3 reasons why your Daily Stand-ups suck

Recently, I was invited to observe a series of Daily Stand-ups conducted by a squad in an organization (for over 3 weeks). The more I attended the stand-ups, the more I realized that this method of conducting stand-ups could be the poster child of bad stand-ups.

Differences between Daily Scrum & Daily Stand-up

We know that the Daily Scrum is one of the most abused events in the life of a sprint. Most organizations go from bad to worse without proper SCRUM guidance. At the core of the problem lies the synonymous use of the term ‘Daily Stand-up’ and the ‘Daily SCRUM’. Daily Stand-up can be referred to as a timeboxed check-in event that does not limit to only the Development Team. With every organization that I’ve been part of, or have observed, the Daily Stand-up takes a life of its own — a direct consequence of the understanding (or misunderstanding) of the Agile principles.

Before we dive into this, I’d like to acknowledge the fact that a

Daily Scrum != Daily‌‌ Stand-up. As the per SCRUM‌ guide, the Daily SCRUM‌ is for the Development team to review and plan for the next 24 hours towards the completion of the sprint. The development team does not only involve the developers but any functional member who has a role to play in the completion of the sprint. Scrum Masters/Product Managers‌‌ (who wear the SM‌ hat) need to clarify that the daily activity that they’re holding is a SCRUM‌ or a Stand-up. For this article, we’ll be dealing with Daily Stand-ups and not Daily SCRUM.

What makes your stands-up fail

Over 3 weeks, I observed the following bad patterns which I believe led to really poor Stand-ups and overall failure of Agile. I’ll follow the list up with what you can do to prevent these issues.

1. Disrespecting the time-schedule

One of the objectives of a stand-up is to invoke discipline. This is shown through arrival in-time to ensure that you can participate in the collective process of stand-up. Here are a few things that break your stand-up:

Arrive late and

  1. Ask for a repeat of things they missed — the worst thing anyone can do
  2. Interrupt to announce their arrival — This is especially irritating as it indicates a lack of respect to the event and the participants
  3. Interrupt without context — picking up on specific tidbits that affect their area, they bounce off that without understanding context

Leave early and

1. Claim that the stand-up is of no benefit to them (in separate conversations)

2. Not be present for a critical escalation/confirmation

What you can do

This is a classic discipline and attitude issue. There are a few things you can do, as a Product Manager:

  1. Stand-up responsibility
    If you make the slackers responsible for the stand-up process (and remember there are things to be done before and after a stand-up), you’ll find that they are more prone to arriving in time and respecting the process. It would help to keep the responsibility rolling to prevent using this as a punishment
  2. 1–1 Discussion
    Having a direct, offline discussion with these members will help understand their concerns and explain your expectations. Be respectful, but stern.

You do not want to call them out in the stand-up. You will achieve nothing and create future problems.

2. Speaking out of turn

Daily Stand-up objective is to be a sort of check-in for the involved parties to convey their progress and plan for the day. They can also use this to raise blockers. However, there is a set order (clockwise/counterclockwise) from the conductors’ POV for the members to speak. Disrupting the session can happen through the following:

  1. Members piggyback off someone else’s update
  2. Highest Paid Persons Opinion (HiPPO)s value their time and hence decide that they can question anyone and everyone whenever they want
  3. Watercolor discussions
    Multiple discussions take place during the stand-up. I call these water cooler discussions since there are no rules at a water cooler.

What you can do

Apart from the previous step actions, you can also attempt to do the following:

  1. Invoke discipline through example
    Either for yourself or someone you’ve agreed with beforehand, reprimand on an out of turn discussion
  2. Handling HIPPO
    Exclude HiPPOs from the stand-ups. If unavoidable, coach them about the process and the gain from keeping the decorum for the team

Remember that the core philosophy of Agile is that there is no hierarchy.

3. Runaway discussions

The primary purpose of a stand-up is to discuss the following:
What was achieved yesterday, the plan for today and blockers, if any? You’ll notice that this is similar to the Daily SCRUM. However, since a larger audience is involved, it can lead to runaway discussions that play-off topics.

A few common causes of run-away discussions I’ve observed:

  1. Members solutionize problems
    It is easy to get carried away with providing solutions during stand-ups. While it is an encouraged practice to unblock someone, it should be also timeboxed.
  2. Members take tangential views on various points and make the meeting about them
    Emotions are wild, especially near the launch/sprint completion phase. Members get into the blame game and take the conversation to another level.
  3. Members hold the stand-up hostage till their point is resolved
    When surrounded by higher authorities, members want to ‘clear their name’ to show their diligence/innocence.

What you can do

The key aspect of the Daily Stand-up is that it is time-boxed. As such, every conversation not related to the status update has to be parked for after the stand-up. The following are easy-to-do methods:

  1. Push for taking the conversation offline
  2. Alert the team to the time
  3. Hostage situations can be resolved using calming and resolving language. Use phrases like ‘We’ll work on this together after the stand up’ or ‘We’ll complete the rest of the teams work and then come to this, at the end’.

4. (Bonus) No Follow-ups

The entire process of Daily Stand-up is futile if there is no tracking of the promises made and problems raised. While the Daily SCRUM enjoys the comfort of a self-organizing team, your stand-ups don’t always guarantee you a self-organized team.. With the myriad interpretation of Agile running around in every pocket of your industry — often marred with personal twists —you are more or less stuck with members within your team who’re only concerned with their own work.

It then falls on the team to track the major blockers and promises. Kanban boards are a really good way to keep track of things. You should use that board as the key reference.

Ultimately, after the end of 3 weeks, I shared the feedback with the team I was observing. They spent a few weeks attempting to fix these issues and found that they’re efficiency and team bonding increased. As a standalone testimony — the inter-team, especially between marketing & technology, a trust built up steadily. They were able to empathize with each other’s work and hence build better products.

Thank you for reading! If you’ve been part of a hellish stand-up, do let me know if I’ve hit or missed the key issues!

100+ Articles on Product, Design & Tech | Top Writer in Design | Simplifying complexities at Majid Al Futtaim | rkakodker.com

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Rameez Kakodker

Rameez Kakodker

100+ Articles on Product, Design & Tech | Top Writer in Design | Simplifying complexities at Majid Al Futtaim | rkakodker.com

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