Superman probably does not need a stand-up meeting but Clark Kent is another story!

Superman probably does not need a stand-up meeting but Clark Kent is another story!

The daily stand-up meeting has become a nearly ubiquitous feature of Agile projects, and also can be found in Kanban (lean), support projects and even in some waterfall projects. The proliferation of the stand-up meeting shouldn’t be surprising – the meeting is simple, typically short and easy(ish) to implement.  However, there are a few circumstances where daily stand-up meetings, as we defined them, should not be used.  These circumstances revolve around two general areas: team size (too small and too big) and team/organizational culture.

The general guidelines for the size of Scrum teams is 7 members plus or minus 2 (5 to 9 people).  This is because of the number of possible combinations of communication channels between team members.  Smaller project teams don’t have all of the skills needed to bring a typical corporate IT project to fruition.  However, smaller teams can and do exist.  My general recommendation is that stand-up meetings make sense for any team that has more than one team member. A single person doing a stand-up by himself using the classic format is just strange; they should do daily planning.  The same argument could be made for a team of two that does pair development, however taking a few minutes to review what is done and plan the day is the essence of a stand-up meeting.  Larger Scrum teams have just as gray a limit as small teams, however we can all agree that as team size grows, it takes substantially more effort for everyone to stay connected. As team size grows, sub-teams form around specific functions or technical specialties. In other words, the team naturally breaks into smaller teams that communicate more freely.  As teams get bigger than 10 members I find that stand-up meetings begin taking longer (30 minutes instead of 15), generally have to chaired by the Scrum master or an authority figure and become status meetings rather than planning meetings.  I have even seen pseudo stand-up meetings with published agendas. These types of meeting may be occasionally necessary, but I can state categorically that they are not stand-up meetings.

The other major reason for not doing stand-up meetings is an environment that does not support the concept of self-organization and self-managing teams. Stand-up meetings, by design, are planning meetings in which team members communicate plans to their peers, solicit and provide support for each other and identify roadblocks to further progress.  The stand-up meeting won’t work in organizations or teams where that type of behavior is not considered appropriate or where managers must gather statuses and dispense work.  Other types of daily tasking or status meetings might be appropriate, but those meetings are NOT stand-up meetings in the Agile sense (even if every stands up).  Agile stand-up meetings provide just-in-time planning for teams, and just as importantly empower the team to solve the business problems as a team. Without the planning component, they are merely status meetings.

There are very few good reasons not to leverage daily stand-up meetings.  The extremes of team size, large or small, make the logistics of a stand-up difficult. Single person projects probably don’t need stand-up meetings; instead I find that reflecting on what I accomplished the day before and what I am going to do today when I run highly effective.  Teams that are too large probably need to be broken up into smaller teams that can more effectively communicate.  Organizations that don’t embrace the 12 Agile principles ought to put off using stand-up meetings and consider changing their culture first, but that is a topic for another day.