Agile development is very near and dear to our hearts at Genius.com. Our engineering and operations teams use a combination of Scrum, XP, and Lean practices to guide everything we do. From the very beginning, we approached our adoption of Agile the same way we approach our code: gradually improving by inspecting and adapting. We constantly tune to address challenges, complications, and inefficiencies and always tailor to best fit the team. Some of the tweaks we try work, some don’t, but we are always trying to improve.
The Daily Standup
One facet with which our engineering team recently tinkered is how we run our daily standups. As a core Scrum and XP tenet, we have consistently used the daily standup meeting to ensure effective team collaboration. For a long time, we did our standups in the traditional person focused manner with each team member answering the three questions:
- What have you done?
- What will you do?
- What are you impediments?
and then passing the conch to the next person.
Why Person Focused Standups Weren’t Working
As our team grew, and the granularity of our user stories improved, the nature of our development changed. There was no longer enough work on a single story to occupy the entire team and thus we began to parallelize. We also noticed that many stories were staying active for longer periods of time and developing what we began calling “task tails” (where a story stagnates with the number of unvalidated tasks remaining consistently low for many days). We identified two primary reasons for the occurrence of task tails:
- Low code quality resulting in QA finding a trickling but steady stream of bugs
- Developers moving onto other stories when a story appeared to be close to done but was not actually done
As a result of these factors, our standups became confusing; a person often talked about a different story than the previous person and this ascertaining the current status of an individual story became difficult. Instead of focusing on what was needed to finish the active stories, the focus was on what each person was doing or about to do. A subtle distinction but one that was increasingly problematic.
Once we recognized the regression in the effectiveness of our daily standups, we worked to figure out how to adapt the standups to how our development had evolved. What resulted from these discussions was a decision to try changing the standups to be focused on stories, not people. If it made the standups more productive we would keep doing it. If the standups did not improve, we would try to find another way.
What a Story Focused Standup Looks Like
At the beginning of the next iteration, we made the tweaks. Instead of iterating over the people in the team, we began iterating over the active stories on the board. Each person who worked on the story over the previous day or plans on working on the story over the coming day answers the three questions, but only about the story currently in focus. If a person has worked on multiple stories, they will talk multiple times. The scrum master keeps track of who has spoken and who has not. If, after going through all active stories, someone hasn’t spoken, it is usually a glaring indication of impediments. The scrum master then specifically asks these people to answer the three questions which usually gently coaxes out the impediments.
In this case, the change had the desired effect. Focus returned to what we needed to complete open stories and impediments that prevented a story from being completed quickly surfaced.
In the four months since making the simple change to story-centric daily standups, we have noticed our daily meetings are more efficient, easier to follow, and more useful for everyone. This improvement is not only noticeable by the team, but is reflected in our per story and per sprint burndown charts. If your team is having problems similar to those we faced, we recommend you give story focused standups a try.
If you are looking for more analysis of person-by-person versus story-by-story standups, here are Mike Cohn‘s expert thoughts on the matter: Should the Daily Standup be Person-by-Person or Story-by-Story?