Daily Standup Meetings: Comprehensive Guide (Everything You Need To Know: Standup Agenda, Purpose, Common Pitfalls)

Our engineering team has been running standups everyday since 2009. From our own experience, and through our talks with some of Geekbot’s 60,000 users, we noticed a set of frequent/repeating questions that many teams have about daily standup meetings.

So we decided to create a comprehensive post that consolidates many important questions we’ve received about daily standups over the years into the ~10 most common themes, in the form of questions we get on standup meetings.

Contents

What Is the Purpose of Daily Standup Meetings (The “Why” Behind the 3 Standup Questions)

First, let’s start with: “What is a standup meeting?” According to The Scrum Guide, “the daily scrum is a 15-minute time-boxed event for the development team” to plan for the next 24 hours.

If you’re familiar with standups, then you probably already know that the 3 daily standup questions are:

  1. What did you do yesterday?
  2. What will you do today?
  3. Anything blocking your progress?

On the surface, the purpose of these questions may seem straightforward:

  • The team gets on the same page in terms of who completed specific tasks. You discover:
    • What still needs completion?
    • Based on yesterday’s results, do our plans change today?
  • The team gets a clear picture of if they’re on track to complete the sprint goal.
  • Teammates get a chance to help each other by removing blockers/impediments.

But the 3 standup questions provide non-obvious and unique benefits/insights that most teams miss. If you’re curious, you can read about them in this in-depth post we published about this specific topic:

Analyzing the Why Behind the 3 Daily Standup Questions: Unique Ideas & Non-Obvious Insights

In that article, we go beyond the normal explanation of the “3 daily standup questions” and discuss the non-obvious benefits that can arise from the questions, and common pitfalls that we’ve seen many teams make in asking these questions.

We also present some alternative standup questions that we learned from Jeff Patton and Jeff Gothelf that could avoid some of the common pitfalls with the standard questions. This article is a great place to start learning the basics of running standup meetings the right way.

Daily Standup Common Pitfalls & What Not to Do

When we first started Geekbot, we did intensive user research (and still do to this day). During customer interviews, we discovered that many teams think standups are a waste of time.

If you dig into this, it’s usually a function of teams running standups poorly, and not reaping the benefits of standup meetings (which should be a structured and fast way to get a good sense of what’s happening with the team, coordinate work, and remove any blockers).

There are many reasons why standup meetings can go off track and be run poorly, but over the years we’ve found that most of these “bad habits” can be distilled down to one of the 8 essential standup pitfalls below (more on how to avoid making these common mistakes in the next section).

#1: Misalignment

Discussing things that are not related to other people’s work in any way. Or perhaps something that only applies to 1 other teammate in a 6 person standup. So other teammates waste their time listening to non-relevant information, instead of focusing on meaningful work that’s potentially time sensitive. And when you listen to a teammate discuss something that you don’t need to be present for, you may check out mentally for the rest of the standup, and miss important updates.

#2: Too Lengthy

There are a few reasons why standups can last too long:

  • Folks could engage in tangential conversations/water cooler chat (instead of work-focused updates).
  • Someone may start rambling and take 5 mins to find the end of the sentence (it’s pretty common for someone to overshare information and back up what they did with nonessential details to appear more impressive).
  • According to the Scrum Guide, and from our experience, standups should be kept to a 9 person maximum. When teams try to run standups with overly large teams, it tends to be ineffective/last too long.

#3: Problem-Solving During The Standup

Teammates could engage in problem solving or get into elaborate discussions during standup meetings (instead of afterwards).

#4: Inconvenient Meeting Time

  • The daily scrum may be scheduled at an inconvenient time that is disruptive (i.e. just as you’re coding and making progress on a difficult problem).
  • It’s difficult to coordinate schedules and take into account calendar clashes/time zone differences. There’s a time cost involved in getting the entire team to show up to a standup at the same time.

#5: Standups Can Make Introverted Folks Uncomfortable

While some folks overshare information, others are more introverted, and don’t feel comfortable speaking in front of a large group. So they stay on the sidelines and either don’t share updates at all, or don’t go into enough detail. Standups may provide a boost of energy for extroverts, but have the opposite effect on introverts.

#6: Not Listening to Teammates

Instead of listening to someone’s update, it’s common for teammates to rehearse what they’ll say when their turn comes after the next person. While this makes sense (since nobody wants to embarrass themselves) you can miss out on valuable information by not paying attention to other people’s updates.

#7: Skipping Standups

Not having an established daily standup routine and consistent meeting cadence (i.e. same place, same time) can lead to people skipping/forgetting about standups. If teammates show up late to a standup (or not at all), then they can miss out on important information that potentially affects their work.

#8: Not Raising Blockers

Team members may be too embarrassed or uncomfortable to raise the blockers/impediments they need help with. And facilitators often miss this.

