If you work in an ‘Agile’ organisation, you’ll be no stranger to the daily standup meeting or daily scrum meeting. You might call it the daily standup, daily Scrum, daily huddle or morning roll-call; regardless, the purpose is to get the team aligned and on the same page for that day.
Depending on experience, you might foster some scepticism about the effectiveness of this daily meeting. Reflecting on the unprecedented changes to global working practices in the last year highlights the potential for a conversation around improving the daily standup in the context of remote working and distributed teams.
The origins of rugby within the scrum process
Jeff Sutherland, the co-creator of Scrum, first explored his rugby inspired process at the Easel Corporation. Japanese academics Hirotaka Takeuchi and Ikujiro Nonaka had already referenced rugby in their famous Harvard Business Review article “The New New Product Development Game“, published in 1986. Sutherland continued the rugby theme and referenced the All Blacks rugby team’s Haka ritual when attempting to inspire his first scrum team in 1993. Sutherland wanted to motivate his colleagues with the energy and passion displayed when the New Zealand rugby players performed the Maori warrior dance. Sutherland also wanted to explore how you transfer the traits of the worlds best rugby team and instil them within a group of software developers.
The antecedent of the daily stand up
Sutherland’s team began researching how elite business teams achieved goals. One paper written by James O Coplien was particularly significant. Coplien’s report examined software craftsmanship at the Borland Corporation, specifically the Quattro Pro project for Windows project. The discovery that a team of eight had produced one million lines of code in 31 months was record-breaking. Key to the Borland teams rapid development were daily meetings; problems highlighted by team members were swarmed by the group until fixed.
Sutherland admired the approach but believed the hour-long daily meetings adopted by Borland staff were too long. Observing the key elements needing communicating during the huddle, Sutherland devised three questions and a set of rules.
The birth of the Scrum framework
Jeff Sutherland would find a kindred spirit in software developer and consultant Ken Schwaber. In 1995 they unveiled their formal Scrum framework to the world at the Object-Oriented Programming, Systems, Languages & Applications (OOPSLA) Conference in Austin, Texas.
Today, companies and organisations adhering to agile frameworks incorporate a daily scrum meeting or daily stand up into the working day.
What is the point of a daily scrum meeting?
If you are a Scrum practitioner, then the purpose of a Daily Scrum meeting is to monitor progress towards the Scrum teams Sprint Goal and modify the Sprint Backlog, reflecting any changes regarding unplanned tasks.
In more general Agile terms, you conduct a daily stand up so that team members can synchronise and gain visibility on progress towards the Sprint Goal.
Who should show up at a daily scrum meeting?
The more pertinent question should be; who is allowed to participate at a daily scrum meeting? Scrum is very clear that the daily scrum meeting is a meeting for the development team. It’s the responsibility of the Scrum Master to organise the meeting. However, be warned, the meeting should not be run as a status update for the Scrum Master, Product Owner or Line Manager. Development team members should be sharing information on a peer-to-peer basis at the daily Scrum.
Can anyone outside the development team attend? Non-team members can observe but not participate in the daily Scrum. If your head of marketing wants to catch up on the engineering team’s progress on a new product, they can, but they can’t participate as a team member in daily standups. Remember, this is not a status meeting for senior management.
Where and when is the best time to hold a standup meeting?
The conventional pattern for a successful daily standup advocates starting at the same time each day, in the same place. The meeting should take place in front of the task board. Many practitioners advocate a morning team meeting, making sense if everyone works in the same location and has similar working hours. However, in recent years, the rise of remote working has challenged established practice, and some companies have successfully introduced alternative patterns.
How long should a standup meeting last?
Scrum uses a practice called timeboxing. Timeboxing works by defining a set, maximum time limit for activities. The objective of timeboxing is to restrict the time spent on activities, reduce waste, and become more time-efficient.
The daily Scrum meeting is timeboxed for 15 minutes each day and allows the team to plan for the upcoming 24 hour period. Discussions should be short and concise, and team members should not use standups to solve sprint impediments. Blockers and impediments should be resolved outside the scrum meeting.
Do I really have to stand up at the daily standup?
It depends on the culture and leadership of your organisation. Opinions vary. The idea of standing up was originally meant to combat overly long meetings. If you’re not sat in a comfy chair, you’re more likely to want to keep things short and to the point. Does it work? It does depend on who you ask. Certainly, the rise of remote working and advances in technology make the ritual seem ridiculous. Is requesting team members to stand up during a virtual scrum meeting a reasonable expectation? We’ll let you decide. Our best advice is to adopt practices that fit your organisation’s culture.
The three questions of the daily meeting
Historically, a scrum team member or anyone practising Agile would have to answer three questions at the daily standup:
- What did I do yesterday?
- What am I doing today?
- What are my impediments?
These questions allow the team to see what work has been completed and what tasks remain to achieve the sprint goal. It also highlights impediments or blockers obstructing progress towards the sprint goal. This daily update on obstacles allows team members to offer help and overcome problems with greater speed.
However, things may be changing. In the 2017 version of the Scrum Guide, these three questions are categorised as being an optional part of the daily scrum meeting. In the 2020 version of the Scrum Guide, the three questions aren’t even mentioned. What gives? Well, co-author of the Scrum Guide, Dr Jeff Sutherland, has stated that he’s trying to create a less prescriptive Daily Scrum meeting.
The future of the daily standup
The daily scrum meeting is evolving, and the creators of Scrum are determined to answer the critics and make it less prescriptive. The workplace is also changing, and agile practices must embrace advances in workplace technology and the rapid adoption of remote working.
One development in the evolution of the daily standup is the introduction of an asynchronous daily standup. This approach attempts to tackle several problems using technology. Coordinating team members in different time zones or working from home can be difficult. However, this is becoming increasingly common as work practice. How does a team observe the guidance on having a daily scrum meeting or standup simultaneously and the same place each day? It’s just not practical in specific scenarios.
An asynchronous daily standup is conducted over a more extended period of the working day. Team members answer standup questions via a Slack bot or collaboration software. This form of standup can be more convenient and, more importantly, results are recorded and knowledge shared with anyone interested in sprint goal progress. Are there any drawbacks? Yes, blockers can be harder to manage. A face to face meeting can be much more direct in dealing with impediments.
Whatever your flavour of Agile, the daily standup is changing.
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