Effective Daily Standup Meetings — A Best Practice Guide

Everything you need to know to run your best standup yet

15 minutes

Introduction

Daily Standup meeting (n): A short meeting meant to keep teams aligned and quickly resolve issues.

Synonyms: daily scrum, stand-up, daily huddle, morning roll-call, quick sync

You might know it by another name–daily scrum, daily agile meeting, morning roll-call, morning huddle, quick sync–or you might be new to standups all together. Whether you’re just getting started, are looking to adjust your current standup, or are already a scrum master, this guide can offer new insight to help you run highly effective standup meetings.

What’s the purpose of a daily standup meeting?

Dilbert cartoon of a standup meeting

Like other meetings, they bring people together—a single team usually—to discuss, plan, and move projects along. There are agenda items and facilitators as well. But, while other meetings can be quite formal information dumps in large gatherings, this one is about keeping a small group abreast of the issues and sharing short-term progress.

Having a purpose is different than having an agenda. An agenda is a list of topics. A purpose, especially for ongoing meetings, justifies bringing multiple people together for an allotted period of time in service of a meaningful outcome.

A look back: Agile software development and standups

The Agile framework was developed in the 1980s to help software development teams outpace their competitors in the fast-growing tech sector.  It championed productivity, with smaller groups and aggressive knowledge sharing to catch and remedy problems faster. Inspired by Agile, the daily standup gained traction in the mid-90s as a way to further streamline bulky processes for working together.

How are standups different from other meetings?

Daily standup meetings are a space for small, collaborative groups to come together to move projects forward. They’re more focused and concise than other meetings that might bring your team together, like an All Hands, planning meeting, or 1:1.

Standups

  • Small, focused groups
  • 15 minutes or less
  • Concise forum to address blockers and empower ICs
  • Structured and concise
  • Observers from other teams can listen in (transparency)
  • Laser-focused on active and recently completed work
  • Triage issue and align quickly

Examples and hallmarks of other meetings

  • All hands
    1:1s
  • Deep dives on specific tasks
  • Sharing metrics and learnings
  • Creative brainstorming
  • Collaboration
  • Tracking work hours
  • Lengthy discussions

What they both share

  • Bring people and teams together
  • Has an agenda and facilitator
  • Discuss, plan, and move projects forward

As a dependable daily meeting, a standup can become a tempting place to cover other information, that, while interesting, isn't relevant to the purpose of the meeting. It’s worth repeating that standup meetings are not All Hands meetings. They are not about hashing things out or reporting on metrics. That’s why it’s important that you keep the purpose in mind and think actively about how best the standup can serve individual contributors. Leave the other stuff to other formats.

Benefits and Challenges

What are the benefits of a daily standup meeting?

Daily standups help teams move from point A to point B faster, and together. They help individuals surface blockers, and connect them with other team members who can help resolve them. They also promote accountability and give everyone on the team greater visibility into in-flight projects.

By focusing on making IC’s lives easier, daily standups get the team into a better flow and can help projects progress faster.

A look back: What does scrum mean?

Originally a term used in rugby, the concept of scrum was introduced to software developers by Hirotaka Takeuchi and Ikujiro Nonaka in 1986. It involves some of the same principles teams use in sports, coming together in a huddle and then passing the ball within the team, as it moves up the field as a unit. Their paper on the topic argued that companies need to embrace speed and flexibility to succeed in an increasingly competitive environment.

What are the common problems with daily standups?

Today, the standup meeting has become central to most software development teams, and its influence has even started to spread through entire companies. It’s not just for engineers anymore.

But as more teams adopt standups, alongside the recent shift to more remote work during a global pandemic, many share the quiet feeling that the standup meeting actually has become a blocker itself.

This happens when the standup falls short of its original purpose.

Maybe you’ve felt this as your org. Have you attended a standup just for the sake of reporting upwards on your work? Has your 15-minute agile meeting morphed into an hour long round robin over Zoom? Have you skipped a daily scrum because it feels like a waste of time? If so, you’re not alone.

