Tuesday, 18 December 2012 05:40

Seven Common Mistakes with the Daily Stand-up Meeting

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The daily stand-up meeting, also known as the daily scrum, may be the best of all of the agile practices. Why? Because it meets three criteria:

1. It’s easy to start using
2. It can often be used without other agile practices
3. It provides great value

Stand-ups can be interjected into waterfall teams and they can be used without converting to iterations or other common agile practices. From an adoption perspective, the resistance to using stand-ups is low. From a value perspective, teams quickly see the how the stand-up identifies risks and issues early. The stand-up gives them more time to react and still hit their goals.

As good as the stand-up meeting is, if done incorrectly it can do more harm than good. As an agile coach I have found I often skimp on stand-up training because it seems so simple. But this skimping has come back to bite me several times. How have I been bitten? By the seven common stand-up mistakes below.

Mistake # 1 – Not Standing (the daily sit down)SmithDec18 Img02

Teams usually stand when they first start doing the daily stand-up because they have just came out of agile training and they were taught to stand. But as time progresses it is common for some teams to assume standing is a formality and they start sitting more and more. This especially common if the meeting is in a conference room where chairs are available.

Standing is not a formality but rather a key success factor in establishing collaboration and keeping the meeting short and effective. How can you keep the team standing? Here are some tips that usually help:

  1. Try to do the stand-up where chairs are not available.
  2. Keep the team focused on the three key questions: What did you do since we last met? What will you do between now and the next meeting? Do you have any blockers or constraints that are impeding your progress? It is common for team members to explain their impediments in detail, and for a dialogue to start up between a few team members on how to resolve the impediment. This is fine if a solution is agreed to in a few seconds, but usually this a long conversation that ties up the whole team when only a few team members are needed. So as a Scrum Master, coach, or team member, get select team members to work impediments together after the stand-up.
  3. Use a physical status wall (covered in mistake # 5 below).

Mistake # 2 – Team Members Not Showing Up On Time

Many teams struggle with team members drifting into the stand-up, often 5 to 10 minutes late. This contributes to the issue noted above, not standing, but also demonstrates a lack of personal discipline. Here are some tips for addressing the late arrival issue.SmithDec18 Img03

  • Pick a time of day that the team all agrees to, to have the stand-up. Sometimes management will ask the Scrum Master to have the team meet at a certain time, but I have found it is better to meet when everyone has arrived at work, and at a time the team all agrees to.
  • Get support from line managers. Agile is about team self-management and self-discipline, but everyone does not arrive at this state at the same time. If you are a Scrum Master, work with all of the managers who team members work for, and get agreement that the daily stand-up is important, and that punctuality is important. Line managers can emphasize these values when they do one on ones with their team members.
  • Provide a buffer between meetings that occur before the stand-up. If there is another meeting that precedes the stand-up, make sure the stand-up is not scheduled when the other meeting ends. Instead add a buffer of 10 to 15 minutes so that the stand-up is not impacted by any upstream meetings that runs over.

Mistake # 3 – Allowing DistractionsSmithDec18 Img04

Daily stand-ups are ineffective if the team is not focused during the stand-up. Here are some tips for keeping the focus:

  1. Location, location, location. If you do your standup meeting in the wrong location the team will get interrupted by passers by, or be distracted by eye candy such as the street below. Pick a location without chairs, some level of isolation, and if possible no windows.
  2. Set a team norm of no cell phones or laptops during the standup.
  3. Focus on good meeting etiquette – no side conversations or whispering.

Mistake # 4 – Updating the Project Management Tool During the Stand-upSmithDec18 Img05

Are you using an online tool to track project status? Maybe Mingle, Rally, or VersionOne? Many times the team will stand idle while someone is updating the tool during the stand-up. Try to avoid this at all costs. Have someone take hard copy notes and update the tool later, or even better, use a physical status board and have team members physically update their tasks during the daily stand-up. Remember that the tool serves the team, the team does not serve the tool.

