Monday, June 23, 2008

Do You Need a Standup Meeting?

Stand-up meetings are a great way to reduce delays in communicating important information. Another benefit of stand up meetings is the elimination of time-wasting status and progress meetings.

Stand up meetings are most closely associated with Scrum and are called “Daily Scrum Meetings” within Scrum, but have become populare independent of any particular methodology which is a good indicator of suitability for mainstream use.

A stand-up meeting is simple to implement. There are just a handful of guidelines:
  • Limit the time to fifteen minutes.
  • Pick a regular time for the team to meet, preferably in the morning.
  • Start on-time regardless of who is absent.
  • Each person answers these three questions:
  • What have you accomplished since the last meeting?
  • What are you working on next?
  • What impediments do you have?
  • All discussion and problem solving is deferred until the end of the stand-up meeting.
  • Follow-up as needed in smaller groups
Although it is called a stand-up meeting and standing is encouraged, the time limit is the most important part and standing is optional.

The point of a stand-up meeting is to improve communication and to discover and resolve impediments, not to have a meeting just for the sake of having a meeting. If the team feels that other practices make the stand-up meeting redundant, then by all means reduce their frequency or even discontinue use until such time as it appears to be necessary again.

To help make this decision, let’s take a look at the expense side of stand-up meetings. First, people have to get to it. And then they have to get back to their computers. Scrum discusses how to minimize this time, but practically speaking, there is more overhead than just the ideal 15 minute meeting. If you are at a larger company, somebody has to book the room and let people know where it is. Let’s call the cost of the meeting 20 minutes per person. If you have 12 people in a stand-up meeting, that’s 4 person hours per day. That’s the equivalent of half of a person. Those meetings had really better be worth it!

Now let’s take a hard look at the stand-up meeting itself. One of the basic ideas of Agile (and Lean) is continual self improvement. If the value of the meeting exceeds the cost, then there’s no problem with the meetings, especially if they are eliminating other meetings. If the stand-up meeting is the only remaining meeting, that seems like a good thing. However, continuous improvement means we’re never satisfied. Now that you are down to just the one meeting, you should still ask the question: “is it providing more value than the cost? Is there a better way?”

What is the purpose of a stand-up meeting? To quickly find out if people are getting their assigned work done and if not why not. If it is more efficient to do that via e-mail, IM, an issue tracking system, or other means, then use those means. Someone might say “but seeing folks face to face is worthwhile.” Ok, so why not just do that then? Go out to lunch together or something like that.

Or perhaps the stand-up meeting is needed because otherwise folks wouldn’t complete their work, or people wouldn’t speak up when they run into an impediment. In that case the stand-up meeting isn’t a solution at all, it is a crutch. For instance, perhaps somebody isn’t completing their work because they don’t like it, but the constant peer pressure of the standup meeting is goading them into completing their work anyway. So then the real problem is lack of job satisfaction or low moral or something along those lines. Until you fix that problem, the stand-up meeting is just acting as a band-aid.

The real measure of project status and health is having an increment of shippable value at the end of every iteration. A standup will only expose problems that are on people’s minds, but the forcing function of the increment of shippable value is where you will get the true picture of how things are going. A one month iteration interval is good, but if you can get it down to 2 weeks or even 1 week, that may do far more to expose real problems than a standup will.

Next: How Agile Helped Litle & Co. Get to #1 on the Inc. 500

10 comments:

Daniel Pietraru said...

I think "stand up" meetings are definitely better at promoting communication than the traditional 3 hours weekly meetings. In the traditional meeting the people who work the least talk the most while busy programmers think about the time they lose. Real communication doesn't happen in meetings but in the 1 to 1 discussions that follow after the meeting. And stand-up meetings are good at setting these up.
I would ad only one more guideline to your list:
The person asking the 3 questions and leading the meeting should not be a manager since such a practice doesn't promote honest answers due to the pressure involved.

Cheers,
Daniel

Raquel said...

On your penultimate paragraph you refer that maybe if the person isn't doing it's tasks it's because he is lacking job satisfaction or motivation. In a development team there are always tasks that are more desired and tasks that aren't. Some people just want to do the "attractive" tasks and then leave the boring ones to their colleagues. And even with daily stand ups they're able to skip the effective communication of what they are doing. How to deal with this?!

