Stand-Ups In Agile Environments

Episode 27

August 31, 2011


The Agile Weekly Crew discuss stand-ups in Agile environments

Drew LeSueur: Welcome to another episode of “ScrumCast.” I’m Drew LeSueur.

Derek Neighbors: I’m Derek Neighbors.

Roy vandeWater: I’m Roy vandeWater.

Stand-Ups In Agile

Drew: Today we are going to talk about stand‑ups, why we do them, why people sometimes don’t want to do them, and why they’re important.

Roy, we were talking earlier, and we talked about a team who didn’t want to do a stand‑up. Why do you think that is? What are some of the reasons teams don’t want to do stand‑up?

Resistance To Stand-Ups

Wasting Our Time

Roy: The most common reason that I’ve heard for not doing a stand‑up is, “We feel like it would be wasting our time. We want to spend these 15 minutes doing development work. We don’t have time for this bullshit stand‑up, where we’re just going to stand there, and talk about nothing that matters. We could be coding.”

They Will Be Longer Than 15 Minutes / Take Too Much Time

Derek: I definitely think that some of it is people don’t believe that they’re really going to be 15 minute meetings. They’ve never been to a meeting that’s probably taken less than an hour before. The thought of doing five meetings, each an hour, you’re looking at five hours worth of meetings per week. If you’re only there for 40 hours, that’s a pretty huge commitment. Sometimes it’s fear of is this really only going to be 15 minutes? And if it’s only 15 minutes, can it provide any value at all?

Drew: That’s a good one. Another one might be, we’re all in the same room, if you know they are in the same room, and if we need to talk to each other we’ll just say it. That might be another reason why they don’t think they…they can just talk to each other, they don’t need anything extra and special or ceremonial to discuss.

Roy: That’s referred to as the water cooler effect. You know we’ll see each other at the water cooler later so why have a personal conversation now?

Its The Missing Communication Channel

Derek: I’m on an engagement now. It’s kind of interesting, one of the teams did not really want to do a stand‑up. We kind of had a scrum of scrums type of stand‑up. Each one of the managers had started to on their own bring the concept of the stand‑up back to their individual teams before we even brought it up as something they might consider doing, except for one group.

The one group was told, “Hey, everyone else is doing this, this is working really well, you should try it.” They were a little reticent to do that for a number of reasons. It was interesting. They ended up having their first stand‑up, and everybody on their team went around and gave. They’re checked in and did their stand‑up portion. At the end the manager said, “I’m amazed that none of you guys said anything at all about this massive thing. We’ve got this huge thing coming up [laughs] in like five days, and none of you guys said anything at all about it.” They’re like, “Oh, yeah. That’s right.”

Here is something that the team thinks is clearly on the front of the manager’s mind that, “This is a big deal, and we’ve got to get it done. I’m not thinking about much else.” Yet everybody else on the team was like, “Oh, yeah. I totally forgot. That is happening in three days.” Like, duh. That’s just proof positive that one of the hardest things about communication is understanding that you don’t really know what the other person is thinking.

Here’s a manager who thought that everybody on his team had this on the front of their mind, and in reality it wasn’t even on their mind at all. Just by having something that simple is awareness that, “Holy crap. Nobody on my team is thinking about this. I better get them to start thinking about it.”

Be Brief, To The Point

Roy: I do think though that while stand‑ups are great for that type of interaction and getting everybody on the same page, I’ve been part of a lot of stand‑ups that feel like they drag on forever and that probably exceed the 15 minute time block and more. People are taking up such a long period of time to express whatever their concerns are for the day that I just completely am not able to pay attention. I’m trying with every bone in my body to pay attention, but I just can’t do it.

Derek: Yeah, and even if they don’t exceed the 15 minutes, they can still drag on too long. Roy, you’re good at doing this. If a side conversation starts happening during stand‑up, you’ll say, “OK, why don’t we take this offline?” That way the two parties or the two developers involved can have a deeper conversation if needed, but it doesn’t have to affect everybody else and the rest of the stand‑up.