Mistake # 5 – Not Using a Physical Status Wall

SmithDec18 Img06I love electronic project management tools. They let me consolidate information and do reports across a portfolio of projects. But the tools can impede collaboration during the daily stand-up. If one person is projecting the virtual status wall from an electronic tool, and discussing it with the team, the team often becomes an audience and just listens. However, if you have a physical wall with task cards, team members move and update their physical cards during or before the stand-up, which leads to much richer discussion and interaction. You can use an electronic tool in parallel (most of my clients do). It may be a little redundant, but the value a physical wall provides offsets maintaining 2 tools. And it will lead to a better stand-up meeting.

Mistake # 6 – Not Having a Dedicated Team Room

SmithDec18 Img07

You may be wondering why you need a dedicated team room for a stand-up. You do not need a dedicated team room for the stand-up meeting, but you do need one for a good stand-up meeting. Confused? Here is the scoop. If your team is distributed all over your campus, and they come together physically each day for 15 minutes, do you think you can get them to only discuss status? I have not been successful in doing this. Developers and testers will want to get into testing details during the stand-up, user experience wants to talk to developers about screen details, and so on. If you have a dedicated team room, team members can talk about the construction details all day long, and they will not need to deviate from the stand-up status/impediment discussion.

Mistake# 7 – Not Using a Stand-up for Distributed Teams

SmithDec18 Img08Most companies I work with have team members in the United States, India, and China. These teams will often tell me they cannot do stand-ups because everyone is in different time zones. I understand this issue but I also understand that we undertake a lot of risk if we do not communicate daily. To get around this issue I have teams do the following:

  1. Do a stand-up meeting at each location. At a minimum get team members synchronized at each site
  2. Have one team member from each team work a staggered schedule. These team members on staggered schedules can do a video call or audio call to synchronize each day, and then take that information back to their local teams.
  3. Use electronic tools to share status details. Electronic tools really show their value with distributed teams. Everyone can see the status information around the world, as soon as it is entered.

Follow these steps and you will establish a sound daily stand-up process, which will provide a great foundation for all of the agile practices you use with your team.

Don't forget to leave your comments below.

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Greg Smith

Greg Smith is a seasoned Agile coach and the founder of GS Solutions Group. He is a Certified Scrum Master, Certified Agile Project Manager, and a PMI Agile Certified Practitioner.

During his career Greg has held positions as a Product Manager, Program Manager, Development Manager, Scrum Master, and Project Manager.  He has received numerous awards for his work in helping start-ups establish good software practices, and for helping large enterprises overcome bureaucracy and deliver urgent projects.

Greg became an instructor for Agile Project Management at Bellevue College in 2005. 

In 2009 Greg co-authored Becoming Agile in an Imperfect World.  This book has helped a number of companies move to a more effective project management lifecycle, and is on the suggested reading list for the PMI Agile Certified Practitioner exam. 

Greg provides all type of agile training, including preparation for the PMI ACP exam. He also specializes in helping companies move to Agile. 



+1 # Susan Land 2012-12-18 13:44
I completely agree with the importance of having a physical status wall that everyone can update, not just electronic on a PC. Very important.
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+1 # joe 2013-05-30 10:51
Quoting Susan Land:
I completely agree with the importance of having a physical status wall that everyone can update, not just electronic on a PC. Very important.

What if everyone has access to it via internal web page?
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0 # Doug Bonebrake 2012-12-18 13:57

Thank you for an excellent article. I think the most significant challenge is for distributed teams. The benefit of a common work room is that most of the interaction is face to face. The use of teleconference is only 20 - 40% as effective as face-to-face interaction; therefore, when the team is distributed, they must find means to compensate for the reduction in communication efficiency and effectiveness. Electronic tools can assist, but unintended consequences persist.

