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Your daily standup is a boring status meeting

With the world moving to remote work, most teams seem to have adopted the agile engineering practice of running daily standup to keep their team aligned. But, a meeting that was designed for in-person engineering teams might not be the best way for most teams to stay in sync. Now is a great time to question whether there's a better way 🤔.

I've been running daily stand-ups with software/product teams for many years now. For the most part I'd never really questioned how they could be improved. It was kind of assumed that the effectiveness of the meeting came down to the facilitator or team members willingness to contribute/participate. But even in mature software orgs I've seen plenty of teams going through the motions in the daily standup, not getting much value out of a very expensive activity.

Why the daily standup exists

Stand-ups were created as an agile practice to keep engineering team in sync. Engineers are working on the the same code-base, often with headphones in for most of the day. The daily standup offered designated face-time to set the focus for the day, clear up any blocking issues and ensure everyone is kept up-to-date with progress or any issue that might affect what they're working on.

So, for years they worked pretty well for these tight, small engineering teams working on the same project. Any cons of the standup meeting were usually outweighed by the benefit of this forced focus and face to face communication.

Daily stand-ups work well under some conditions

  1. When everyone is in the same office, in the same timezone - Valuable face to face, high bandwidth discussion.
  2. When everyone is working on the same project - What each team member is working on is highly relevant and connected to the work of everyone else in the meeting
  3. When the team has a similar skillset - The language/terms used and challenges are understood by everyone in the meeting

Where daily stand-ups don't work

Teams that meet the 3 criteria above are now extremely rare. Even before the world moved to remote work, we saw the rise of cross-functional teams and more flexibility to WFH or on different schedules. Stand-ups start to lose their utility and can become an anti-pattern:

  1. When teams are remote or distributed - Teams lose the benefit of the high-bandwidth face to face communication, and it's much more likely that people are now spread across timezones.
  2. Cross functional teams - Modern teams are typically made up of individuals with very different skillsets.
  3. Multiple different workstreams - Although cross-functional teams are usually aligned by objective, it's highly likely that people aren't working on the same project at the same time.

Why your stand-up sucks

So, with most teams characterised by the points above, it's no wonder that more and more people are dreading the daily standup call. The most common complaints we've found with new teams introducing the daily standup call are:

  • People have to sit through long updates that are not related to their current work. In an 8-person standup, perhaps only the updates of 2 people are relevant to you.
  • They turn into purely a status update meeting, and can at times feel like micromanagement. We've found most people feel the daily standup can feel like an opportunity for the manager to question everyone's productivity and assign new tasks without much of a discussion.
  • Disrupts workflow. Everyone has to drop what they're doing and make themselves presentable to attend a video call held at a specific time.
  • People start their days at different times or simply work in different timezone.
  • They are very expensive 💸. Without realising it, a 50-person company could be losing 40 minutes a day from each employee (24 minute average standup + time to switch context), which could equate to over $400k per year in employee time. That better one damn useful habit 🕵️‍♂️.

So, what's the alternative?

At 'Where' we believe the status update does not need everyone to drop everything and jump on a call. It doesn't mean we want to kill the daily stand-up meeting. Instead, we think by removing the need for a synchronous video call simply to get a status update, teams can spend meeting time on higher value conversations.

  1. Remove the status update from your team meeting. Use an async meeting tool to put your status updates on autopilot, giving everyone an easy way to see what everyone's working on and progress made.
  2. Focus meetings on important decisions, challenges, or to celebrate wins.
  3. Create a collaborative agenda. Rather than a series of the same 3 questions that results in everyone going through the motions, your team meetings should evolve. Give the opportunity for everyone in the team to talk about a challenge or a win, or simply ask for help.

Since going remote and ditching the daily standup, our team has instead opted for a twice-weekly video call for deeper discussion around product or business challenges. Our status updates, have turned into Slack status takeovers with 'Where' that let our team now when and from where we're working, for the purpose of facilitating in person meet ups. We haven't only changed the way we run our meetings, we've reshaped our thinking around the way we work.