Common pitfalls of the daily standup or daily scrum:

  • It’s too long: This can happen when your standup group gets too large, or when the discussion loses focus–with side conversations that are only relevant to a handful of attendees or certain team members speaking longer than is necessary.
  • It’s not relevant or helpful to everyone attending: Remember, your standup should serve ICs first and foremost, and should be useful for everyone who attends it. If it’s instead turned into a channel to keep managers updated on the work, that’s a problem. If updates are only relevant to a handful of team members, that’s also a sign that it may be time to rethink (and restructure) your standups.
  • It’s hard to find a time to meet: With a shift to remote work culture, and teams spread across multiple time zones, finding a time that works for everyone (and doesn’t cut into individual focus time or other responsibilities at home) can be nearly impossible.
  • People don’t attend: Have you ever skipped a standup to get more time back in your day? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Meeting fatigue is real, and has become further amplified with the shift to remote work–where video meetings often feel more draining than in-person ones. At home, your team members may be juggling other responsibilities too, which make it hard to sit through hours of meetings undistracted. This is why many teams are shifting to asynchronous standups, where daily updates are shared in a written format so time spent in meetings can be less frequent and more engaging.

In the sections below, we’ll explore specific tips and tactics you can put in practice to help you avoid these pitfalls and ensure your daily standup lives up to its full potential. Whether you're in an office, remote, or some combination of the two, there are a ton of ways to breathe new life into your daily standup.

Standups are broken — there's a better way to keep everyone connected

What are daily standup best practices?

So what does an effective standup meeting look like in practice?

  • It’s well-structured: With a clear agenda, guiding questions, and a format that actually works for your team
  • It’s a good use of everyone’s time: It unblocks ICs and helps everyone on the team get their work done, without compromising focus time.
  • It works for in-person or remote teams: It’s flexible and inclusive of different work styles, personalities, and timezones.
  • It empowers ICs: They feel comfortable surfacing issues, speaking up, and sharing ideas.
  • It helps your team get more done: It’s not just a time to show the manager what everyone’s working on, it actually improves productivity.

Now that you know what your standup should look like, let’s talk about how to get there. It starts with planning and structuring time together that’s tailored to your team’s needs.

9 practical tips to make your next standup meeting way better

What is the standup agenda, structure, and format?

Stand-up agenda

Having a solid agenda in place will help your standup or daily scrum stay focused and on track.

Every team is different, and it’s best to experiment to find what’s best for yours, but the following template can serve as a guide or starting point.

15-minutes daily standup agenda template

  • Icebreaker–start with a brief team building question to build connection and give everyone a chance to speak (3 min)
  • Project updates–share updates that are relevant to the entire group, not everyone will have an update every time (5 min)
  • Surface issues and blockers (5 min)
  • Assign action items (2 min)

Remember, the goal is to keep the meeting short and relevant. All-hands, 1:1s, and other forums are much better times to broadcast exciting findings or go deep on collaborative brainstorming. If it feels necessary for an attendee to share detailed context on their work during the standup, chances are there may be a lack of clarity on why something is being worked on in the first place.

Tip: At Range, we’ve experimented with a lot different standup formats. After plenty of trial and error, we’ve found it most helpful to have folks share written updates (and read each other’s) asynchronously, before the meeting. That way, we’re already aligned on basic status updates, so meeting time can be spent tackling blockers and connecting with our team mates.

The complete guide to the daily standup meeting agenda

Standup structure

Standup and daily scrum meetings are typically structured around a series of questions that serve as a framework to guide sharing and keep everyone on track.

If you’ve been to a standup meeting before, you’re likely familiar with some form of these three questions:

  • What did you get done?
  • What will you work on?
  • What’s standing in your way?

Questions like these are core to the standup because they help steer the meeting and encourage the sharing of concise, relevant information between team members.

The ones from the above list are widely used because they reduce oversharing. But there’s no exact order, phrasing, or number of questions you ‘must’ ask for your standup.

You might also consider adding a team-building question to your standup – it can help your team get to know each other better and makes everyone feel more connected (especially helpful for remote teams.)

Tip: At Range, we’ve found that structured questions can be equally helpful when you’re running an asynchronous standup (we call these Check-ins). We use the first two above to encourage folks to share the right amount of detail.

Questions guide folks to share the right detail and right amount of information. They also make the asynchronous format feel super approachable, so it’s easy for folks to jump in and share their updates in just a couple of minutes.

