You’re Wasting Time With Your Daily Standup
Daily standups cost average-sized product engineering teams 6-figure sums every year, so we sure as heck need to make them count. Here's how I think we do it.
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Let’s say you’ve got 8 people on one of your engineering squads. Your daily standup takes 15 minutes a day.
That’s 75 minutes per week, or roughly 3750 minutes per person. You’ve got 8 people, so that’s 30,000 minutes each year for your team or 500 hours.
That works out to about 12.5 weeks spent in daily standup for your team.
If your average engineer is earning $75,000, then you’re spending about $18,000 each year on your daily standup (not to mention opportunity cost, which is a whole topic in itself).
But if your daily standups take 30 minutes, it costs you $36,000. And if you have 10 squads like this in your company, that’s $360,000.
So we sure as heck better make our standups count!
Five Ways I See Companies Waste Time in Standups (There Are More)
The daily standup is envisioned as a 15-minute pulse check, but it often morphs into a parade of distractions, irrelevancies, and just plain inefficiencies.
The back-end engineering team at Company A religiously congregates every morning around their Scrum board. The standup never exceeds 15 minutes. But their updates are a monotonous loop of "I did X, today I'll do Y" – an agile charade with zero alignment with sprint goals. The engineers don’t even have sprint goals. The product manager prioritises the backlog, but no two-way conversations are happening.
Problem 1: No Alignment With Sprint Goals
Anecdotally, an engineer at a FinTech firm recently told me, “Strategic alignment comes from our initiative. I take the initiative to ask about it, but not everyone does that”.
Lack of alignment with sprint goals leads to a lack of direction and purpose, causing team members to operate in isolation rather than as a cohesive unit working toward a shared objective. This inefficiency wastes valuable resources and could derail other tasks that are critical to the project. It also impacts stakeholder satisfaction and puts the team out of sync with broader strategic objectives.
The very foundation of the Scrum framework is to inspect progress toward the Sprint Goal. Daily Scrums are designed for task updates and as opportunities to adapt and pivot towards achieving that Sprint Goal. Without this focal point, the team misses out on critical chances to adjust course, while eroding cohesion and motivation.
Company B has a fully distributed, remote team scattered across 9 hours’ worth of time zones. Ada, from Poland, finds that the live standup in her afternoon takes her out of her flow at peak concentration time. Brent in San Francisco grumbles about needing to log in early while juggling kids who haven't yet been sent off to school. And Clem, who, due to caregiving responsibilities, often misses the live standup, has to catch up through meeting reruns and often misses the chance to contribute.
Problem 2: Operational Inefficiencies
The logistical gymnastics needed for live standups often means getting in the way of engineers’ personal lives or interrupting their workflow. Time-zone clashes? Check. Flow state broken? Double-check. Is everyone mildly irritated? Triple-check.
Problem 3: Lack of Flexibility
More like a one-size-fits-none. Failing to adapt the standup format to cater to diverse needs and lifestyles often leads to dissatisfaction and poor adoption. And when you're remote, that dissatisfaction can quietly fester into full-blown detachment.
For Company C, the “daily standup” is something of a Proustian endeavour. Complex topics are discussed ad nauseam, sometimes taking up to 45-60 minutes a day. Today, Luis and Zaynab spend 15 minutes dissecting a problem, leaving everyone else twiddling their thumbs or heading off their second screen to multitask. 15 minutes turned out not to be long enough to fix it, and they decided to continue their chat later – but not until they’d wasted a collective 120 working minutes of engineering time for everyone else. A few of the team members are introverted, and the forum doesn’t feel like a good one for them to share their thoughts. They get meeting fatigue alongside the inevitable information overload.
Problem 4: Redundancy and Overload
When standups turn into mini-hackathons or ad hoc troubleshooting sessions, important issues either get glossed over or spiral into time-consuming digressions. We all end up stuck in this labyrinth of futile discussion, staggering out with meeting fatigue and information overload.
Problem 5: Engagement
At this point, people are emotionally checked out. The more vocal become inadvertent meeting hoggers, while others feel their contributions being sidelined. It's a fertile ground for a toxic culture that breeds disengagement and kills morale.
How Asynchronous Standups (Sort Of) Help
None of the scenarios we covered above captures the intended spirit of a stand-up meeting, which is to streamline the workflow and foster cohesion among team members.
It's time to part ways with practices that suck the productivity out of our workday.
So let’s consider asynchronous stand-ups.
Traditional work schedules don't account for the natural ebb and flow of human energy, let alone the strain of managing personal lives alongside work commitments. Asynchronous stand-ups check a lot of boxes for the modern workforce.
Where Asynchronous Stand-Ups Shine
1. Universal Participation: Time zones become irrelevant. Whether you're dialling in from Tokyo or Texas, you have an equal seat at the virtual table.
2. Your Pace, Your Place: These stand-ups play by your rules, allowing you to time your updates according to your work rhythm, not the other way around.
3. Efficiency: Bid farewell to meetings that drag on and interrupt your flow state. Asynchronous stand-ups are short and to the point.
4. Documented Progress: Think of it as an automatic diary of team updates. No need to chase minutes or compile reports; it's all there.
5. Quality Over Quantity: The chance to craft your update promotes clear and concise communication, rather than on-the-spot, often incoherent chatter.
However, relying solely on asynchronous standups might not address all the complexities of collaboration effectively.
In the current landscape, artificial intelligence stands prepared to integrate into your existing communication tools seamlessly. It can adeptly monitor and comprehend your projects and objectives, capturing the essence of decisions and activities that mould them.
Unlike humans, who grapple with the inability to retain every detail and extract the pertinent elements, AI remains unhindered by these constraints. Our memory is finite, we lose sight of our goals, and overlook occurrences, all due to the limitations of time.
AI, on the other hand, operates outside of these confines, positioning it as a far superior contender to succinctly summarise daily events or provide insights into ongoing matters.
Getting Asynchronous Stand-Ups Right
Asynchronous stand-ups work when everyone’s on the same page about how to do them at your organisation. Always ensure everyone understands what’s expected of them, and how to go about their asynchronous stand-up.
- Stay Consistent: Insist on a clear format that focuses on completed tasks, work in progress, and any roadblocks.
- Flag for Follow-up: Asynchronous doesn't mean antisocial. Urgent matters should be highlighted for immediate attention. A virtual pow-wow can still happen if needed.
- Time Frames Matter: Establish a window within which all updates and responses should be posted to maintain momentum.
- Clear Paths for Emergencies: Identify a procedure for raising and addressing urgent issues promptly.
Making AI Alternatives Work
Human memory has its limitations. We're bound to forget, overlook, or downright miss out on crucial updates. AI doesn't share these shortcomings.
To make the most out of this tool, just stick to some collaboration fundamentals:
- Open Dialogue: Transparency is key. Holding the majority of discussions in private channels or direct messages is generally not advisable unless there's a specific reason like confidentiality concerns or data protection.
- Use Your Tools Effectively: Whether it's crafting well-structured Git commits, keeping your Jira boards current, or meticulously documenting workflows in Notion, encourage correct tool usage across the board. The beauty of AI is its ability to draw smart conclusions from the data it's given.
By actively participating in an AI-enhanced asynchronous stand-up, your team stands to gain significantly. AI tools can highlight important activities and provide clear answers to any queries about ongoing projects.
Published at DZone with permission of Alex Omeyer. See the original article here.
Opinions expressed by DZone contributors are their own.