Stand-Ups In Agile Environments

Episode 27

August 31, 2011




The Agile Weekly Crew discuss stand-ups in Agile environments

Episode Notes

Drew LeSueur, Derek Neighbors, Roy van de Water discuss standups in agile environments.

why people don’t want to do standups

what if they go longer than 15 minutes

core protocols

avoid status meeting mentality

take things off line

how are you exposed

dealing with people that are late

sit or stand?

talking token


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

Derek Neighbors:  I’m Derek Neighbors.

Roy van de Water:  I’m Roy van de Water.

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?

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.”

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?

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.”

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.

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.

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.

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?

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 r