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  • Writer's pictureSimon Rojas

Differences between efficient and effective Daily Stand-ups

Early in my career I wondered why, at times, a team ends a standup with more unanswered questions about the progress in the given sprint than they started with. It confused me as to how the responses to the three simple standup questions could produce such ambiguity when they were designed to give us clarity on the progress. I could not shake the feeling that something was amiss even when stand-ups were run efficiently i.e. under 15 minutes, at the same time, and the same place.

After working with many different teams and running over a thousand stand-ups I learned that there is a big difference between an efficient standup and an effective standup. An efficient standup goes through the motions expediently, but an effective standup provides the insight to make informed decisions as to what are the next best steps to take as a team.

Imagine that you are in standup and one of your team members provide the following update “Yesterday I worked on my story, today I will continue on my story, no blockers” versus “Yesterday I worked on my story and discovered an issue with the application unrelated to my story that impacts the performance of the application. Today I will continue with my story and I also want to discuss the impact of this performance issue with the team to see if we should prioritize it or not.” The second version of the update shares useful information that allows the team to determine the best course of action. This form of communication keeps in mind the greater good of the team and allows the team to be more effective.

Unfortunately, many teams have one or more team members that resort to the first type of update when they should be sharing a version of the second one. The good news is that these issues can be fixed when you help foster an environment that promotes healthy communication and collaboration. Helping your team address these issues will bring the team closer towards operating more effectively to get the most value out of standup.

Finally, I strongly believe every team can achieve both efficiency and effectiveness at standup by diligently encouraging better communication and teamwork. Improvements in this area will not occur overnight, but they will occur when there is a persistence to become the high performing team that your team knows it is capable of becoming. On this journey your team will discover that they did not need to work any harder to meet their goals, instead they just needed to work smarter by working together.


Common standup issues

Here is a list of common issues that I have encountered that can arise during standup and possible actions to take to resolve them.

  1. Miscommunication

    1. Lack of a common language: A common form of miscommunication occurs when team members use different definitions to define their work. I have seen team members confuse each other when using a word like “done” to describe their status when they actually meant “dev complete.” These slight differences in word choices can alter the team’s expectations about the work to be done next. One common and effective way to address this issue is to align the sprint board’s swim-lanes with the team’s workflow.

    2. Unclear ownership: Miscommunication can occur when it is ambiguous who the owner of the task is. Work can slip through the cracks when owners are not explicitly assigned to it and when a team member is asked about a given task they may respond something along the lines of “I thought they were going to do it.” Be clear and rigorous in task assignment. I recommend tracking all tasks with whichever ticket tracking you are using like JIRA.

    3. Fear of sharing bad news: Sometimes team members fear sharing bad news because they think that it will reflect poorly on them or the team. This miscommunication occurs due to omission of the issue or when the issue is shared much later than it should be. This prevents the team from taking corrective action as soon as possible. It is imperative to not delve into the blame game and instead place that energy towards the problem at hand. When team members begin to share issues impacting the team in a timely manner you can positively reinforce this positive behavior by recognizing the team members that share the issue that they observed and praising them for bringing it to the team’s attention.

  2. Lack of Teamwork

    1. Prioritizing individual priorities over team priorities: Team members that prioritize their individual tasks at the expense of the team’s priorities means that the optimal value to the customer is not being delivered. The value to the customer should always be the first priority and the team needs to prioritize that over their own tasks. Team members should feel comfortable to shift their tasks in order to maximize customer value.

      1. Raise issues that impact the team: Some team members are lazered focused on their individual tasks that they either do not recognize or forget to let the team know when they discover an issue that impacts the team. Consistently remind the team to put the team’s priorities over their individual tasks and continue to build this habit through positive reinforcement.

    2. Repetitive updates or ambiguous progress is often an issue of team members not seeking the help they need from others

      1. Rabbit holes: Team members can dig themselves into rabbit holes when team members attempt to figure out solutions to their own problems and continue to attempt to resolve the problem when they should be seeking help from the team. Sometimes a fresh pair of eyes offers a new perspective to the problem that yields a path forward to the solution. Figure out ways for your team to experience the benefits of receiving help and embed them into your team’s workflow.

      2. Delegation: Some team members have a tendency to take on a lot more work than they can do in a given sprint which increases the amount of stress those team members experience as the amount of work piles up. There are a number of benefits with delegation and one of the most important is that it makes the other team members feel valued as they are given important tasks.


Extra tip: beware of frustration or annoyance in the tone of voice or the body language of your team members as these are other ways your team may be communicating symptoms of these issues.

Finally, daily stand-ups are much better when we have fun and bring positive energy so bring a smile, have some fun, and try to make each other’s day just a little bit better than it was 15 minutes ago.


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