I view an essential objective of the daily stand-up is to share information about what is in progress and barriers to progress while avoiding problem solving. If there is an issue which must be addressed, the focus should be upon identification of who needs to talk so that the problem solving conversation can proceed with the appropriate stakeholders for purposes of solution development and removal of obstacles to progress. My experience is that teams which become self recognizing and policing of these concepts become more focused, effective and efficient in how the manage their communication channels.
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0 # jon 2014-01-21 13:44
Doug --
As someone who is working with a 100% virtual team that is globally distributed I couldn't agree more. Understand the work in progress, identify problems, and identify who needs to talk to resolve the problem. Getting bogged down in details destroys the stand-up. The only caveat is that when there are large time differences between team members, it may be hard to schedule all the conversations that need to take place outside the stand-up -- like eating, sleeping and getting actual work done.
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+1 # Pam 2012-12-18 14:05
Good common sense.
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0 # Sasan Dehghan 2012-12-18 14:19
Great article, and powerful insights. Thank you very much Greg :)
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-2 # Olpot 2012-12-19 09:51
Some great points in this memo, but for some I’m personally not quite there…

Particularly, one thing that strikes me as odd is the “stand up vs sit down” requirement.

No Agile literature, including this memo (which puts it as a very first mistake without actually explaining why it is a mistake) has ever tried to explain how it actually matters from any scientific point of view. (sociological, physiological or otherwise).

I am a man of science and I tried to rationalize everything, so I see this “stand up” requirement as more of quasi-religious (matter of faith) vs. scientific (matter of knowledge).

Compare how people pray in different religions - in some religions people stand when they pray (e.g. East Orthodox Christian), in some people kneel (Islam), in some people sit (Western Christianity).
Yet, in each religion people communicate with God and none of those ways are either right or wrong – they are consistent within their respective religion.

So, this Agile 'requirement' of standing up appears to be coming from a similar - religious side of things (to me anyway).

Here in Toronto we tend to have very multi-cultural and multi-religion society so this particular requirement to stand up may not appeal equally for everyone or may not work as intended by the “Agile theologists”. :)
[no stand up in the Agile manifesto either, if it was Ten Commandments :)]

Dont get me wrong, I am an Agile proponent and I agree with every other point of this article., But - feel free to call me a heretic, but i don't see this stand up method actually matters a lot compared to other core principles of Agile - iterative, collaborative teams inter mixing business and technology representatives , face to face interaction, priority of complete working solution vs. complete documentation etc.
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+1 # Richard 2012-12-19 12:36
Olpot, here is my 2 cents.
I don't think it goes as far as being a religious practice Per Se, but I know that the more comfortable you are the less you will concentrate on things at hand. Standing isn't a very comfortable position to be in for many people so they end up concentrating to get the thing over with!
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+4 # Greg Smith 2012-12-19 22:16

Thank you for your comment. I too am a man of science and I should have put more details around why we stand.

It is not to symbolize agile but to address the common issue of the meeting not being urgent and running longer than 15 minutes. Sitting leads to comfort which leads to less urgency in completing on time. And when the meetings run long they become less effective, so standing helps with expediency, and attendance, because everyone knows they really will get to go back to work in 15 minutes.

Thanks Greg
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0 # steve 2014-01-22 06:42
As Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes once said< "nothing induces brevity better than a weakening of the knees."
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-1 # Monique Charland 2013-01-04 16:11
I completely agree with Olpot. I can't see how the requirement to "stand up" is so sacrosanct. First of all, an Agile meeting can accomplish the same things whether standing or not - it all depends how it is run. And, sitting down is a lot more comfortable, and it's much easier to take notes.
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-1 # Steve Johnson 2013-12-17 06:17
It has been said that standing up is better for the circulation of blood through the body and to the brain, which can have a positive effect on concentration.

Also, if you're standing at a board, you're not going to get distracted by your PC, phone or anything else on your desk that might catch your attention and may prevent you from giving your full attention to your colleagues.