Respect The Time Box

Roy: Yeah, I definitely think that there are a couple of key things. Either a Scrum master or somebody on the team needs to be really good about respecting time boxes. That is the most powerful element of a stand‑up, keeping it time‑boxed because it really teaches the team about respect and about respect of a time box in a very safe manner.

A couple of things that I’ll do is absolutely, if somebody’s getting a little wordy, take it offline. Or feel free to say, “What are you getting at?” We’ve had on our own teams some people that get a little diarrhea in the mouth when it comes to turning it into more of a status update and wishy‑washy. It’s OK to say, “Well, is there anything blocking you?” If the answer’s no, go, “OK, great. You’ve lost everybody.”

The other thing that I’ll do if I start to see things going is to tell people, “It’s OK, we’re going to start the stand‑up at the same time whether everybody’s here or not. We’re pretty much starting it, and when the 15 minutes is up, if you’ve got something that you need to be doing and you feel like your time is being wasted, feel free to go ahead and basically check out.”

Obviously, here, we like to use core protocols. Feel free to check out and show people that your time is being disrespected. When you start to do that and you start to be honest with each other, it starts to be like, OK, maybe I need to not be so verbose during this.

Keep The Structure

Derek: In line with the core protocols a bit, when you’re doing stand‑up to have a very rigid structure for what everybody’s supposed to say. Like, whether it is three quick phrases or one to two quick phrases that say whether you’re happy, mad or sad about something. Or if you use the standard stand‑up thing, which is like, “This is what I did yesterday, this is what I’m doing today, and these are where my blockages are,” That’s very important, too.

If you get into the stand‑up where everybody is kind of free form speaking, that’s when you get into where people are kind of like, first off, people feel like they have to say something, so everybody says something. Then they also just drag on and on because they’re trying to remember if they’re forgetting anything important.

With the format, you’re like, OK, that can itinerize very quickly. These are the things that are going to be blocking me. Let me get those out, because those are realistically, in my opinion, the most important, because those are the other things that the team can help me on, then also the things that I worked on yesterday and today and then should be done with it and move on.

Stand-Ups Arent Status Meetings

Roy: Yeah, I definitely think a lot of people try to make them status meetings. In a status meeting, if you’re not talking a lot, it means you must not have done much yesterday. I find that certain personalities really try to be verbose because they’re trying to make it sound like they’ve done a ton of work, when in reality, what they’re talking about, nobody really cares about.

Another thing that we’ve played around with a little bit here, too, is, once you start to get a high performing team, what did you do yesterday and what are you doing today really are not that important.

It’s really about what impediments are standing in my way. Where do I need help. One of the ones we’ve tried to start to bring in, not so successfully, but it’s going down the road. That’s, what do I feel exposed on? Where am I scared? Where am I feeling inadequate at?

In a high performing team, those types of questions become much more important, because they’re really talking about, how do I get better? How do I remove the roadblocks? How do I not feel afraid?

Speak Only To Add Value

Derek: Also, the attitude of stand‑up where everybody has to speak, with core protocols is great, because you go around the circle very quickly. But if you’re doing just a quick what I did yesterday and all of that and you’re really just concerned about impediments, it’s not necessary for everybody to speak.

I’ve seen a ton of times where people are working in pairs, so two individuals did pretty much the exact same thing in a given day. When they’re listing off what they did yesterday, they both repeat almost verbatim what the other person said. That’s not necessary. We could have cut the entire stand‑up in half if everybody’s paired up.

Roy: Yeah, that’s one of the reasons I don’t really like the whole status kind of piece so much. Especially on the slightly larger teams, you might be working in code based pieces that are different enough, that if you’re really trying to give any kind of level of detail about what you did, the other people are checking out because it’s irrelevant.

Derek: Like when Coney starts to list down acronyms for startup projects.

Roy: Yeah, if you’ve got your ADO, right, exactly. It becomes really easy to kind of check out. Whereas, if you keep it at a much higher level, it gives people insight to say, like, “Oh, I’ve worked with PDF before, generating PDFs before. If you need help, let me know. I know a lot about that.” Or Rest our API or Soap or whatever. If you keep it at that high level, it’s meaningful. The minute you start to drop into, like, implementation, it’s probably better to be offline if you really need to talk about that stuff.

