Why bother with a daily stand-up?

A rugby scrum
Photo by Olga Guryanova on Unsplash

This is a question that got asked on a live stream panel I was part of recently. My initial reaction was blunt. Of course we do, and here’s all the evidence you have. But then I started thinking about it a little more deeply. I’ve come to the conclusion that no, you don’t need a daily stand-up. But it’s a rare situation where this is actually true.

What is a daily stand-up?

A core meeting of many Agile implementations is the daily stand-up. This is a short, collaborative planning session that the team will come together for at the beginning of every work day.

If this isn’t enough for you then I’d recommend checking out Jason Yip here: https://martinfowler.com/articles/itsNotJustStandingUp.html. Apart from disagreeing fundamentally with one of the first sentences he says, it’s effectively the definitive guide to daily stand-ups.

I know you’ll ask, it’s ‘The whole team meets every day for a quick status update.‘. The daily stand-up is not a status update.

Daily stand-up origins

Originally discussed by James Coplien in the early 90s, Jim discussed the successful culture he had witnessed at the AT&T Bell laboratory. He cited the regular, high-quality meetings as a key success criterion.

Stand-ups quickly gained traction more widely when they heavily influenced the first iteration of Scrum, and then XP.

Since this incorporation into Scrum and XP, the practice of hosting a daily stand-up, roll call, huddle, or scrum has become almost synonymous with Agile.

Why you don’t need to do one

So this sounds great, why wouldn’t we bother? This is what I was asking myself when that question popped up on the panel. Under what circumstances would we actually be better off dropping it? And I came to the realisation that if you were in an environment where you operated with complete, collaborative, unscripted, high-bandwidth communication. Breathe. Then maybe you didn’t need a stand-up.

Assuming that your team works using last responsible moment update triggers for your flow of work, then a daily stand-up could actually become redundant. It could represent around 2 hours of team capacity being wasted on a meeting to discuss topics that everyone is already fully aware of.

Why you actually need to do one

Coming back to reality. This question is generally asked because the stand-up is no longer and has never operated as needed in a context. People are usually asking this question because things aren’t right, not because they’re too good. Some common reasons might be:

  • Lack of energy
  • People waiting until the meeting to share important things
  • People being late
  • Meeting running over
  • Work not progressing

If you’re in one or more of these situations then I’d strongly recommend that you expend effort in resolving your challenges. The daily stand-up is, quite simply, one of the most important feedback loops you have in your system. I’m willing to bet that the daily stand-up actually represents one of your most frequent feedback loops. If you get rid of your once-a-day, then what’s the next most common? I’m betting your feedback loop just jumped to at least a week. How is this going to affect your business agility?

This isn’t an article on fixing your stand-ups, so refer to Yip until I get around to jotting down my own views. If you want to have a conversation around how you can work through some of your stand-up challenges in the interim, then please get in touch on the right.

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