5 ways to transform your standup into the feel-good meeting your team deserves

Standup format: Asynchronous, synchronous, or both

Teams typically run standups in one of three ways: asynchronously (ex: written updates), synchronously (ex: Zoom standups), or a combination of both.

There are benefits to each approach. Written updates, for instance, increase your team’s focus time, empower flexible scheduling, and help create a history of record. While video standups can help your team stay connected and encourage deep discussion and collaboration. Combining written and synchronous standups can allow you to cover the status updates in writing, then focus on meaningful conversations about moving work forward, such as removing blockers, in the video meeting.

How you go about determining what’s best for your team will depend on a number of factors, including team size and structure, geographic (and timezone) distribution, personal work styles, and more. This guide can provide inspiration and talking points, but ultimately your team will decide what works best. It’s also important to note that your approach to standups should be an iterative one. What’s best for your team today might not be the case next sprint, next quarter, or next year. We encourage you to bring an experimental mindset to your daily standup: challenge existing ways of thinking, test out new approaches, collect data and feedback from your team, and continuously iterate. Getting it right is worth it — It’s hard to underestimate how much impact an effective standup can have on being an effective team.

Learn how to find the best standup approach for your team.

What’s the best way to run a remote standup?

COVID-19 has been a forcing function for many teams to reevaluate traditional processes and meetings, especially standups.

When you’re not able to physically gather in the same space, it drastically changes the dynamic of a standup. Video meetings can be a heavier lift, as they typically take more time, and are less engaging and more mentally taxing on participants. There are also fewer opportunities to collect an ambient layer of non-verbal communication that comes from being in an office.

Now more than ever, teams need to get more intentional about how and when they connect.

Tips to run a better remote standup:

  • Consider an asynchronous format to be inclusive of different time zones, work styles, personalities, and schedules
  • Make it as easy as possible for folks to participate–try using communication channels your team already uses (like Slack) to make adoption and engagement that much easier
  • Use icebreaker or team-building questions to help your team get to know each other and feel more connected, even when they’re far apart
  • Encourage folks to share more helpful context so that everyone has a clear understanding the work, without having to track people down for follow-up meetings
  • Establish a strong recorded history of your standups, so it’s easy for anyone on the team to find information or connect with the right folks when they need to

Learn more about how to support remote teams

Who should attend a daily standup meeting?

Standups work best for teams working on collaborative projects, like a product team or cross-functional group. There should be a facilitator and ideally less than 10 attendees to keep it focused and brief.

Tip: If you’re having trouble covering everything in 15 minutes, it’s likely that your group is too large. Try breaking your team’s work streams into smaller buckets and having those groups run their own standups.

Standup dos and don’ts

The number one outcome for every standup meeting should be making sure that everyone on your team can share progress and get support to unblock themselves.

The standup creates a permission structure to talk openly about what's getting in the way of progress. This permission structure is doubly important for those who may feel uncomfortable sharing something that can be read as a ‘negative’ for fear of repercussions. Vulnerability plays a huge role in this type of workplace interaction.

Encouraging folks to be more open and vulnerable shows them that it’s safe to show up just as they are. It creates a safe space to surface innovative new ideas or mistakes. For example, maybe someone on your team has experience at a previous company with an issue that is brought up, but doesn’t share for fear of appearing pretentious or alienating others—particularly if the person experiencing a blocker is in a leadership role. Creating a supportive and safe environment where it’s acceptable for anyone to engage freely helps solve this problem.

“As emotional beings, it’s common for our ability to ask questions, point out potential mistakes, and share observations to take a hit overtime. We grow more and more concerned with how we are perceived by others and, as a result, speak up less and less.” — from the article An Introduction to psychological safety

Research from Google and others has shown that open teams are often the most successful and effective ones. Without support for voicing concerns and getting help, a culture of reclusion spawns where things go unattended and productivity and morale suffers as a result.

Don't micromanage

“Often there is one person who feels powerful in the meeting, and they will keep feeding the zombie with the coworker’s brains just to preserve that feeling.” — Scott Berkun

We all have likely encountered micromanagers in some way, shape, and form. In every instance, teams and projects are worse off for it. It should come as no surprise then that these micromanaging tendencies spill over into meetings, including the standup. The actions of these types of managers — which can stem from a lack of trust, a need to control, or low self-esteem — are the opposite of the principles that fuel effective standups: trust, self-regulation, and openness.

