”
Sue: “My turn. Yesterday I worked on tracking the inventory of items and added the functionality to automatically mark an item as out of stock when the last one is sold. There are a lot of tendrils with this one, though, so I’ll be working through those today. The biggest one is understanding what happens when an item has already been placed in one customer’s cart but then goes out of stock when another customer completes their purchase. I suppose I’m a bit blocked on this since I don’t know how to handle that case….in fact, I’m not even sure how to test for that.”
Joe: “I can help you with that. I’ll be doing something similar with setting up test cases to track item quantities across individual carts, so let’s sync up after the standup to see what we can come up with so we don’t duplicate our efforts.”
Jenny: “The three of us should also chat after our standup this morning. I’ve actually already given some thought to the case when a customer adds a product to their cart but doesn’t check out immediately and what impact that can have on inventory. I’m starting to think that we may be thinking about this all wrong and that the right idea is to deduct the item from our inventory as soon as it’s in the cart. Let’s circle up this morning and consider the possible effects of both options before we go too deeply.”
Sue: “That sounds great, let’s do that.”
Pedro: “OK, I suppose that leaves me. Yesterday I wrapped up the data import of the next batch of new products and started work on importing our old customer contact list into the new app. I was able to import the raw records easily, but this data is pretty messy, so I’ll be working today to figure out the best way to clean up the data and remove any duplicates. Joe, you mentioned that you were going to move on to the product review story today? Please let me know before you do…product reviews are always tied to customers and I’ll be truncating the customer’s table pretty frequently today as I try to get this import process sorted out. Please give me a heads up before you start so I can warn you each time I truncate it…otherwise, you’re going to have a hard time getting anywhere with reviews when I’m constantly deleting your customers out from under you.”
This is the same team, the same product, and the same day. They’re even describing the same pieces of work they’ll be tackling. So what’s different? Rather than just giving a simple status update for each item currently in progress, the team dove deeper into their actual plans for their work for the day which uncovered several opportunities for them to sync up and work more effectively together. In fact, in Pedro’s case, this additional detail let him spot a potential problem where he and Joe would interfere with one another so they could plan accordingly.
By turning the Daily Standup from a simple status meeting into an actual planning meeting for that day, the team was able to coordinate much more effectively on the work in progress and significantly increase the odds that they can complete all of the work they planned for the current iteration.
The shift from treating the Daily Standup as a status meeting to treating it as a planning meeting is a powerful but subtle one, so it’s not always obvious how a team can do so. But here are a few tips that can help.
As the product manager, discourage the team from reporting their status directly to you. The Daily Standup is for the team’s benefit, not yours, so you’ll need to help your team understand this. If a team member seems to be looking at you while giving their update, try looking away to the iteration board. This will communicate that you should not be the focus for the Daily Standup and that the content should instead focus on the work represented on the board.
Help the team learn to facilitate the Daily Standup on their own without your prodding. At the very least, this means that the individual members of the team can keep the meeting moving without a need for you to call on each member. If your team struggles with this, then try to resist the urge to call on each member of the team simply to avoid an awkward silence between updates. If the silence is allowed to grow long enough between updates, eventually someone will step in to fill the void. Once this has happened a few times, the team will become much more adept at keeping the pace moving and avoiding these gaps.
Although the most important piece is that teams have the opportunity to sync up at least once each day, teams that hold their Daily Standups in the morning are much more likely to treat this ceremony as a planning opportunity than those teams who hold this ceremony in the afternoon. When a team meets for their Daily Standups in the morning, they have the entire day in front of them and are more likely to be in a planning mindset. But when a team meets in the afternoon, the bulk of the day has passed so there’s little planning to be done. These teams are more likely to focus on the work already performed that day and thus shift the meeting to a mere status report. Although this isn’t always possible, try to hold the Daily Standup in the morning so your team is in a planning state of mind when they meet.
Perhaps one of the easiest ways to coach your team away from treating the Daily Standup as a simple status meeting is to discourage them from reporting on their recent work altogether. The Reverse Standup, an alternative format for the Daily Standup, was created to do just that. This format moves the “What did I do yesterday?” question to the end of the question set and even makes it optional to downplay its significance. Try this format out with your team to help shift their focus from reporting on work that’s already happened to planning for work that’s next in the queue.
The Daily Standup is simultaneously one of the simplest and the most powerful practices that a team can adopt to improve their collaboration. But teams who insist on using it as a mere status meeting are barely scratching the surface of its potential. Encourage your team to make the shift to treating the Daily Standup as a true daily planning meeting to help them work together more cohesively and deliver great products along the way.
Jeremy Jarrell is an agile coach who helps teams get better at doing what they love. When he’s not mentoring Scrum Masters or Product Owners, Jeremy loves to write on all things agile. You can read more of his thoughts at www.jeremyjarrell.com, see his videos at Pluralsight, or follow him on Twitter @jeremyjarrell.