The prospect of having a team together daily for a short period of time to assess the progress made towards committed work is definitely not a new concept. Many project managers over the years have enjoyed a regular scheduled check-in so they know when there are obstacles they need to resolve that are preventing success towards the end goals. However, when looking at what the concept of the Daily Standup is set to accomplish with Agile Teams can really catapult such a team forward towards success for their sprint and in the long-term as team commitments are made and accomplished on a regular basis. There are indeed some key factors to keep in mind to make sure the Daily Standup can be as successful as possible. Let’s visit them together.
Making sure the right people are involved in any type of discussion is important to ensure that you get the right outcome. The Daily Standup is no exception to this standard. But the key question to ask yourself is who should really be involved in the Daily Standup and who is optional. Required attendees include:
Optional attendees would be anyone that doesn’t fall into those three categories above. I know there are many people that may argue that other people should be included to ensure that information can flow to everyone else in the organization, but it simply isn’t necessary. In a podcast entitled “How Many Daily Standups Should I Attend Per Day?”, Lee Henson reviewed a situation that could lead to excessive standups occurring on a daily basis. We also have to be careful to keep in mind why someone is included in a meeting in the first place, which is also touched on in AgileDad’s Agile Meetings Playbook. Falling victim to the dreaded Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) concept is a problem that way too many companies I have worked with in my career have a hard time with. Including more people doesn’t make a meeting more effective. To the contrary, it usually accrues unnecessary cost and busy work that isn’t focused on the primary measure of progress for the team and organization – working software.
After getting the right people involved in a Daily Standup, timing becomes the next crucial step. How long should a standup really last? If you are taking the strict “by the book” definition of a standup it should be no more than 15 minutes. I have seen many teams over the years that struggle with the 15-minute guideline saying that it is much too strict of a timebox and they need to talk through solutions in order to make an effective use of their time. This isn’t always because of the storytellers in “Daily Standup”, but it usually occurs because there are underlying problems the team needs to address with further detailed discussions. I have recommended to many teams in my career the use of a “Parking Lot” discussion after the Daily Standup is concluded. This is not intended to be the only time that teams talk during the day either but is simply a step off point to have more detailed collaboration together. I have always told teams that the Daily Standup is the latest responsible moment to bring up concerns. Ideally, the concerns or impediments being experienced have already been discussed with the team prior to the standup and the team is simply circling back around on them to determine how to further address them during that timeframe.
Another common reason the 15-minute guideline is seen as strict happens when you have a large team. Most guidance that is provided regardless of the Agile method being used suggests 5-9 team members, with some notable exceptions that they be a little bit larger than that where needed. If you have that concern that you have a team of 20-25 that can’t get through a 15-minute Daily Standup, you are probably justified in your concern. You would also be justified to ask why the team cannot be split into 2-3 teams based on value stream to help them be more targeted on what they work on together daily. Don’t hesitate to ask those difficult questions to reduce team size and allow teams to be truly collaborative instead of just large committees plodding through a Daily Standup together.
It is by no accident whatsoever that the Daily Standup is intended as a daily check-in. Not only is the cadence stated in the name of the ceremony, but it has the great ability to make sure we don’t wander too far from the beating path by having that daily check-in throughout a sprint process together. The real cadence of many meetings or ceremonies necessary for teams to be successful may vary based on the needs of the team. But I would caution against de-prioritizing the Daily Standup to be something less than Daily. That cadence being less frequent causes lapses in acknowledging risks, impediments and other items that come up on a day-to-day basis that impact our ability to be successful in the sprinting done by a team. I have never worked with a company or team where there wasn’t someone that got down a rabbit hole in trying to figure something out. When those rabbit holes last days and don’t allow for course correction or assistance from other team members via swarming, pair programming or other ingenious ways of solving problems, we eat up significant amounts of time that can otherwise be used to drive towards the desired sprint outcome. If the cadence seems to have caused the team to feel indifferent, it could be time to “Re-Energize Your Daily Standup” with anything that helps go beyond the standard three questions being addressed but to truly make it a more collaborative, problem-solving session the team leverages for their success.
Everything we have talked about up to this point in time has hovered around the concept of outcome. Any Agile team ceremony or meeting should have a designated input and output. The right outputs lead to the right type of outcome as they promote the right level of discussions to make sure the team is focused on the right things. Perhaps more than anything else, this is something I have seen teams struggle with in my career. There needs to be a brief synopsis of what a team is trying to accomplish for their sprint. A sprint goal or two that clearly identifies what can help the team coalesce around the right work and outcome when the day-to-day grind pulls into stray paths. Knowing that the focus is getting the authentication of users created in the system completed, or seeing the options available to the different users in the system when making a booking or reservation can help to focus on what the desired outcome is for the team. Sometimes the sprint goal could even be more product agnostic and is focused more on how the team is working together. To this end, I have seen teams focus on the technical review or code review process to make sure the solutions and working software they are turning out is of a high level of quality. So essentially that is a focus on at least one aspect of the team’s definition of done. Working together with the Product Owner, these goals can be defined during sprint planning and serve as a reminder during Daily Standup of what is being focused on when stray work or paths present themselves.
Calling on the Agile Meetings Playbook again, the outcome of the Daily Standup is a plan as to how the team will move forward for the next 24 hours to best make progress towards the sprint goal(s). When the team members focus their discussions of what is contributing to or detracting from the sprint goal(s), they can better plan on how to work together to be successful. I saw a team this past year that used their Daily Standup as a refocus for their sprint goals. They discussed what their commitments had been, what their upcoming commitments would be and made modifications by working together during the coming day to try to complete their work and thereby accomplish their goals as a team. This team found great accomplishment together as a team and the camaraderie was unmatched by many other teams I have worked with in my career. They found what had worked for them and the Daily Standup was a catalyst for incremental daily change towards greater change they needed to implement.
Keep it Simple – Incremental Improvement
The Daily Standup is a simple way to help make sure you can accomplish your sprint goals. It requires making sure you have the right people involved, you are using the right time/duration with the right cadence and ultimately striving towards the right outcome. The focus on the sprint goals helps a team organize around the value they are generating on a regular basis. If you don’t currently have goals set within your team, give it a try during your next sprint planning session. Try just one goal that gives an idea of what the team is focusing on. The goal doesn’t have to cover every item being worked on, although if it starts as a process or definition of done related goal that could be a good starting point for the team. The key is having incremental improvement that occurs to help the team see what they can accomplish and then building upon that success that they experience. Only then can sprint goals help to organize a team around the value they are regularly generating for their customers.