As you can see, there are plenty of reasons for teams to think that standups are a waste of time. But as we said, it’s usually a function of them running standups the wrong way.

We discuss the most significant problems associated with standups in greater detail in the following article:

Standup Meetings Can Be a Waste of Time & What to Do About It

Note: You can avoid many of the pitfalls we’ve discussed by running asynchronous standups in Slack instead of in person. In fact, we built a whole product around it and use it everyday ourselves. We think running standups in Slack is more effective than in person, because it’s (1) minimally disruptive due to Slack’s asynchronous nature (2) faster than in-person, and (3) you can choose to have an in-depth thread/side discussion via Slack with a certain teammate without interrupting everyone else.

Daily Standup Rules & Best Practices (What Does an Effective Standup Meeting Look Like?)

If you avoid the mistakes above and follow best practices, standups can transform from a nuisance to a productive way to get everyone on the same page. Many teams we’ve spoken to are diligent about staying on track, and their standup meetings usually last less than 10 mins. They don’t engage in side discussions that aren’t relevant to anyone on the team. And their updates are short and to the point (without any rambling or unnecessary details).

Below, we list a few rules/tips and best practices that you can follow to run efficient standup meetings that get the job done (without all the downsides that come from running standups the wrong way).

  • If a status update turns into a lengthy discussion (and the standup starts to get off track) then the facilitator should step in and say, “Let’s put this topic in the parking lot and dissect it after the standup is over”. You can put the “parking lot” items on a whiteboard and refer to them later. This way, you don’t consume everyone’s time and keep the standup short.
  • If someone starts to unnecessarily recount a play-by-play of how they debugged a certain problem, a facilitator should gently step in and remind them that they should share a quick and concise update (instead of trying to outshine everyone else).
  • If possible, everyone should stand up during the daily scrum to speed up the meeting, since people get tired from standing on their feet for too long.
  • If a teammate shares that they’re working on a problem you’ve already faced before, tell them that you’re open to offering input/help if they need it (even if they don’t necessarily mention they’re stuck and require assistance with an impediment).
  • “The Daily Scrum is an internal meeting for the Development Team. If others are present, the Scrum Master ensures that they do not disrupt the meeting” and only act as spectators (from The Scrum Guide).
  • Ensure that only 1 person speaks at a time. Pass around a “speaking token” (i.e. ball/baton/toy) to signify who should be the 1 person speaking at that moment. The “speaking token” is a fun element that keeps people more engaged and ensures they’re paying attention instead of rehearsing what they’ll say when their turn comes (since the “speaking token” gets passed at random and there’s no specific order).
  • Ensure you have incentives and deterrents for beginning the daily standup on time (i.e. penalty jar).
  • Once someone shares an update, they shouldn’t stop paying attention, go on their phone, or leave the room (you’d be surprised at how often this happens with some teams). Instead, the whole team should end the standup together and leave at the same time.
  • Teammates may be exhausted from the workday and consistently show up to the standup meeting with low focus and motivation. If you notice that, then it may make sense to move the standup to a different time when people are more energized.

For more useful Scrum standup rules and best practices, check out this video by Atlassian:

How to Run Remote/Distributed Standup Meetings

We’ve covered the issues with standups and how to run them more effectively.

But things are harder for remote teams, because people are in different time zones, so it’s difficult to find a meeting time that’s convenient for everyone.

Beyond that, remote teams still experience the same issues as in-person teams:

  • Standups can take too much time
  • Sitting through updates that don’t overlap with your work
  • Having to stop working when you’re “in the zone” to attend a standup meeting

We experienced these issues first hand. Our remote team used to run daily standups via Zoom. But it was hard to get everyone on the same call due to time zone differences — someone would have to make a sacrifice and meet at an odd time.

Also, our daily scrums would last too long, sometimes as much as half an hour instead of 15 mins. We’d often get off track and engage in problem solving discussions, instead of saying, “let’s park that issue for later discussion so we don’t consume everyone’s time.”

It was hard to stay 100% disciplined in running standups… it would be nice if we were robots, but we’re only human.

We knew we weren’t the only ones dealing with these problems. So we built Geekbot, a tool that lets teams run asynchronous standups in Slack (here’s how). Instead of getting interrupted to attend a meeting at a certain time, team members can share updates via Slack at any point during the day (a benefit that not only remote, but also collocated teams enjoy).

Our team, along with 60,000 users, finds that running asynchronous standups via Slack is not only minimally disruptive, but also a lot faster (a non-trivial benefit that anyone who has been a part of lengthy standups would appreciate).

Another unique benefit to Slack is that teammates can have side discussions via threaded conversations about something that may only apply to them and not the rest of the team — so teammates don’t have to waste time and listen to something that doesn’t overlap with their own work.

