Are Daily Stand-ups Necessary?

Daily stand-ups are a pretty common practice in the Agile world. If you’re not familiar with this practice, basically the entire team will get together once a day (usually in the morning) and have a quick meeting. Everyone usually remains standing for the meeting to emphasize that this meeting should be kept short.

Stand-up meeting

Good standups are crisp and motivating. A lot of standups are bad. They have the enervating effect of an hour-plus weekly status meeting, only spread out over a week. — Brian Marick

The Three Questions

In the daily stand-up we try to answer the following questions:

  • What did I accomplish yesterday?
  • What will I do today?
  • What is preventing me from accomplishing today’s goals?

While this sounds good in theory, I have often found that it breaks down and becomes incredibly inefficient in practice. For example, a team member might give the following update in stand-up (in the spirit of the 3 questions, of course):

“Yesterday, meetings, meetings and more meetings.” (Followed by a few chuckles) “Today… uhm… meetings… and I am meeting with a few potential candidates for interviews. Of course, my schedule is so crazy I will probably be involved in many things so who knows… Then I think we have a retro at 2? I will also need to spend some time with marketing to understand all the details for the upcoming newsletter feature.”

You get the point – while this contrived update does follow the format outlined by the three questions, nowhere does it offer any information that is useful to the larger team. This can often become a trend and new team members will simply follow this trend by just giving a daily braindump of everything they accomplished in the previous 24 hours.

Change the Format

To make the daily stand-up more focused some teams might focus on the cardwall or focus on blockers. The stand-up now adds real value because blocking issues are being identify and addressed/discussed every day. However, this can also be an anti-pattern: why are you waiting for the stand-up to address a blocking issue? Over time this can lead time wasting as team members wait for the meeting to bring up issues.

A better alternative would probably be to raise issues immediately. If you have a question, just ask! As tech lead I try and make a point of regularly asking other team members if they need anything from me or if they’re blocked by anything. In my experience fostering a culture of constant communication is a much more efficient way to raise and resolve issues.

Experiment!

On one of my last projects we experimented with not having a stand-up at all. This was for a small team (just 3 developers) and the client team was co-located (meaning we were all sitting next to each other). I noticed that communication was happening throughout the day and while our stand-up wasn’t really inefficient, it also wasn’t quite clear what value we were gaining from it.

We tried simply ignoring the daily stand-up and paying careful attention to any gaps in communication we might suffer as a result. It soon became apparent that the stand-up didn’t really add any real value: we had constant communication both within the development team and between the development team and product owners.

This is an approach I would like to see more often – try and experiment to see if a practice is really adding value. Perhaps try to go without stand-ups for a single iteration and discuss how everything went in the retrospective. Maybe there is a need for a dev huddle, but not for a stand-up? Experiment! If it goes horribly wrong you can always re-instate stand-ups, but this time round the team will have a better sense of why stand-ups are important.

Team building

In the last week I’ve asked quite a few developers for their opinion of stand-ups. Most of the answers matched my experience (very little value being added), but one point that I think is important is that of team building. The daily stand-up does have the ability to create a sense of team cohesion which I think is very important. However, blocking the entire team for 20 minutes every morning might not be the greatest way of achieving this goal.

The daily stand-up, as with all Agile practices, should be constantly evaluated to see if value is being added. If not, experiment to find what works for you. Happy coding.

Tags: Agile, PatternsPractices

  1. [...] Are Daily Stand-ups Necessary? (Jaco Pretorius) [...]

  2. David says:

    I completely agree with you in this matter. The different Agile practices should be only used if they bring a benefit for the customer and for the working of the team. It is a good idea to evaluate the team practices from time to time.

    It seems that nowadays a lot of teams and their management just try to make it look like Agile, because its modern and they have to do it for some external reasons. But they fail because they cannot fill it with the right spirit.

  3. That has (sadly) been my experience as well – practices are applied to ‘look’ agile, without much thought or evaluation going into the process.

  4. antych says:

    Standups are not reporting meetings where you tell everyone how you spent your day. You’re suppose to talk about the project, what have you accomplished, what’s blocking you etc. Telling everyone you were in a meeting is not relevant, unless it blocked you from doing something that someone depended on. Also, you’re not suppose to do a standup with 15 people like in your picture.

    Standup are very useful meetings for the whole team to sync up. Good time to look at the board and check if it’s up to date. In a small, well functioning team, you only really need few minutes to do them. They should never feel like a waste of time if you’re doing them well.

    You have thrown the baby out with the bathwater, instead of fixing the problem. It’s called Scrum-but.

  5. Woah, I didn’t say we should abandon standups all together. I’m not arguing that standups are a bad practice or that they can’t add value. They definitely can. I’m simply saying that I’ve seen many projects have standups which are very ineffective and don’t add value. I therefore think that we shouldn’t be afraid to experiment with the format of the standup, or to find other ways of filling the communication gap.