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+3 # Bill R 2014-01-21 15:49
Good grief. To take something like stand-ups and try to put a cultural and/or religious spin on it is absurd - and hardly "scientific." Bravo Greg, for elaborating more on why standing makes sense and should be mandated.
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0 # Darrel F 2014-02-24 13:52
"Sitting leads to comfort which leads to less urgency in completing on time." With that logic, wouldn't standing while working be more beneficial to a given project than standing during a meeting?
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+2 # Steve Blais 2014-02-24 17:52
Interestingly, many people are now standing when they work. Office furniture manufacturers have 'stand-up' desks.
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0 # henri 2012-12-25 04:58
Can be added to #, real attention: hands empty (maybe a pencil for updating ETC). Killer 1: coffee! It is not a fun meeting, here we discuss serious business, you can do 15min. without. Killer 2: papers. Papers distract, sometimes people are just reading what they prepared or are secretly working on the implementation problem at hand.

Good article!
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0 # Ian McGregor 2013-01-02 13:30
To encourage team members to attend the stand up on time, charge a dollar (or some similar amount agreed upon by the team) per minute late. The money goes to a team fund that can be used for future entertainment or charity.
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0 # PamL 2013-01-09 00:54
I like this idea in one sense as it would be an equalizer applied consistently for all team members. I think this approach might work if it's with team concurrence but hesitate in this situation as I'm trying to get team buy in and am concerned this might come across as a mandate from on high from the Scrum Master. I'll suggest it and see how the team reacts. Thanks. Pam
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0 # Sirish 2013-06-13 03:05
Thanks for the article. I would like to comment on one other mistake which scrum teams are prone to making. Team members could easily get caught up in a discussion which might be considered important but it might overshoot the allocated time and extend the overall stand up time. On the other hand, team members might downplay important discussion points for the sake of adhering to the time, and thus miss out on broaching up the point up, and agree to discuss off-line. So extending or shortening the daily stand up time is something teams should try to avoid.
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0 # Wendy 2013-12-03 09:58
This premise is not always accurate:
"From an adoption perspective, the resistance to using stand-ups is low."
In a culture where many meetings are typically held without an agenda, are poorly run, and end up being little more than a wandering discussion (or dissertation) with no real output from the meeting (neither decisions nor tasks), the foregone conclusion is that a daily stand-up is going to be just another time-wasting meeting. The few stand-ups I have attended left me with a feeling of "what was the point of that?", reminiscent of that old joke about project managers calling a meeting if they need to feel important, or are lonely, or need to visibly justify their contribution/po sition. I understand that, ideally, information that is of interest to all would be shared, but since all the people in the stand-up already sit in a pod together, there is ample opportunity for individuals to share amongst themselves. So it kind of turns into a "report to the Product Owner" rather than an exchange among the team members, and the Product Owner could look at Rally for this information.
To summarize, in my case resistance to stand-ups is not low at all - I have real work to do and a 15-minute meeting costs me about 20-25 productive minutes out of my day. Besides, it seems so artificial and superficial, a ritual performed for the sake of performing the ritual.
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+2 # Greg Smith 2013-12-03 15:19
Hi Wendy,

A simple article like this one cannot cover all of exceptions and details of the stand-up, and you identified a few that I did not cover in the article. Let me address those:
1) I am ecstatic to hear your team is co-located! You are correct, with co-location there is less need for a daily stand-up. But in my experience even co-located team members can get absorbed into the part of a sprint they are delivering, and potentially lose site of the big picture for the sprint and possible integration points. If your team meets daily and there is zero value coming from the meeting, then Agile says you should stop meeting. Agile is ONLY about delivering value. We never do a process for the sake of doing the process if we cannot quantify the value. I am guessing your team synchronizes on the whether the sprint is tracking to schedule somewhere away from this meeting (because tracking our status on the sprint, during the sprint, is valuable).
2) The daily standup meeting is for the construction or delivery team. The meeting is not for the Product Owner. if you are using the meeting to report to the Product Owner, then the meeting is not really a standup. It is a P.O. status meeting. Nothing wrong with keeping the P.O. up to date, but that is not the purpose of the meeting. And we usually do not want to tie up the entire team to report status to the P.O.

