Stand Up and Shut Up

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As with many simple and now commonplace “Agile practices”, debates still rage on about the Daily Standup (Scrum) meeting, a meeting which has somehow become a ritualistic signal that a team is “Agile” but is often an equally conspicuous signal of the exact opposite.

I’ve been in many organisations where God forbid anyone asks whether we should get rid of the meeting, or even change it, despite the fact that no one is getting any value out of it every single goddamn day*.

*Except some managers. A daily status update meeting? Terrific! The Daily Standup is an opportunity to micro-manage people every single day without having to approach their desks!

I digress. The point is, people still question the value of the Daily Standup and, if it is indeed valuable, how we might make it more effective.

I share the view of the Scrum Guide on this – at least in what the spirit of an effective Daily Standup meeting is, if not necessarily the prescribed format.

An effective Daily Standup meeting, for me, is one in which the team inspects and adapts both product and process.

That is to say it is an alignment meeting. A daily planning meeting. An opportunity to change our path if there is a better one. We do not have to (and should not) wait for the Sprint Review (product) and Retrospective (process) for this. Continuous improvement is about daily inspection and adaptation.

Here are some of the more effective questions that can be used in a Daily Standup meeting:

  • How will we work together today to move toward our goal?
  • What should we focus on today?
  • What should we not do that we originally thought we would do?
  • How will we remove this impediment right now?
  • Given we are a little behind, how might we simplify this product increment?

It is about purposeful intent for the day. It is certainly not intended as a status meeting. If managers and others outside of the core team are not getting the information they require from conversations or the team wall then it will surely pay dividends to improve visibility and transparency in the way people interact while doing their work rather than have a daily status update meeting.

In fact, I would go as far as saying that the ritual of an unchanging Daily Standup meeting is usually a smell of poor collaboration in and between teams on the actual work to be done. Some companies mistake this meeting as a way of actually getting people to collaborate. It’s almost as if they think that the benefits of collaboration, as Agile promotes, can be gleaned simply by having this meeting.

standup-construction1Unfortunately it is not that simple. Standing (or sitting) people together does not make them collaborate.

Collaboration is an organic thing and only comes if the “way the work works” is designed to encourage it.

I sometimes see or hear the argument that, “because we’re Agile we should make the meeting fit with the way we currently work“, and that doing this will intrinsically make it more valuable. So, the argument continues, it’s OK if it becomes a status update meeting because that’s what the environment demands.

The issue with this approach is that the environment in which you currently operate is likely one of managers wanting status updates. One of traditional ways of doing things.

But in order to be effective with an Agile approach we have to do things differently. To think differently.

Agile does not mean “make compromises”. It is about mindful changes in the way we work to move toward improved effectiveness. If something feels a bit different and uncomfortable then it may well be a sign you are on the right track.

As coaches, we ought to let the team decide how they can get most value from a Daily Standup meeting. Then, rather than focusing all our attention on how to improve the meeting, we should instead be helping the managers create an environment in which actual collaboration (working together effectively toward common goals) is encouraged and starts to feel natural.

Where excellence, rather than dogma, can prevail.

P.S. Standing up is not mandatory! If the meeting is timeboxed to 15 minutes then it will be quick regardless of whether you’re sitting down, standing up or doing the cha-cha.

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5 thoughts on “Stand Up and Shut Up

  1. I like change, that is why I adopted scrum, but I also like KISS.
    When someone looks to add or make changes to a simple system, I like to look if it adds value.

    So here is my take on it.
    “How will we work together today to move toward our goal?”
    “What should we focus on today?”
    That is covered by the question ‘What will I do today’ and ‘what did I do yesterday’
    I don’t see how this adds value.

    “What should we not do that we originally thought we would do?”
    This is a question that could add value, but in my experience it is one that comes naturally if you have a good team and the burndown looks bad.

    “How will we remove this impediment right now?”
    Interesting question.
    The goal of the standup is to identify impediments and people that can help solve them. Not to resolve them.
    Resolving them can be done after the meeting with a smaller group (identified in the standup), or with other people from other teams.
    This question would add value, but it would also add time. And since we want to keep it short, we would have to remove value in other areas.
    I’d have to say no to that question.

    “Given we are a little behind, how might we simplify this product increment?”
    That is the same question as
    “What should we not do that we originally thought we would do?”
    but on a smaller scale.
    Again an interesting question that could add value, but also an opportunity to spend a lot of time in discussion.
    Since the goal of the standup is to communicate our work and problems, doing so and identifying people who can help automatically leads to the answers to your question.
    “I don’t have enough time to finish item 765.” … “Wait, I know a trick that can speed things up, let me show you after the meeting” … done

    I think we are mixing rules and goals here.
    The rules of my standup are simple:
    rule 1: 3 questions
    rule 2: standing up
    rule 3: talking 1 at the time (only interrupt to help)

    The goals are
    - yesterday/today: should cover your first 3 questions
    - impediments: gives you the tools to answer the next 2, but do that in another meeting.
    - Standing up is not mandatory, it is a rule to help you with the goal of keeping the meeting short. I don’t like to timebox it, because then you have to push people to keep it short and lose on valuable input.

