Don’t Squander Your Opportunities at the Daily Standup!

March 4, 2011

The daily standup Is NOT a daily status meeting.

It is an opportunity…
  • To identify where knowledge and experience can be shared.
  • To identify impediments.
  • For each team member to make a commitment.
  • For the team to monitor its progress as a whole.
This takes preparation and active participation, and I’ve seen teams fail to leverage the real purpose of the standup because they are treating it like a status meeting. This begins with each participant preparing their answers to the 3 questions before the stand-up. Thinking about what you are going to say as others are talking will prevent you from being fully involved.

When giving your answers to the 3 questions, don’t be ambiguous. Stating that, “Yesterday I worked on the data transformation User Story. It’s proving to be more of a challenge than I thought, and today I’m going to continue working on it; and I have no impediments” is not the same as saying, “Yesterday I worked on the client data transformation task, and the address data is proving to be more difficult than we expected because the existing data does not conform to the international address standard. I don’t have any impediments right now, but I may need some assistance depending upon what else I find with the data.”

Specifics inform anyone on the team listening about the exact nature of your work. This will open up the opportunity for someone to recognize that they may have worked on something similar in the past – and allow them to volunteer information or assistance that can ease your burden and accelerate the work of the team.

As a team member who is actively participating, listen for ambiguity in others and question what they are really working on. I encourage those who report to me to acknowledge that this can occur and make is a part of the team’s working agreement that everyone should strive to be specific. A part of that working agreement can also include asking clarifying questions when an ambiguous answer to the 3 questions surfaces. Specificity also creates a stronger personal commitment, another essential ingredient in a high-performing team.

Identifying impediments and taking action steps to remove them is an equally critical activity. Sometimes the impediment will be outside of the team’s control – then it gets raised to someone like me in management. Examples include things like obtaining key hardware and software, such as obtaining the team a server.

Sometimes the impediment can be resolved by the team. A common problem that I’ve seen is that teams start too many tasks at once – minimizing collaboration – and then ignore the fact that someone was working much longer a high-priority task than originally planned.

It’s as if an entire team has listened to someone state that a given task is taking twice as long as planned, and then said collectively to themselves, “Well, it sucks being you.” Don’t overlook the opportunity to detect when a task (or teammate) is getting bogged down – this will become an obstacle for the team in meeting its commitments.

Get together after the stand-up and ask questions! Perhaps someone is over-thinking an issue. On the other hand, it’s equally possible that a task is actually more complicated than anticipated and needs the attention and contribution from others. And that might mean halting work on a lower-priority task to free someone up to assist with this task.

In fact, collaboration can help move complex tasks into the “done” column much quicker, so the lack of collaboration is always a red flag for me. I’ve had impediments raised to me that I’ve challenged because I haven’t observed any collaboration by the team – which turns into an interesting dialog! I put my concerns on the table and talk to the ScrumMaster in these situations, and we usually come to an agreement on what the right next step needs to be.

Finally, the team should be assessing its progressing towards its goal. Are the high-priority items progressing as they should? Is the team adhering to its working agreement? Is the team adhering to the definition of done? All of this information should be posted and available in the stand-up area, functioning as the team’s “information radiator.” The primary purpose of an information radiator if for the team to monitor and manage its work; its secondary purpose is to inform management types like myself.