Too often, the need for managers to be the center of attention and feel like they're running the show can derail this daily sync from providing the opportunity for others to speak up and solve problems.

You can read more about micromanaging and how it can hold a team back below, and how managers can counter it below.

5 reasons your micromanaging boss is micromanaging you and how to work toward greater autonomy

Do: Use standups to build camaraderie & trust

A less obvious benefit of the standup meeting is that it helps teams identify as a team.

People are naturally social beings. Teamwork is built on trust, and in order to sustain that trust, we need to have regular interactions, called belonging cues. Without it, teamwork starts to break down.

As a daily ritual, the standup can play a very important role in strengthening the crucial bonds that drive success. Research also shows that solving problems together and working toward a common goal reinforces a group’s identity and motivates contributors, leading to improved job performance.

One way to bolster camaraderie is to build quick icebreakers into your standup or create a rapid fire round where everyone shares something about their morning and what they’re excited about that day. You could even play a lightning fast game. The point is to offer opportunities for colleagues to strengthen bonds. These bonds are closely tied to work ethic and success.

Don’t: Pressure people to speak

Not everyone will have a meaningful update every session, and that’s okay.

Oftentimes, standup culture has trained us to think that every team member should give a progress update every time. If you’re using the time together most effectively, this may not be the case. Think back to the meeting’s purpose. If it’s to address blockers and bring folks together, you probably don’t need to have the entire team go around and give status updates during every meeting. To solve for this, many teams choose to share status updates asynchronously–in the form of written updates. Then, when you come together for an in-person or video standup, you might spend the first 5 minutes answering a team-building question, and then the remaining 10 going through blockers or issues that the whole team can weigh in.

Do: Keep the meeting relevant to everyone in the room

Encourage attendees to connect if someone has insight about a roadblock that could help resolve the issue. If the offline discussion is useful for the wider team, enlist the person who was blocked to share what they learned in their next update. Remind them to keep it brief. You don’t want to spend a ton of time on details unless they’re relevant. If members of the team want to collaborate on the topic, then encourage them to set up a video collaboration session.

Don’t: Have an in-person standup just to have one

Starting the day with a standup meeting is a popular practice and can work well for some teams. There may be plenty of reasons why your team isn’t one of them.

For one thing, they might live across three different time zones and keep different schedules that help each of them do their best work. Some colleagues thrive in the evening and others are quite happy to start at 5 AM. Some managers may have children, and others have roommates or family members they have to tend to throughout the day. The landscape has changed dramatically since the days of being confined to one geolocation and in one office.

Teams are truly global now. Shifting how you measure success away from the number of hours worked and when to the results they reproduce is a critical component of setting yourself up for success.

This doesn’t mean you need to get rid of the daily standup practice. Instead, you might try moving to an asynchronous format or a combination approach–where daily updates take a written form and video standups happen at a less frequent cadence to address blockers.

3 anti-patterns to avoid in your standup culture at all costs

Rethinking your team’s standup

The daily standup meeting has been an indispensable tool for developers since the early 2000s. Today, it’s more than just a way to speed up the release of products with fewer bugs–it’s part of many people’s identity as a developer (if they practice Agile at least).

All that to say, asking your team to try a new approach is never easy. Routines die hard, and new habits can be even harder to establish. But there are a few small shifts you can start to move towards to make it a bit easier.

For instance, switching the update portion of the meeting (where the team answers a set of standard questions) to a flexible async format makes sense for most teams, and is usually seen as a relatively light lift. It gives folks more focus time back and allows them to share and read updates on their own time.

Similarly, reserving actual video meetings to go over blockers is a great way to optimize the standup experience and get the most out of facetime together.

We’re in a phase of work where the same openness and experimentation that led to the creation of the standup meeting can also yield new tools and styles of problem solving that are specially built for the needs of today.

The standup was never meant to be a ritual that was set in stone. It’s simply a means for boosting productivity by setting your team up for success.

How to upgrade your remote standup meetings for hybrid work

Thanks for reading, and be sure to take a look at our blog for more insights into managing remote engineering teams.

Effective Daily Standup Meetings — A Best Practice Guide
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