Learn To Allow Yourself To Be Exposed

Derek: I liked one thing you said about saying how you feel exposed. That’s a great way of bringing out some lurking problems and bringing them to the forefront, because there are a lot of things, as we develop, as we do things where, hey, I feel a little bit exposed. In the future, I can foresee an issue here. Even if it might not be an immediate impediment or an immediate roadblock, you can still feel exposed on some lurking issue. That’s a great place to bring it out, in stand‑up.


Roy: Yeah, some of the other things with stand‑ups, too, even once you’re doing them, it’s hard to do them well. It’s hard to get everybody to show up at the same time and not be late. I remember here at Integrum we probably had three years worth of fighting to figure out what the right stand‑up time was. To figure out, do you punish people that are late? Do you not punish people that are late?

Derek: Do you lock them out of the room?

Roy: How do you do that?


Roy: Not until in the last three or four months have we really gotten to the point where stand‑ups flow really well. There are not people pissed off that somebody is not there because people are only not there if they’ve got a good reason to not be there, that they’re efficient and effective.

It’s a lot like pair programming. It’s something that’s really, really easy to start doing. “Hey, we’re pairing. We’ve got two people sitting in front in the same pairing station. Hey, we’re doing stand‑ups. Everybody meets for 15 minutes.”

Doing them well and effectively and getting the most out of them is very, very difficult.

Standing Up During Stand-Up

Derek: This is one, I’ve seen quite a bit with people that are first starting out doing stand‑ups. “Stand‑ups, do you really need to stand‑up for it?”

I always tell them, “If you want the meeting to be 15 minutes or less, I highly suggest it.”

Drew: There is saying, “Even if you do your stand‑up, sitting down.” I’ve always stood up for it. I’ve never found a need to sit down for it.

Derek: The best part is when you ask them, “Well, why don’t you want to stand‑up.” The response you get, “Because it’s uncomfortable.”

That’s the entire point of the stand‑up, everybody in that meeting wants it to be over with as quickly as possible. If you’re at a meeting in a board room with comfy leather seats and donuts, everybody’s going to take that time away from work and just relax and be happy that they’re away from the daily grind for a little bit.

Whereas, if everybody is standing up, it’s uncomfortable, but it’s a necessary uncomfortableness that everybody tries to get it over with.

Talking Token

Roy: It’s hilarious that you bring that up. In a recent engagement, this happened just the other day, is I instituted a talking token or a token to pass around for stand‑ups at an organization.

All of the groups that are doing stand‑ups are using stand‑up tokens. We usually use a marker or something, whatever is close by.

They pass it around and one of the teams that was not doing stand‑ups and was kind of allergic to them, when they did their first stand‑up, their manager started off by telling them that, “Hey, the stand‑up thing, I know it seems really stupid and it feels dumb, and passing this token around is really childish, but I thought the same thing when I was in my first stand‑up. Give it a chance because it has really improved communication amongst the team I’m doing it with. It would really help our team do it.”

It was funny to hear somebody who was visibly uncomfortable during stand‑ups, but when he tells his team, really articulates that this feels really childish, this feels really stupid, but give it a chance because there is something kind of magic to it. That is some of the key to a lot of the Agile, not ceremonies, but some of the ceremonies as well as a lot of the activities or the thoughts or the principles are they take us back to that more childish state where you’re almost uncomfortable doing them, so you get duped into paying offense “Tom Sawyer” style.

All of sudden, you’re like, “Hey, what a minute. I just got tricked into giving away vital information that I didn’t really want to give away.” There is some magic to that. It’s OK to feel uncomfortable.

If you’re just starting out, it is absolutely, positively, normal for stand‑ups to feel uncomfortable…

Roy: Oh, I know.

Derek: …when you start doing them.

Roy: For my, at least, first two or three of mine, I had this crazy way to put hands where I’m standing up. Then, the waiting for everybody else to speak, it felt really awkward, but it’s something that you get used to.

Drew: That’s it for today. See you next time.

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