A short rant: I don't like status update stand-ups

I’ll start with a small disclaimer: teams should mostly just work in whatever way makes them most effective. This will likely be different for each group of people and situation. Starting with some common processes and then tweaking them regularly is probably the best way to find this for your team. Maybe what I’m about to describe below works wonders for your team, in which case you can safely ignore this post.

I do not like status update stand-ups

With that disclaimer out of the way there’s a very specific kind of meeting/process that I do not like and I feel adds almost no value to a team (and possibly takes away value). This is the stand-up where you go around the team and everyone says (or writes in slack) something like:

Yesterday I worked on super important task X… Today I will continue my work on task X…

Why don’t I like this type of meeting?

If I’m really honest: I’m just not that interested in the details of what everyone in the team spent time on on yesterday (and will spend time on on today). It feels too much like the purpose of this meeting is to check up on everyone and make sure they are all busy. It might be important for your manager to make sure you’re a valuable amount of busy, but it’s not something I want to spend time on (unless I happen to be your manager). I think the sad thing is that most people don’t intend this. They probably set up the meeting with good intentions, the desire to make their team more collaborative.

At best, I think this meeting is a waste of time. At worst, I think it encourages a culture of distrust and justifying how busy we all are.

Are there some parts I like?

The core idea of sharing what people have worked on is valuable to me. Although I don’t want to know exactly how people spent their time I do want to know what interesting things the people in my team are working on and what they’ve learnt. But I think there are better ways of getting this knowledge shared. We could have showcases and demos at the end of each piece of work. We could have “this week I learnt” meetings where people can share any interesting things they learnt. We could add (or shrink) “work in progress” limits to encourage pairing and mobbing in the team. Techniques like these focus on the thing that’s important to me: what the team learnt, not how they spent their time.

What kind of stand-up would I prefer instead?

There are probably a lot of options here. You don’t even need to have stand-ups. There’s (hopefully) no agile police who will come and take away your software license for not having them. You could run a trial not having stand-ups for a few weeks and see what happens.

The alternative I would probably try out first often gets called “walking the board”. With walking the board you take a look at each piece of work that’s currently in progress for the team and discuss what you can do to move it forward and what can be done to remove blockers. If each piece of work has an owner it might superficially seem really similar to the “status update” stand-up but to me the important difference is the focus. With walking the board you are focussed on what the team can do to get a piece of work completed. I think this encourages everyone to work together for the team rather than check up on how busy they are. If someone says they are stuck or blocked the whole team can come together to help.

So please: think about whether you need this status update or if there’s something else you could do instead. Focus on the work not the workers.

Thoughts? Comments? Send me a tweet!