Thanks for your comments! Greg
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-1 # Jack 2014-01-22 15:17
"Agile is ONLY about delivering value. We never do a process for the sake of doing the process if we cannot quantify the value."

Do we have quantifiable evidence that standing during the stand-up is more valuable than sitting? Maybe we should stop and see what happens.
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0 # Lore 2015-08-27 18:10
Finally someone with common sense. These stand up meetings accomplish very little, if anything at all. How much really changes from one day to the next and if the change is that significant it should be vocalized immediately, not waiting until the next day. I hear a lot of talk about how to conduct these meetings but no research or talk on the productivity of these meetings. Teams should meet, agreed, but every day for 15 minutes is hardly valuable. My schedule is erratic, at best, a daily 15 minute meeting is just one more meeting that pulls me away from getting my work done.
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0 # Boss Daty 2015-10-17 16:05
I agree 100%. I'm on a scrum team that meets daily and the project is so big and our assignments are at this point are not tightly couple much with other team members. For example, 50% of our work is fixing bugs on problems unrelated to other team members. I always feel when i leave the scrum that i didnt gain much. I don t need to know that someone is working on something that is in a part of the software 100% unrelated to what I am working on. I work on a very large legacy realtime system with specific hardware and we are adding very little new code 50% of the time. THis company is new at scrum and we dont stand we sit down. Our scrums require us to go from upstairs to a downstairs office and we sit down. Many times we wait for others to show up. I dont think they do scrum correctly in many ways. WE go through the motions but the little things that scrum meetings require like being on time and being conducted usually at the start of the day or near that are not done.
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0 # Bill R 2014-01-21 15:52
Good article Greg, great recap and things to keep in mind.

I seem to notice a trend lately towards the electronic "board" for stand-ups vs the physical wall (although those still are maintained). I agree with not using the electronic one for stand-ups. Unfortunately, many people now are so brainwashed to think higher tech = better that this is beyond them. Sad - and frustrating at times.
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+2 # Sam 2014-01-21 16:00
Great Article. Agree standing is best...but some of us can not stand for too long due to physical limitations. Our meetings are generally over 15 minutes, sometime pushing 30 minutes. Good reminder for Scrum Master needs to limit the side conversations to help.
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+3 # Kent McDonald 2014-01-21 21:15
I'd add an eight common mistake - Daily Stand-up becomes for status reporting instead of coordination. A mistake regardless if people are standing or sitting down.
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0 # Revino 2015-05-21 06:50
Hi Greg. Thanks
for this nice article. We figured out that standup meetings are great but
needed improvement (they took a lot of time, de-focussed our colleagues and
interrupted their workflows). Because of this we developed a SaaS tool to ʺautomateʺ the daily standupmeetings - with just a single email. If you like to take a look: www.30secondsmail.com.
Best, Revino
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0 # James 2015-08-13 20:51
Wow such a wonderful article on Stand Up Meetings! We have started using online tool for our stand up meetings http://www.standup.report and find it really useful when it comes to team efficiency and cutting long meetings. Good part is it handles different timezones very well given that our team is diverse.

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0 # Wendy 2016-01-21 07:13
The term
The term standup has indeed come to mean status update to me as well, regardless of the frequency of the meeting, particularly the "what did you accomplish" part. Coordination (impediment resolution) should be ongoing and as required if folks are mature and professional. I found I often have little to say at these meetings because it would be a restatement of what has already transpired or what I said at the last meeting. I do like the 'what are you going to work on next' portion because I think it does promote coordination and allows folks to be helpful to the others on the team. I will concede that we do have a good coordinator who keeps the meetings short and this minimizes the intrusion into actually getting the work done.
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0 # Jerry Everett 2016-04-26 02:08
Wow, awesome !!

Thanks for such a great stuff. This is a kind of information which i had been looking for .It's really informative and insightful post.
Keep it up and keep sharing your experience with the readers.
Debt of gratitude is in order for sharing

Jerry Everett
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