    My advice: Keep the format as it is, communicate the standard questions to your team but keep the questions in the article in you mind as scrummaster. I think they can be helpfull.

    Thank you for this article, it like how it made me think about the setup of the daily scrum.

    1. Rik,

      Thanks for your comments.

      I agree that simplicity is desirable. But the whole reason I wrote this article is because many, many teams are struggling with the standard Scrum 3-question approach to Daily Standups, and it is missing the point to just stick with it despite dysfunction within the meeting or, more importantly, interactions while doing the work.

      To address some of your points specifically:


      So here is my take on it.
      “How will we work together today to move toward our goal?”
      “What should we focus on today?”
      That is covered by the question ‘What will I do today’ and ‘what did I do yesterday’
      I don’t see how this adds value.

      “How will we work together?” and “What should we focus on today?” are very different questions from “What will I do today?” and “What did I do yesterday”. Most significantly, the latter two are about individual achievements and plans rather than those of the team.

      This is a classic dysfunction – Scrum is 100% about team ownership and achievement. Having individuals say what they are working on individually is very different from a team aligning to figure out the best way of working together to move toward the goal. Subtle changes in language can make a huge difference. This is something you can look out for.


      The goal of the standup is to identify impediments and people that can help solve them. Not to resolve them.

      Fair enough. For time’s sake, better wording of the question would be “How will we remove this impediment straight after this meeting?”.


      I think we are mixing rules and goals here.
      The rules of my standup are simple:
      rule 1: 3 questions
      rule 2: standing up
      rule 3: talking 1 at the time (only interrupt to help)

      I worry about your choice of words here. “The rules of my standup” sounds very dictatorial. You are clearly a passionate and budding Scrum Master, but you have much to learn. As a Scrum Master you should be mindful that the team owns the standup, not you. And as I said before, being too rigid around the “3 questions” causes many teams to end up with a very stagnant and pointless meeting.

      Above all else, you are trying to help the team find maximum value in things, and help them improve these things if there is more value to be found. I would advise you to not bee too dogmatic about rules and owning meetings or process. You’re there to serve the team.

      I also find it interesting that the “rules” you enforce, except for the “3 questions” rule (assuming the team is asking the 3 questions suggested in the Scrum Guide), are not actually those from Scrum. In Scrum, the Daily Scrum is timeboxed to 15 minutes. Furthermore, there is absolutely no mention of “standing up” in the Scrum Guide.

      Remember here that you need to be respectful of people’s physical situation – there may be people with dodgy knees, heart conditions, who knows what else. Being picky about people standing up is not an effective way of serving your team. The only reason standing up is a popular pastime for this meeting is that it encourages the meeting to stay short. But there are other ways you can do that, and timeboxing is the most effective (and is advised by Scrum).

      It sounds like you have chosen the rules that the team must abide by. Be very careful here. If you want to abide by Scrum then help the team abide by the Scrum rules, but if they are your own rules then people will not respect you as a Scrum Master.

  2. Neil: fantastic treatment of this oft-argued point. Your post is now going to be my go-to reference for folks who are starting to figure out what collaboration and daily “re-planning” means in real life. Now I don’t have to write my own! ;-)

    + Michael

  3. Nice article. I like your advice to deviate from the “standard 3 question” in order to achieve the intent of the meeting.

    One suggest a colleague of mine made was to change the wording from – “What did you do yesterday?” – to- “What did you get to DONE, yesterday?” “What will you get DONE today?”

    Here’s an example of a team that went outside the typical stand-up box…
    http://agilecomplexificationinverter.blogspot.com/2013/12/best-scrum-stand-up-activity.html

    1. Thanks David.

      The problem with “What did you get to DONE?” is that the wall really should be showing that information already. One thing I do to show what moved during the day is to ask the team to stick a green arrow on a task when it moves. It’s then easy to see what moved and didn’t, and when walking the wall you can use that information to direct the conversation. Coupled with red dots to signify cycle time (add one each day to any card in progress), you have powerful information. Why hasn’t this card moved for 3 days? Why did this one move and this one didn’t even though it’s lower priority?

      To be honest though I think its more effective when you’re talking about how to align for today’s goal, and anything that’s blocking progress now, rather than talk about stuff that’s happened. So my teams will typically acknowledge achievements but be quite quick when talking about stuff that happened yesterday so they can focus on aligning for the next step :)

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