How Daily Standup Meetings Work

Daily standup meetings could be one of the best (or worst) meetings you’ll have at work.

At its best, a standup meeting ensures continual progress is made while keeping each person accountable for their work. At it’s worst, standups are a disruptive meeting where people talk about the work that they aren’t actually doing.

In this guide, we’ll cover the basics of daily standup meetings and how you run them effectively with your team. Please, let us help you avoid running terrible standups.

 

A brief history of standup meetings

According to Jeff Sutherland, one of the inventors of the Scrum software development process, he was first made aware of daily meetings by an eight-person software development team. This small team was incredibly productive; they wrote one million lines of code in 31 months for Quattro Pro, which is unheard of.

You can read more in this paper, but we’ve included the most interest piece below:

QPW had a small core team–four people–who interacted intensely over two years to produce the bulk of the product. Prototyping was heavily used: Two major prototypes were built and discarded (the first in C; the second, called “pre-Crystal,” in C++). Additional programmers were added after six months or so of intense effort by the core of four. These prototypes drove architectural decisions that were discussed in frequent (almost daily) project meetings. A million lines of code were written over 31 months by about eight people: that’s about 1000 lines per person per week.

In short, these daily meetings helped the team self-organize around solving particular problems.

 

Why Daily standups are necessary

There’s a variety of benefits to having daily standup meetings as a team. We’ve listed a few examples below:

  • Speeds up the feedback loop – it’s much easier to change processes and workflows if you have a steady stream of data coming in. Standups are a key piece of the continuous improvement process and help you make small course-corrections vs. large ones infrequently.
  • Accountability – it’s awkward to say you are going to do something and then not do it. By stating what you are working on (and what you did yesterday), it creates accountability for your work. Did you do what you said you were going to do?
  • Coordination – When team members share blockers, it helps others see direct opportunities to help.
  • Reinforces Psychological safety – A lesser-known (but important detail) is that sharing roadblocks creates a sense of psychological safety inside a team. It’s okay to be a bit vulnerable and say, “I don’t know how to do this.”
  • It’s fun to see what others are working on – I enjoy hearing about what coworkers are doing. It’s a great way to see the progression. It’s also encourages me to put more effort into my work.

 

How Daily Standups work

A daily standup meeting (as the name suggests) is a daily meeting where a small group (no more than eight people) individually answers the following questions:

  1. What did you do yesterday?
  2. What are you working on today?
  3. Any blockers?

This meeting shouldn’t last more than 10-15 minutes, so it’s important that each person stay on track and keep other discussions to a minimum. More on this below.

 

Minimize extra discussions

Why should the additional discussion be limited?

First, there’s a time-cost to these meetings. If you have eight people in a fifteen-minute meeting, that adds up to two hours in time costs (not including context-switching). If each person is paid $70k annually, this fifteen-minute meeting costs $115.

Next, it’s highly likely that your discussion with another individual in the middle of standup is only applicable to a small percentage of the group. As a result, people end up listening to a discussion that has no relevance to their work. It’s annoying to have this happen, and the entire team wastes time as a result.

Please keep in mind that we believe these meetings are worth the cost, it’s just important to keep extra discussions to a minimum. If someone is rambling, feel free to say “take this offline.” It’s a bit blunt, but it’s important to keep the process in order.

If you’re interested in estimating the time-cost of meetings, we recommend using this calculator.

 

Consistent time & place

Next, daily standup meetings need be to be held consistently throughout the week in the same location. If you’re a remote team, set a reminder in Slack or Google Calendar. This consistency creates a habit and allows makers to schedule deep work around the meeting.

Agile experts recommend holding the meeting where the work happens (known as “gemba“) instead of going somewhere else like a conference room. If the meeting happens where the work happens, it’s much easier to attend on a consistent basis. Fewer barriers = more likely to gain adoption with the team.

 

Literally stand-up (If possible)

A helpful way to keep the meeting short is by literally standing up for the meeting. If people are sitting, it encourages the meeting to drag on. By standing up for the meeting, it encourages people to be concise.

 

creating order

There are a few ways to create a bit of order during the meeting. Typically, we see the following areas of confusion otherwise:

  1. Who starts the meeting?
  2. Whose turn is it?

There are a couple easy solutions to these questions. Firstly, the last person to show up for standup should start first. Next, assuming your team forms in a circle, go clockwise around the group. If you need to, pass around an object to signal who is currently talking (and limit the awkwardness around “is the person next to me done yet”). Passing around an object is a bit cheesy, but it technically works.

 

Questions at the end

Finally, the leader of the group should ask if people have any questions. We recommend asking, “does anyone have any questions that are applicable to the entire group?” This helps reinforce that the questions should be applicable to the entire group, not a single person.

At this point, the meeting is over. Feel free to encourage people to get together 1-1 to discuss ways to overcome blockers that they face. We highly recommend this activity, as it’s an extremely good use of time & there are actionable next steps.

 

How not to run a standup meeting

To wrap up, this video by Atlassian gives a great overview of how NOT to run standup meetings:

We hope this guide serves as a helpful overview of how to run daily standup meetings. If you are new to them, we strongly recommend giving them a try!

Do you use Slack? If so, we’ve created a guide to standup meetings in Slack.

P.S. – if you want to learn about another way to stay connected with your team, check-out weekly retrospectives.

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