Damon Poole said...

Raquel,

The good news is that Agile has surfaced problems (though perhaps you knew about them anyway?) The bad news is that Agile is not a silver bullet. It can surface problems like these or make them more apparent, but it can't solve them.

Let's say you weren't doing Agile development and you had somebody on the team that only wanted to do the "good stuff" or was uncommunicative about what they are working on. What would you do? I think the typical answers are:

a) gentle persuasion
b) peer pressure
c) involve HR
d) put up with the situation because the person is too valuable to lose and hasn't responded to feedback
e) remove the person from the team (or further)

Agile doesn't really add another option here, it just reminds you daily that you have the problem and it is up to you to pick from the options above.

Denis said...

My office uses morning 'stand up' meetings and has moved completely away from weekly Wednesday morning meetings. The problem with this is that the short duration of the stand up does not lend itself well to in deep discussions on OHS issues, or alternate ideas to those promoted by managers who no longer are required to know what work we do, why we do it a certain way or the impact on our clients (I work in a Social Work office). They are merely used to promote ideology without meaningful discussion.

Damon Poole said...

Hi Denis,

I sense three (4?) problems in your environment. First, a stand-up meeting is 15 minutes long and there is no provision for preaching or dictating. If that is happening, that is not a stand-up meeting.

Second, you are absolutely right that there is no place *in* a standup meeting for deep discussions. That happens directly after the stand-up meeting if/when required.

Third, the stand-up meeting is not the place for any designing or anything like that. Related to that, the idea of Agile is that the teams should be self-organizing. Having managers decide how things will be done and who will do them is not the intent of Agile.

It sounds like your organization may be "going Agile" a bit too quickly. I've seen folks "go Agile" without so much as reading a book, getting formal training, or bringing a coach on board. That rarely works.

One option is to see if we are coming to a location near you and consider getting some formal training on Scrum/Agile. We can also come on-site.

Anonymous said...

There is absolutely no point to a 15 minute daily meeting. You force people to say things when they have nothing, or force them to summarize when they need more time. No one listens to anyone else because they're too busy concentrating on what they're going to say when it is their turn.

The best thing that ever happened to me with regard to meetings was the day I went full-time remote. I attend meetings by telecon. When it is my turn, I deliver my info and ask questions. When it is not my turn, I am work and listen passively. When questions come up that require information, I'm in front of my computer and can pull it up right away.

Damon Poole said...

Hi Anonymous,

I'm sorry to hear that you've had that experience. In my experience interacting with many Scrum teams, most teams get a lot of benefit out of the 15 minute meeting.

I have to say, it sounds more like the problem is in the environment there, not in the stand-up itself. Words like "forced" and "not listening" are red flags.

I'm also sad to hear that you find it to be a better environment working remote from the rest of the team. That's another red flag that being close to the team is not a rewarding experience which is pretty much the opposite of the way it should be.

I hope things work out for you and if not, let me reassure you that there are lots of great Agile teams out there that are rewarding to be a part of.

Raquel said...

I can see a lot of value in daily stand-ups. People shouldn't be forced to say anything. They should understand that everyone else in the team is interested to know how their tasks are going, if there is anything preventing them from being completed, which tasks they're about to pick next... so it's pretty straight forward that it is important for everyone in the team.
Still I also prefer to work remotely, since I feel lesser distracted when at home. I'm quite able to communicate with my pears by email or chat, but can't see any advantage in a telecon (in what comes to daily meetings). I have lots of telecons and most of the time if I'm trying to do something else during them, I won't really be paying good attention to any of the tasks...

Anonymous said...

New to agile and stand-ups but do have 30+ years experience in sw development. My initial problem with stand-ups is it tend to provide a alternative to managing the project... the managers think they can manage via the 15 minute stand-up instead of spending the time to actually manage the project correctly... also 80% of the stand-ups I've attended go 30 minutes...

Anonymous said...

Hi Damon. Thanks for this nice article. We figured out that standup meetings are great but
needed improvement (they took a lot of time, de-focussed our colleagues and
interrupted their workflows). Because of this we developed a SaaS tool to ╩║automate╩║ the daily standupmeetings - with just a single email. If you like to take a look: www.30secondsmail.com.
Best, Revino