If you’re curious, Zapier published a post on their blog detailing why and how their Strategic Apps team runs remote standups in Slack:

Zapier Blog | Why We Replaced Our Standups with a Robot

Standup Meeting Agenda & Structure/Format

The 2 most common ways to run in-person standups are “Round Robin” and “Walking the Board”.

Round Robin vs Walking the Board

With the “Round Robin” approach, teams use the typical model of answering the 3 standup questions (“Yesterday, Today, Blockers”) with everyone going around a circle in order and sharing their updates.

While the “Round Robin” method is the most common one, many agile teams feel it’s suboptimal

Folks tend to not pay attention to what teammates are saying, because naturally, they’re busy thinking about what they’ll say when their turn comes (nobody wants to embarrass themselves and not be prepared to speak).

That’s why a lot of agile teams prefer to use the “Walk the Board” approach, where the team walks through all the work items on a task board (i.e. Kanban board) from left to right. The work items that are closest to “done” are discussed first.

Here’s a 5 min video that guides you through the process of walking the board:

Anders Laestadius’s article about improving the daily scrum also touches on why they changed to the “Walk the Board” approach instead of “Round Robin”:

The process: We also changed to walk the board instead of doing a round robin and answering the three questions.

Who Should Attend a Daily Standup Meeting?

According to The Scrum Guide, there are 3 types of scrum team members that could attend a daily standup:

  1. Development Team
  2. Scrum Master
  3. Product Owner

We recommend that you don’t overthink this question and use common sense. Just invite whoever you think needs to be present and can (1) add value to the meeting or (2) get value from it.

For example, if the project manager is heavily involved in the work, then it might make sense to invite them. Or if including the marketing department in the standup feels like the right move, then go ahead and do that.

Just be sure to think ahead about what will be discussed in the standup, and if you should invite anyone else outside your development team.

For more information on who should attend a daily scrum meeting (and the pros/cons of including a Scrum Master & Product Owner) feel free to visit this relevant forum thread on Scrum.org with 33 replies:

Scrum Forum: Who is allowed to attend a daily meeting?

Where and When Is the Best Time to Hold a Standup Meeting?

We built a product around running asynchronous standups via Slack instead of in person. We believe that running standups via Slack is more effective, because it’s (1) minimally disruptive due to Slack’s asynchronous nature (2) faster than in-person, and (3) threaded Slack conversations allow for side discussions that don’t waste everyone else’s time.

That being said, we understand that there are companies that prefer to hold standups in person. If that’s the case for your team, the well regarded best practice is to hold standups at the same time and same place to reduce complexity. In terms of time, morning is generally best, because it sets up the day, and people can follow up with each other later about blockers that arise.

Don’t overthink the meeting place too much. Ideally, meet somewhere convenient where most of the work already happens (i.e. next to a Kanban board instead of a random conference room).

It’s important to meet at the same place and same time to avoid confusion regarding logistics and make sure people don’t forget to attend. Also, if you hold the daily scrum at the same place/time, then other employees in the company know when they could drop in (i.e. if they need to observe the daily meeting, or simply talk to someone in the development team after the status meeting).

Note: Every work environment is different. The best time and place to run a standup depends on your specific situation, and there’s not 1 definitive answer.

How Long Should a Standup Meeting Last?

According to The Scrum Guide, “the daily scrum is a 15-minute time-boxed event for the development team.”

From our experience, even 15 minutes could be too much for some teams. So it mostly depends on the size of the group. For example, a 4-person team may get through a standup in 5 minutes instead of 15.

Once you start getting past the 15 min mark, it becomes mentally draining, and people may lose focus/energy. Since most standups are held in the morning, it’s especially important to get through them quickly because many engineers feel most productive early in the day.

Asynchronous standups via Slack make this moot. The time taken is usually minimal and customizable to each person. For example, if someone scans others responses and notices an issue they can help with, they can choose to have an in-depth thread/side discussion via Slack that doesn’t interrupt everyone else. But if not, they answer their own questions in a few minutes and move on. It’s quick and efficient.

What Are Some Tools You Can Use to Make Standups More Effective?

As we’ve mentioned previously, we built a Slack standup bot that enables our own team (and 60,000 users) to run asynchronous standups inside Slack.

Our userbase consists of both collocated and remote companies, including teams within Zapier (read story), GitHub, Asana, Airbnb, Salesforce, Sony, and more.

If you’re curious, we published an article about how we use Geekbot to manage our distributed team from Slack, and why we built it.

Running standups via Slack is asynchronous, so you don’t have to get interrupted in the middle of work to attend a meeting. The asynchronous nature of Slack also minimizes the time cost involved with scheduling a convenient meeting time for time zone differences/calendar clashes. Another benefit to in-Slack standups is that they’re faster than in-person standups. Plus, threaded conversations don’t have to interrupt other teammates.

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