Don’t Take Daily Stand-ups for Granted

For the uninitiated, gathering every day for 15 minutes to discuss the goings-on of current work might seem a little redundant and useless.  All the same people say many of the same things over and over again.  But to the experienced, there’s a lot more to it than that.

As I’ve previously blogged, at my current engagement my team is limited to only two stand-ups per week.  These stand-ups are open to everyone on the team, yet only the same three or four people show up each time.  As a result, communication seems to flow like molasses rather than a swiftly moving mountain stream.   Still, what we have now is far better than the black hole that existed before.  We are still light years from where we COULD be, however.  That old adage “You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone” made me reflect on why daily stand ups are so important.
Daily stand-ups bring the team together.
This is not just in the physical sense, but in a social sense as well.  It forces the team to connect rather than just code or test away at their desks.  When you’re at a stand-up, you LOOK at your peers.  You interact with them.  You acknowledge them as PEOPLE rather than just the titles they hold.  Of all the purposes of a stand-up, I think this is the most vital because it physically embodies teamwork at its most basic level by forcing us to accept that we work with other people.  This may seem very rudimentary, but you can throw a bunch of people together in a group, and they won’t start becoming a team until they can at first acknowledge one another.  Think on that for a moment.
Daily stand-ups foster communication.
This is a no-brainer since we share what we’re doing with the rest of the team.  Beyond this, however, is the discussion that can spark from the simple phrase “This is what I’m doing today…”  Often, what you’re doing affects the person standing next to you.  I don’t know about you, but I’m not one of those scrum masters who make us adhere to a strict script in our stand-ups.  I give the guidelines and let the team’s discussion blossom.  The stand-ups that diverge from the traditional what-I’m-doing scripts are usually the most productive.  The team sees dependencies.  They strategically plan their work.  They start troubleshooting impediments.  They plan extra meetings for topics needing more in-depth discussion.  These kinds of communications are hard to get started via an email chain or by one-off conversations between isolated teammates.  Face-to-face contact on a regular basis somehow gives the team permission to meet whenever they have a need.
Daily stand-ups reveal impediments early and often.
When we talk about our impediments in our stand-ups, we are in a sense asking the team for help.  Of course, we’re keeping them aware of issues, but chances are likely that one of our teammates may have dealt with the same problem and can offer a solution.  If they can’t, then perhaps they know who can.
 In my experience, it is also incredibly difficult for the PM/Scrum Master to run down solutions for impediments if they have to do it one person at a time.  This takes too long and can be detrimental to the success of a project.  Letting everyone know at once cuts out the middle man – the PM/Scrum Master – and gives the team a better chance of solving problems as they arise.
Daily stand-ups create accountability.
If we daily stand together as a team stating our goals and asking for help, then we become accountable to one another.  In those stand-ups we tell each other what we intend to accomplish.  We make a commitment to our teammates in that regard.  Pretty soon teammates learn they can trust one another if everyone meets their commitments.  If you don’t accomplish one day’s goals, then invariably someone at the team level will want to know why.  This sparks discussion and perhaps solutions are born from the temporary setback.  It is better for this to happen at the team level than at the executive level.  If you can’t meet your commitments at the team level, then what makes you think you can meet commitments beyond that?  Your team is depending on you, and you depend on your team.   When we meet our commitments to one another, we make our team stronger.  We establish trust.
There are no guarantees that you’ll have open, trusting, communicating, or accountable teams just by having a daily stand-up.  However, you have a much better chance of getting there by meeting regularly.
What are your experiences with daily stand-ups?  Do you find that the more frequent they are, the better?

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