Scrum basics: The daily standup meeting

Easy to start, difficult to masterSometimes referred to as a “daily sprint meeting”, this is a short meeting that happens once a day.  At this meeting, each member of the team should answer three questions:

  1. What did they do yesterday?
  2. What do they plan to do today?
  3. What issues are blocking or slowing down progress on their tasks?

The purpose of the meeting is for the team to co-ordinate their activities, to avoid duplication of effort and to ensure that their output is not in conflict.  The meeting should typically last 15 minutes or less when everyone is in the same room.  Somehow when people attend by phone or Skype then the standup meeting normally takes 20-30 minutes.

When the daily standup is working well for the team, it will often spark off a number of side conversations.  These are typically relevant to just a few members of the team.  Best practice is for these discussions to take place immediately after standup.  So in general, team members should leave the daily standup with a list of people to talk to about specific matters.

IMO the daily standup meeting is the best indicator of how well the team works together. In a high-functioning team the members collaborate actively and are concerned with both how their works impacts others as well as how the works of others impacts their own work. This means that the members of a high-functioning team are (a)actively trying to give useful updates; and (b) are actively listening to assess the impact of other people’s updates.

When to hold the meeting

Ideally the meeting should be held at the start of the day.  This provides team members with a good way to plan their day and formulate their list of activities.

However, there are sometimes a number of circumstances that mean this is not possible.  For instance, a team may be distributed over a number of timezones.  In this case, it is more important to pick a time that allows everyone to attend.

People who miss the meeting

A great habit to establish on the team is to ask people to send an email to everyone if they can’t attend in person.  This highlights to the team that the important aspect of the standup meeting is actually about communication.

Things that can go wrong

There are lots and lots of ways in which the daily standup meeting can wrong.  Here are some of the ones that we at #Fellows have seen:

  • Standup meetings can last too long – we’ve heard times of an hour!  This is often caused by people holding topic-related discussions during the meeting and not afterwards.  This can be addressed by having a team agreement that allows discussions to be parked until after the meeting.  Over-long standup meetings can also be a sign that the team is too big.
  • Some individual can give overly long updates – some people are not naturally concise and it can sometimes appear that they just like to talk.  This situation is best dealt with by taking the people aside and having a one-to-one chat with them, and explaining the difficulties that they are causing for the team.
  • Standup meetings can be too short – although those suffering from over-long standup meetings may find this incredible to believe, an overly short meeting is not good either.  This indicates that team members are too focussed on getting out of the meeting and don’t give enough detail in their updates.
  • Updates of planned activity can be vague – the standup meeting actually requires that team members have a reasonable idea of what they will do over the course of the day.  Some people resist this level of forward planning and instead say “… and then I’ll pick up the next task”.  This is not acceptable for an update and it needs to be clear to people why not.
  • Updates of completed activity can be vague – if team members are unable to understand someone’s update then it’s a signal that there may be different ideas about the actual work being done.  This should be resolved by dicussion outside of the standup meeting.
  • Updates cannot be reconciled to the sprint backlog – this means that the tasks on the sprint backlog no longer bear much resemblance to reality.  They team members should scrap them and draft some new tasks that more accurately describe the actual work.
  • People talk about activity rather than achievements – if team members are regularly saying “yesterday I worked on X and I will continue with it today” then it’s a signal that the planned tasks are too big.  If tasks are sized so that they are achievable within a day, then every team member should be able to give an update of a completed task every day.
  • People switch off when they are not talking – if team members are not actively listening to other people’s updates then it shows that they regard the updates as unimportant.  Most people feel this way until they get burned once or twice by not being aware of current activity.
  • Managers and other stakeholders hijack the meeting – while stakeholders are welcome to listen in to the standup meeting, the meeting is held by the team and for the team.  Only those contributing to the sprint goals should be taking up airtime.

Distributed teams

When a team is split over multiple physical locations, then there are a couple of options available:

  1. Everyone connects to a conference call / Skype call and gives updates
  2. The team can be divided into sub-teams which have their own standup meeting

This second option is really only feasible if there are a couple of locations with a substantial number of people.  It will not work if there are a larger number of locations with just one or two people at each.  To handle standup meetings with sub-teams, use the Scrum of Scrums approach outlined below.

Scrum of Scrums

There can be a couple of factors that push the project team to split into sub-teams.  Geographical dispersion may be one (as discussed above), and sheer numbers of people may be another.  Standup meetings quickly become ineffective when there are more than about 12 people involved.

Each sub-team should hold their own standup meeting, as described above.  Following on from that, one representative from each sub-team meets together for a scrum of scrums.  The format is similar to the standup meeting, except that the people are speaking on behalf of their sub-team rather than on their own behalf.

The scrum of scrums should be open to anyone who wishes to attend, but their needs to be a single designated member of each sub-team who will be talking.

Often it’s useful for the sub-team representative to report back (informally) to the other members.  This allows them to highlight the activities of the other sub-teams and deliver solutions to blocking issues that have been raised.

September 12 2011
blog comments powered by Disqus