Daily standups: A Roadblock-remover or Productivity Interrupter?

scrumproject managementZenHub team on...Stand up

Daily standups: A Roadblock-remover or Productivity Interrupter?

There are some things that are fundamental to using Scrum for Agile software development. Sprints. Retrospectives. Project management transparency. And then there are the things that teeter on the edge; the things whose proponents will tell you cannot be done without, while their detractors call them roadblocks at best, and productivity killers at worst.

And right in the heart of this teetering line are the oft-maligned and equally well-loved standups.

If you’re not already doing standups, you probably don’t work in an Agile company! Standups are short meetings designed to get teams communicating and sharing expertise, while also keeping on-mission and uncovering impediments during hectic Sprints.

The framework of a standup is simple: everyone on the team takes turns describing what they worked on the day before, their plans for the upcoming day, and any roadblocks they’ve experienced. And, yes—you do the meeting standing up. This encourages everyone to keep it short and to the point, ensuring standups never run more than twenty minutes (and ideally no more than fifteen).

Daily standups keep you pointed in the right direction

Paul DeLong describes the need for daily standups using the metaphor of a football team. “How effective would a football team be if they planned every play they would run in the order they would run it, before the game, and they ‘stuck to the plan’ despite what was happening in the game? How long before they would be running the ball when they should be passing it?” Daily stand ups help you adjust to problems organically, rather than trying to finagle the necessary team members or—worse—waiting until the once-weekly meeting.

Standups also serve as a low-stress way for team members to ask each other for help and feedback. It can be hard to interrupt a colleague’s flow to ask them for their input on something that isn’t on their to-do list. But when teams support each other, the flow of information becomes an integral part of their success! Daily standups allow less-forceful team members to ask for help in a safe environment, without worrying about ‘bothering’ anyone.

Depending on team size, some companies run standups once a week, or once every two or three days, and even daily; we recommend sticking strictly to a schedule. Not only should you have daily standups, you should make sure to have them at the same time every day.

Some people find morning isn’t a great time - if it’s too close to the start of the workday people can often feel like they don’t want to get started on the day’s work until the standup; but too near the end and there’s no time to take advice from teammates and put it into action right away. Our team has standups just before lunch. This is another motivator to keep the meeting quick and focused. Everyone wants to get to that waiting food!

If standups are so great, why do some people dislike them?

The biggest reason for people to dislike standups is simply that many of them aren’t run well! It can be intimidating to try and track daily project work, especially if you’re the kind of worker whose pace ebbs and flows; and a badly run standup quickly feels like micromanagement. Team members can fall into in-depth status reports, repeating the same information every day, or spiralling into conversations between a team member and the project manager that could be better handled one-on-one.

Of course, there are some people who simply run on a different schedule. It’s important to keep your team in mind, and not try to force a system that doesn’t work. If having a standup every second day is better for your team (or the project you’re working on), a good project manager should consider it. But often, the solution isn’t to give up on daily standups—it’s to find the right standup for your team.
Don’t give them up—fix them!

We polled the team at ZenHub and asked them what they thought made for a great standup, and the results were fascinating. It was really important to the team that standups not stray past 15 minutes—even 20 is pushing it! This keeps everyone on the same page and gives insight into what others are doing, without the ever-present risk of micromanaging.

They also liked that standups keep people accountable. Teams can get siloed in work really easily, and it helps make sure everyone is running in the same direction—but only if people come prepared! A good standup needs everyone to bring important actions, contributions, and questions for the team. It shouldn't became a place to discuss things, rather to bring up business so that people can follow up later.

If you follow those simple steps, you’ll be sure to run an amazing standup that will help keep your team on track, keep the priorities aligned, and support your Agile methodology.

Do you have questions about ZenHub? We'd be more than happy to help on Twitter @ZenHubHQ or email us directly.