You don't need standups

Ah the daily standup. A time for the team to gather around their project board and discuss how things are going. Or, more likely, an opportunity to rattle off a bunch of ticket IDs and get back to actual work.

Standups can be super useful when used properly. Most standups I see happening could be a status report, or be tracked in Jira or whatever system being used.

What standups aren't

This isn't a time for managers to get status updates on work in flight. If a manager needs to gather that level of context from a standup they either don't know where to find that information, the information doesn't exist, or they are lazy. If the info doesn't exist then you've got much bigger problems to solve.

Your system (Jira) should provide the current status of each work item and relevent comments as progress is made. Save time in the standup by not talking about tickets.

Standup isn't a performance management tool. You can't look at a person's standups to determine their productivity. You also can't look at a team's performance by their standup reports. That's crazy talk.

What standups are

The three common standup questions are:

  1. What did you do since last standup?
  2. What will you do know between now and next standup?
  3. Where are you blocked/need help?

It's easy to see how a standup becomes a status report with these questions. The questions aren't really important. What is important is the cohesion and alignment that comes from continuously inspecting our work. With that in mind, here is what I think these questions are really after:

  1. Any big wins since last time we met? Any new information on what you completed that the team should know? Anything going to impact the timeline, or other work upstream?
  2. Where do you think you'll have the biggest impact between now and next standup. Why is the most important thing for you to focus on? What kind of interruptions do you expect to face?
  3. Where are there opportunities to learn from or learn with peers in the work that you're doing? How can you reduce the bus factor? Where is there risks that no one is considering? What is keeping you up at night?

This is a conversation, not a report. It will surface action items and follow up discussions that will sharpen alignment. If done well a standup offers opportunities for team members to pair and work together. It also helps surface risks or problems that might need action asap.

Make your standup a conversation about the work being done. That is where the value is.

What is the right cadence?

Every day? It depends. How new is the team? How aligned have they been in the past? Will there be value added to the project by stopping and inspecting more regularly, or is the scope clearly defined and we just need to execute.

Standups shouldn't happen by default. Put thought into whether standups will help the team, or feel like yet another management technique that makes engineers feel like big brother is watching.