The Value of a Daily Standup

This post is part of a series written by Abhishek “Bobo” Bose-Kolanu on his Summer 2013 Duke SIP experience.

Daily stand-ups rock. Here’s why:

  1. Accountability
  2. Awareness
  3. Team

But first – what is a daily stand-up? In the morning a team gathers and says what they did yesterday, what they’re going to do today, and whether they are experiencing any “blockers.” A blocker is when someone is waiting for someone else to finish something, or someone is waiting for a broken tool to be fixed.

Stand-ups are an effective management tool for coordinating a team. Let’s go through the reasons.

Accountability

Stand-ups promote horizontal as well as vertical accountability. Workers are used to reporting to a supervising manager. This structure is a relic of the Taylor factory style system of management, in which an overseer coordinated activity on the shop-floor. Various foremen were responsible for reporting to the overseer, who in turn reported up the chain etc.

Here horizontal accountability was inherent in the structure of the work environment itself – if a worker made a mistake on the assembly line, it would directly and immediately affect the next worker downstream.

Today’s white-collar work is different. It is cognitive, with multiple egress and exit points, it moves back and forth a lot (“iteration”), and the tools are generally software-based. Stand-ups resolve this ambiguity through frank discussion on deliverables in a yesterday/today framework.

Awareness

Military tacticians have a good general rule of thumb: whoever possesses the most accurate situational intelligence should be empowered to make the situation-specific relevant decisions.

A general sitting in Central Command does not need to instruct an individual platoon on how to conduct a sweep for hidden arms caches. In fact, he probably shouldn’t do that because he doesn’t know what’s happening on the ground with the same resolution the lieutenant (platoon leader) does.

How do you keep your team aware of what’s happening when everything is happening fast, in multiple versions (again, “iteration”), and may involve dependencies on business units external to your team?

Answer: daily stand-ups. They’re a great opportunity for team members to update each other on new tactical nuggets learned, to give progress updates on work-in-progress, and to pose to the group a blocker that seems intractable (often these just require another person to chime in and say “oh yeah i had the same problem a month ago here’s how I fixed it.”)

Team

My high school band teacher had a great saying: “the band that breathes together plays together” (as an aside, he also used to say “if you’re not early you’re late.” He was a stickler but was a great leader. Punishment in marching band required doing pushups. Once we had made a mistake and he felt he was at fault too. This 50+ year old man dropped to the floor and began doing one-handed pushups to match our two-handed pushups. Respect++).

Stand-ups are an opportunity for your team to actually exist, corporeally, as a team. 99% of our workflow is machine-dependent and screen dominated. Face to face interaction creates cohesive bonds, empowers people to trust each other, and gives significance to the work effort.

Abhishek Bose-Kolanu, Summer 2013

 

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