The daily stand-up can be one of the most difficult ceremonies to coach or describe given our almost pre-programmed desire to provide status updates! What’s wrong with that? Status updates focus on the present state, not how we are applying yesterday’s accomplishments and lessons to today’s plan. Traditional status updates also sidestep the highly important topic of accountability. In contrast, the daily stand-up is not a status update. Instead it is a critical inspect-and-adapt ceremony to help teams coordinate and keep moving forward.
In daily stand-ups, you’ve probably encountered vague updates, extensive discussion, various disruptions, announcements, etc.—much like what we experience in traditional meetings. A daily stand-up is not your run of the mill meeting. If it feels like every other meetings you attend, you are not attending a stand-up as it was intended to be.
So what is the daily stand-up?
Every day scrum teams should gather for 15 minutes to run through four important team-oriented questions. The purpose is to highlight peer accountability, coordinate daily plans, and escalate or remove impediments. The questions below are adapted from the original Scrum Guide to put more emphasis on accomplishments and transparency on progress towards the team’s sprint goals:
- What did I accomplish yesterday that contributes to the team’s sprint goals?
- What do I plan to accomplish today that contributes to the team’s sprint goals?
- Do I have any impediments blocking progress (including significant delays)?
- Have I updated our scrum board (physical, virtual, or both)?
Together, these questions elicit reflection on sprint progress and highlight where changes or escalations are needed. The work of delivering software as a scrum team is by design fluid and demands a high degree of self-organization. The daily stand-up is a vehicle for teams to create a daily plan that affords them opportunities to inspect and adapt their way to a successful sprint (delivering on their commitment).
Making the daily plan a habit
At the end of the day, we have to behave differently to realize the benefits of a daily stand-up. This is to say that it takes discipline, persistence and plain old repetition to move from ineffective meetings to building daily plans that enable success. Only when team members stick to the script and hold each other accountable will these new habits/behaviors become the norm. Below are some tips that my colleagues and I have compiled to help transform a lackluster stand-up into a world-class daily planning session.
Stick to the 15-minute timebox
Fifteen minutes and out the door. The stand-up should start and end on time. With discipline and effective facilitation, teams can adjust their content and have meaningful dialogue in the allotted time. Fit the content to the timebox, not the other way around.
Make stories and tasks the right size
Stories should take roughly 2-3 days to define, build and test. Tasks should take less than a day to complete. With appropriately sized work, the team can give more succinct updates about completed and planned work.
Talk about results, not process
Encourage team members to talk about finishing/completing work rather than starting/continuing work. This falls into the category of peer accountability. If folks speak in specifics with their teammates, they will naturally feel more committed to follow through on what they say. Their peers will also know just enough detail to hold them accountable the next day.
Stay on task
Problems can and should be raised at the stand-up, but they should NOT be solved there. The key to an effective timeboxed stand-up is using the parking lot and offline conversations as a means to stay on task. Team members should be collaborating all throughout the day, NOT just during the daily stand-up. Any detail or additional conversations should be set aside for the parking lot and should only involve those interested. Be sure to clearly indicate when the stand-up is done and the parking lot is starting so that anyone not interested can leave.
Reinforce with visuals
The daily stand-up should be conducted in front of the scrum board virtually, physically, or in combination. I prefer a physical board for the engagement factor, but I have seen teams be equally successful projecting a virtual board. In addition to the scrum board, each stand-up should have the team’s sprint burn down prominently displayed in story points to emphasize the importance of teaming to close stories.
Facilitate efficient, effective stand-ups
As mentioned above, the daily stand-up is NOT a status update meeting. Additionally, the stand-up is not an announcement forum for non-team members. Scrum team members should be the only attendees speaking during the stand-up. While the scrum master should facilitate and interject when any of the following situations arise, all team members should hold each other accountable. Below are some common anti-patterns I often see:
- Stakeholders asking for status: Put this in the parking lot and address after the stand-up. It is likely there is another forum or artifact that answers the stakeholder’s question.
- Team members discussing items/issues in detail: Ask teammates to meet offline or at the parking lot (only with interested parties). The update should not be an exhaustive status, but more of a summary for work completed and work planned.
- Vague updates “coded on story 1234, and plan to continue today”: Challenge vague updates to encourage peer accountability and momentum. Talking specifics bolsters the commitment we make to our teammates and also helps to keep impediments/delays highly visible and top of mind.
- Scrum master is OOO or unavailable: Another team member should facilitate the daily stand-up in the scrum master’s absence. The daily stand-up should not be cancelled (nor should any ceremony) because the scrum master is unavailable (the show must go on). The purpose of the daily stand-up meeting is to inform the team. It is not for the scrum master.
The stand-up is all about coordination of everyone’s daily plan and peer accountability; say what you plan to do, and hold each other accountable for what you say!