Why people hate Scrum’s daily stand-ups and what to do about it

I loved the recent article by Laurent Kubaski titled “Why I Hate SCRUM Daily Stand-up Meetings“. It’s reflective of many other blog posts I’ve read over the last few months that challenge the notion of holding daily stand-ups in the tried and true tradition of Scrum. The criticisms generally go like this:

  • I collaborate with the Team all the time so I always know what’s going on. So I shouldn’t have to go to the stand-up.
  • Stand-ups aren’t held at a time that suits me. TThe whole Team work different hours. It’s just not convenient.
  • Stand-ups feel like reporting to my mother — “what were you doing”, “what are you going to do”, “I need help”. It’s degrading.
  • My work doesn’t depend on other Team members so stand-ups don’t serve any purpose for me.

When people feel this way they usually start to break Scrum’s rule of three and stop holding stand-ups. In fact, I’ve seen and heard these types of complaints against just about all of Scrum’s activities at one time or another.

Stand-ups, in fact all Scrum ceremonies, serve many purposes. Collaboration, of course, being their single most important aspect. This is because a shared experience (tacit knowledge) facilitates knowledge transfer amongst the Team, whereas documentation (explicit knowledge) is a highly inefficient channel for doing the same. Their second function is to reinforce Scrum’s inspect/adapt process.

When Scrum’s ceremonies don’t work for the Team, the Product Owner or the Scrum Master, what do you do? Stop doing Scrum? Select the parts that you like? The key is actually applying the inspect/adapt process of continuous improvement to the nature of the problem and ask “what can we do so that the stand-up works for everyone involved?”. One way Zen Ex Machina does this is by using ROTI.

ROTI — or return on time invested — asks its participants to rate an activity from 1-5 once it’s been completed. The rating corresponds to the following:

Rating Description
1 Complete waste of time. I’d rather do something else like watch paint dry.
2 You should have left me at my desk to do my work.
3 The activity was OK. It was about as useful as if I was doing my day-to-day tasks.
4 This was more valuable than doing my usual work. I felt good about spending time on this.
5 Wow! Thank goodness I didn’t skip this activity. I learned a lot. I felt great about doing it.

In the past I’ve also put mood faces next to the descriptions.

The ROTI from one of our Scrum Coaching project (using a 0-4 scale)

You can elicit the rating in a number of ways. Typically, when we’ve first introduced this tool to the group, we’ve asked everyone to write their score down on a post-it note. This assures the anonymity of the score and its comments. Usually, after the Team has done this a few times, I’ve switched to a show of hands (the number of fingers showing corresponds to the rating). The focus, though, isn’t on the score of the activity, but what the individual feels would increase the rating by one point. This then becomes the focus of discussion at retrospectives or for immediate action by the Scrum Master.

From here, I then use ROTI with my Teams in Retrospective. We collectively look at all the milestone activities in the Sprint just completed, from early stand-ups, early completion of User Stories, the mid-point of formal Backlog Grooming (aka Storytime), and then late stand-ups, later User Story completions and demo in Sprint Review.

ROTI as a mood board using a 0-4 scale

We then write down our scores on post-its, use an arbitrary identifier (like a letter of the alphabet) to join all of the same post-its to a single identity, and draw a line between them. This visual shows the entire Team where they collectively feel that their time isn’t being well spent and then we collectively discuss what we can do as a team to improve things. I also get them to make the same suggestion for improvement on the post-it which I then review later — keeping the person’s anonymity safe from scrutiny is key. The Team need to feel safe that they can make any comments for improvement they like knowing I’ll then (as their Scrum Coach) analyse the issue at hand and then go and have a private word with the Scrum Master and Product Owner.

Overall, I’ve found ROTI a key tool for helping the Team address stand-up fatigue and stop them from abandoning their ceremonies. I’d definitely recommend the technique if you’re feeling like Laurent.