The Scrum Guide describes the daily scrum (otherwise known as a Stand Up) as a 15-minute meeting where members of a team essentially answer three questions:
What did you do yesterday?
What will you do today?
Are there any obstacles or problems in your way?
On the surface, this seems very constructive and useful. All team members are aware of what each person is working on, each person sets constructive daily goals, and all team members have regular contact. When you factor in that because of the coronavirus most people are now working from home, it then sounds perfect.
However, a quick search online (as well as my own bitter experience) will tell you there are a number of pain points with this agile management method. In this article, I will not just describe these, but provide you with three ways that will help you to work more efficiently.
The Downsides of the Daily Standup
Sadly, daily stand-ups are not as useful in reality as they appear on paper for the following reasons:
Wasted Time – it is very natural and normal for a daily 15-minute scrum to become 30 minutes or longer. As certain members of staff look for specific answers or ideas to solve issues. This may seem useful for the 1-2 individuals involved, but for almost everyone else, this conversation is an irrelevant distraction from their work and waste of time. This may also lead team members to lose focus on the daily stand-ups that matter more to them.
Self-preservation – for many people, public speaking is very stressful. When you add a pressure to achieve, that inevitably comes from setting daily goals in front of colleagues, not only can your employees become fearful and self-conscious in these meetings, they can become so focused on their own stand up that they miss what is being said by others. This pressure to get things done also makes people afraid to say when something they tried did not work or when they need time to think about how to address a certain issue (especially true for product managers).
The coronavirus pandemic and the ensuing move to work from home has placed more emphasis than ever on these daily standups, but how can we address the pain points above and work more effectively?
Are daily standups working well for you and your team?
Even if your answer to this question seems like a clear and definitive, yes, that may not be the truth in reality. Regardless of whether you think your daily scrums are going well or not, it is best to ask your team members in a way that they can report back their thoughts and feelings anonymously. This is because a pressure to conform or agree when in a group or when asked personally may be too strong for some, or they may fear the consequences of not agreeing or sharing their true thoughts.
If daily standups are not working well for your team or you feel they could be improved, here is a 3 step alternative:
1. Switch to Written Daily Standups
Creating a dedicated channel in Slack (or whichever communication channel you use) for team members to share a quick daily update is a simple and effective solution to the pain points discussed above. Firstly, people can spend more time on what they need to do, and less on listening to the issues of others which they have little or no knowledge of or skillset to resolve.
Secondly, it is much easier for people to say what they think or feel when writing it down than speaking out loud. In addition to this, it is important to breed an atmosphere free of fear. Where people feel comfortable to say, “ I tried this, but it didn’t work”, “today I am just answering team questions”, or “I am thinking about ideas today”.
2. A Dedicated Channel for Asking Questions
One of the major reasons daily scrums take longer than the standard 15 minutes is that inevitably one or more individuals ask for help solving a particular issue. Not only is this of little significance and a waste of time to most of the team, it puts others off from asking questions to pressing problems.
The solution to this is to set up a dedicated communication channel on Slack (or elsewhere) where team members can ask questions. Here their queries can be answered directly by an individual with the knowledge to resolve the query or a meeting can be set up between the two. Enabling a solution to be reached without taking up the time and attention of the whole team. This communication channel will become more and more useful the larger your startup becomes.
3. Weekly Inspirational Meetings
Because all your important work is now getting done in specific conversation threads and small group calls. This frees up time for a weekly call with a completely different purpose, to inspire the team and bring them together.
Make this call all about sharing achievements, positive news, and troubleshooting. This will bring your team together in ways you would not have expected. For example, your marketing team may come up with a feature that gets put on the product roadmap. Likewise, your product team may come up with a great marketing idea.
A product manager is a great idea generator and collector, but when you open the floor of ideas to everybody, not only is more unity built, but even better ideas are generated.
On paper, daily standups appear to be a great idea. The sad thing is that they don’t work so well in reality. This is because a lot of time is spent listening to individuals discuss issues that have very little significance for the majority of your team. Likewise, making daily presentations can be incredibly stressful for some and create an atmosphere where there is a fear of failure.
If daily standups are not working well for you, try implementing the three steps below as an alternative:
Switch to written daily standups
Create a dedicated communication channel for questions (e.g., on Slack)
Have inspirational weekly meetings – not progress meetings
I would love to hear your experiences with daily standups in Estonia, the Baltics, and beyond. Have you encountered similar problems to me? If so, how did you overcome them? Did you use some of the ideas above? Maybe you have found daily standups to work really well. If so, please share your experience because I would especially love to hear from you.
If you would like to learn more about how I could help your business to become more agile, create a product roadmap, an MVP, or identify your product-market fit, get in touch.