Is There Value in The Daily Standup Meeting?
If you've found yourself asking whether a standup provides any value to you, check out what this study in 1997 found and the conclusions we can make.
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Recently I was teaching an overview class for new Scrum Masters. I was covering the five important events (meetings) in Scrum and had just introduced the Daily Standup Meeting (DSM), when a learner interrupted with the following question: “Given the cost to people’s work time and the cost to the corporation, do Scrum teams generally feel there is value in the Daily Standup Meeting?” He followed with, “How do you feel about the Daily Standup Meeting?”
A study was conducted at the University of Oslo Norway (V. Stray et al, 1997) to answer the first question. The method of study was a survey of professional software developers. Those conducting the survey received 221 responses from professionals who identified either as a general computer programmer or a web developer. Participation was voluntary, no compensation was given, and controls were placed to prevent the same respondent from answering more than once.
“Among all the respondents, one-third reported working in teams with two to five members, one-third in teams with six to eight members and one-third in teams with nine or more members” (V. Stray et al, 1997). While the mean perceived value by these respondents towards the practice was neutral, not many respondents chose neutral as their response. Most were split evenly as firmly positive or firmly negative, thus driving the mean to neutral. Also of interest is that those who responded as firmly positive were younger respondents who identified themselves as junior programmers. And those who were negative identified themselves as senior programmers with skills significantly higher than those of their peers.
Seventy percent of the respondents indicated they regularly attend Daily Standup Meetings. It is interesting to note that both those who attended DSMs and those who do not, spent the same number of hours in daily meetings. However, those who attended DSMs found one hour more each day to work on their programs. The last observation I would like to highlight is that there was a high correlation between those who were negative and participation on a large team (nine or more members).
Given the results of this survey and my team’s experience with Daily Standup Meetings, I would like to draw the following conclusions:
- Team size matters. Teams of three or fewer do not have enough members to support best practices such as paired programming, test driven development, and behavior driven development. Teams of nine or more tend to have communication issues and overhead associated with managing the members. They lose some of the benefit of being self-managed and the flow of work, though the team can become obstructed. Clearly, the data from the study indicates that those who attend DSMs are more negative when teams are large. I recently read about a team of size of 12-14 that split into two teams and both small teams nearly retained the story point velocity of the single large team. It is important to right-size the team.
- DSMs appear to be more valuable for junior programmers. It is not a surprise to me that junior members benefit more than senior. The DSM is ideal for new or junior members to get a quick clarification or redirection when they find an impediment to their work. The daily connection to experienced members of the team supports psychological safety and an avenue for those who may be less secure about local programming standards and who need technical support. There may be an opportunity here for Scrum Masters to encourage senior members to engage more deeply by taking a leadership role in running the daily standup.
- DSMs can focus the team and drive productivity. The data from the above study seems to drive a point supported by my team’s experience. The DSM is an important part of the Agile Scrum framework that removes impediments quickly and drives productivity by focusing the team. The study found that those who are using DSMs as part of the Agile Scrum or Lean frameworks found almost one extra hour per day to work on their programs.
In summary, I believe the Daily Standup Meeting for right-sized teams is a valuable tool for communication and collaboration. The data for software factories shows that they are not an additional cost to the corporation as teams generally spend the same amount of time in meetings with or without Daily Standup Meetings. Certainly, the DSM needs to be time and content-controlled. We like to timebox to 15 minutes, stand up during the meeting and limit solutioning in the meeting. When used correctly, the DSM focuses the team. It drives productivity by quickly removing impediments and ensuring a smooth flow of work through the team. It can be a safe environment to support new or junior members. And it gets things done.
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