Jan 07 2015

Why you need a daily standup.

A developer from a client team recently asked me why we would need daily standups for the team. "That seems a bit too granular," he said. At MojoTech, we employ daily standups as an essential part of our development process. I've read a few articles and seen a few videos about the benefits of the agile/scrum process, but I'd like to share what we see here at MojoTech.

As a quick overview: a daily standup (also known as a scrum) is a brief meeting that the Product Development team convenes. I hesitate to call them meetings, because I hate meetings, and they should, in fact, be so short that everyone can standup during them (hence the name). In a standup, each developer and designer answers three questions:

  • What did you do yesterday?
  • What are you working on now?
  • What challenges and blocks do you have?

As a Product Manager, I run standups, asking each of the team's developers and designers to give their quick update. We schedule 15 minutes for these get-togethers, but we often don't use all that time, especially if things are going smoothly.

But why are standups so important? First and foremost, standups facilitate communication and knowledge transfer between team members. Given the short format, we have no time for full-fledged discussions, and we often use "Let's take this off-line," when necessary, to create a real discussion on a given topic, usually as a thread in Basecamp or Slack. Developers use the standup as an opportunity to ask for help on a story or bug, or to mention an issue they found. Non-developer team members can ask questions and clarify requirements. The daily update ensures that our clients have the highest level of visibility into what we have built, what we are building, and what we need from them.

As an agency that often works with our client's existing development team, we want to make sure we build trust and transparent communicaiton with the existing developers and designers. Frequent in-person interaction, in the form of daily standups, allows us build that trust.

Standups quickly get us up to speed on the work being done, the different abilities of each team member, and the areas of the product that need focus. They also help us understand where we can provide the most value in the least amount of time.

Daily Standups help us identify potential risks very early in the development process. Whether via input from other developers or from product stakeholders, daily standups allow us to see potential technical challenges, product release issues, and missing requirements, all while they are still in development. Catching problems early makes them both easier and cheaper to change. The frequency of daily standups ensures that we don't deploy anything without the entire team seeing its progress. This reduces the risk that an incomplete feature or a feature with a missed use case gets seen by our end users.

A fifteen minute meeting everyday keeps us from having an hour and fifteen minute meeting once per week. I think agile practitioners often overlook this benefit of daily standups.

We can much more easily keep a fifteen minute meeting focused and productive for everyone, which means those 75 minutes every week will contain much more value and information than the single 75 minute meeting.

We want to make sure that we productively use everyone's time and money. This means minimizing meetings and making sure the meetings we do have are informationally dense. Short, daily meetings allow us to keep our developers developing, and our designers designing instead of sitting in meetings that they don't find valuable.

At MojoTech we use daily standups to manage our development process and maintain our client relationship day in and day out. Standups help us maintain transparency with our clients, build trust with existing team members, identify possible issues early, ensure accountability, and allow our development team to focus on what they do best: building software. Why do we have standups so often? It helps us build great software, and it's why agile methodology is now being used well beyond the software development world - it just works.

Drew Jankowski is a Product Manager at MojoTech.

Drew Jankowski