The standup meeting, or daily scrum, as a team information-gathering staple has evolved into dogma, and especially tech dogma, over time. Not only did it seem like everyone was doing standups as their default way of conveying project context, it felt like there wasn’t an alternative. This was the path of the agile startup, midsize business, and the looking-to-feel-smaller enterprise for many years.
Recently, though, the daily standup dogma has faced backlash. Braden, one of our founders, wrote a piece not too long ago claiming that “standups are broken”, while acknowledging how excited he’d once been to try the format in his work day.
So what’s happened?
The main challenge with daily standups is that work is more flexible than it used to be: distributed or remote teams, different time zones, employees that work from home, project employees who only engage for two or three key sequences of time. Standups tend to work best when a large majority of the team is co-located. Additionally, there’s an increasing sense that standups are time-wasters with unnecessary (and often completely ludicrous) status updates thrown in.
Here’s Range’s take on what caused the rather rapid decline of the standup and how you can recoup the benefits of traditional standup meetings with a more effective and scalable alternative.
Wait. Standups are Time-Wasters?
Yep. At least for many of us. Consider this first-hand experience shared by Shep, a corporate travel management solution:
“Our standups were taking over 20 mins, and most importantly, oftentimes people would leave the meeting feeling misaligned. This didn’t help the team feel confident about our focus and short-term progress. For a little while, we tried tweaking some things about the meeting, like the scheduled time, reminding people to just report “what matters”, etc. Regardless of what we did, the result would essentially be the same.”
This simple paragraph highlights many challenges with daily standups as broadly conceived, including:
- Unrelated updates: Many employees will conceptualize this individually, not in the sense of the team. That’s why you get status updates like “having pho with my partner at 1pm”. While it’s important our team members know when we’ll be out of the office, a calendar event would suffice. When updates are not focused on projects related to the team they not only waste time, they also signal to the rest of the team that the meeting isn’t important.
- Too lengthy: Standup meetings work best at under 10 minutes. When they drag past 10-15 minutes, they become increasingly less relevant. We actually once observed a team whose morning standup cleared 40 minutes. At that point, there’s almost no efficacy remaining; your scrum is no longer an agile process.
- Tweaking the time: This is akin to rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic, yet companies do it all the time. They think that a shift in start time from 9:15am to 8:55am will change everything. It doesn’t. And if you have team members in significantly different time zones it can sometimes feel impossible to find a good time to check in.
- Misalignment: This is the biggest issue of them all. If people are leaving a standup misaligned, then the standup was not a success. However, because of the points above, it’s common for people to launch into detailed discussions of yesterday’s or today’s plan. They remain blissfully unaware that what they’re discussing in no way overlaps with the work of 90% of their colleagues in the room.
Ideally, a daily standup meeting should result in:
- Knowing what people are working on
- Identifying problems preventing that work from being done
- Fostering team belonging and purpose
Seems easy enough, right? Well, on paper, sure. But many organizations struggle with this.
If our Standups Aren’t Working, What Should We Do?
Organizations have tried lots of things here, from Slack channels to morning check-in emails. Often, those alternative ideas don’t end up working as well as they had hoped.
What you might instead find success with is running virtual, asynchronous standups – better tied to the current realities of work – with your whole team. You want to make sure that blockers are identified and everyone has a good sense of what everyone else is working on throughout the day, and you need a way for your team to share and consume updates in a convenient and manageable way. (You do want them to publish and read them after all.)
One challenge to the creation of a successful update network is integrations. If you’re going to add another solution to your team’s toolset, it ought to do a bit of work for you. For an alternative to traditional standup meetings, look for solutions that connect with the tools your team is already using – Asana, Jira, GitHub, Trello, Dropbox Paper, Google Docs, etc – and suggest recently updated documents, tickets, and projects. That way, people can more easily remember and speak to the progress of work from the day before.
Establish Processes That Scale With Your Team
Asynchronous daily standups or check-ins help to put an end to boundless, traditional standup meetings and get the whole team on the same page with fewer meetings. And corresponding written status updates within a team coordination tool or platform – something that allows every team member to share and review updates from today, yesterday, or even last week – allow everyone to consume updates easily and on their own time.
These ideas can scale with you, too. As your team or company gets bigger and approaches the Dunbar Number of employees (150), communication will get harder. A standup meeting with two people is barely challenging; a standup with 10 becomes a bit tedious, both in terms of time wasted and productivity lost.
Remember: people are generally more effective in the morning. Don’t burn an hour of people’s time discussing work when you could be doing that work. Instead, search for tools that help you build scalable processes that help your team work better together.