Darian Shimy

Technical Blog

Standups Are NOT Poisonous

Gareth Rees’ article titled, Standups are Poisonous hit HN today which I strongly disagree with every point and his solution. Almost to the point where I couldn’t fall back asleep and felt compelled to write something. The purpose of our standups are to do the following:

  • Make sure everyone is working on the right thing
  • Help out other team members by taking work off their plate or helping them by sharing domain-specific knowledge
  • Keeping everyone informed

Easy. It’s important to point out, they are NOT status meetings. Status meetings suck and should be avoided. Gareth made the following arguments (which I respond as follows):

Morning standups force people to be in work before 10:00. Great when you’re supposed to have the benefit of flexi-time.

We don’t have any set working hours. Some come in at 8:00 and some at 12:00. Our standups start at 1:31 every day. No need to set your alarm clock. This time is perfect since people have finished lunch, had time to play a few games of ping pong, and are ready to get back to work. We chose one minute past 1:30 since everyone was late to the 1:30 meeting. WFH that day, no problem, we have a Google Hangout for you to tap into. Have a hot date during that time, no worries, shoot over an email. Super busy that day, fuck it, I’ll catch up with you tomorrow.

They always overrun. Rarely are standups shorter than 10 minutes. 6 person team * 30 minutes = 3 hours lost.

Our meetings NEVER go over the time limit. Period. I’m not sure why people have this problem. The person running the meeting needs to cut of sidebar conversations and take long running discussions offline.

Action points are rarely produced, so the value of the outcome is questionable.

The goal of the meeting is to eliminate action points (or impediments). If this is the case, your project may be progressing as it should.

Others switch off if they’re not interested in the current monologue.

When you build a talented team, they show respect to other team members by paying attention. Perhaps people switch off when the meeting hits the three hour mark.

Notes are rarely taken, so by the time the weekly update gets compiled the team have to scratch their heads about what they did over the last week.

I don’t take notes unless I need to follow up on something. Notes are not needed as this is very transient information. It has no value 24 hours past the meeting.

The root of the problem is he feels standups are status meetings, they’re not! The solution calls for an email system where a team leader compiles daily and weekly updates from the team. This has its own problems:

  • The leader needs to hound the team to get their update (doesn’t sound like a fun job)
  • No one will read the daily email (or weekly for that matter)
  • Information is stale once things get sorted out (you lost a day)
  • There is no emotion carried with this process (seeing someone’s stress level and realizing they need help does a long way)
  • You should care about what was done, not worked on (there is a difference)

Standups are not poisonous or evil. They are a great tool when run correctly. Remember, they are not status meetings.