Critique of Critiques of Daily Standups

In HackerNews, I read yet another write-up on daily standups and how they suck. Periodically, a post pops up on daily standup and how it is a nuisance. This entry of mine is an attempt at importing the importance of daily standups and how it adds value. We will also look at some of the familiar oppositions to daily standups and why they hold no water.

All posts on daily standups have a fundamental problem. They shy away from tackling the elephant in the room. I am also guilty of this in my take on daily standups. At some level, meetings are a forced collaboration attempt. In an ideal Utopian world, where everyone excels in collaboration and communication, we would not need meetings. Sadly that world does not exist.

Now that we are done away with addressing the uncomfortable truth, let us go deep into why daily standups are essential.

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Timely and efficient communication and collaboration can make or break teams. Humans display a diversity when it comes to communication, some excel at it, and some are bad at it. Sometimes, you might not genuinely know you need to communicate or that you are a blocker to someone’s work.

A primary reason for project failures is unmet dependencies and someone not planning for them. When you get people together and create a platform for them to discuss and collaborate, blockers and dependencies which would have gone unsaid otherwise surface.

How many times has it happened that someone raises a red flag on the day a project is supposed to go live? A daily standup ensures a constant feedback loop wherein this does not come as a last-minute surprise.

Daily standups ensure that everyone in the team knows what their counterparts are working on; this prevents people from becoming islands and ensures everyone knows the big picture.

As an organization, how do you develop this habit?

One of the paradoxes in life is that rules set you free, help build good habits, and reduce cognitive overload. Giants in the field of behavioral psychology – Dan Ariely, Daniel Kahneman, B. F. Skinner; all support this. The general prescription to start a good habit or break bad habits is to create a strict set of rules.

Another trick to aid good habits is to design your environment to support the practice; remove obstacles that prevent you from getting into the said habit. Putting it succinctly, make it easy to start and sustain a habit. Charles Duhigg and James Clear have written books on this.

Scheduling daily standups at a specific time with a well-understood format does both the above; it makes it easy and creates an environment for teams to cultivate the habit of collaboration and communication.

People who rally against daily standups tend to be:

  • Great at communication and pro-actively do it.
  • Individual contributors who excel at their work.

These people operate on individual bits of information and do not see the entire picture. From their narrow perspective, they are correct, but modern workplaces are not only about individual brilliance but more to do with teamwork. An automobile will not function unless all the parts work in tandem; the same goes for a team.

The majority of people do not know how to run efficient meetings; as a result, people have developed an aversion to meetings. This general distaste towards meetings has given the daily standup a lousy reputation.

Paul Graham talks about the maker’s schedule and manager’s schedule and how it is paramount that makers get a long uninterrupted chunk of time to create things. To avoid the context switch, schedule daily standup at the start of the day before everyone gets immersed in their work.

Most workplaces are chaotic. Daily standup gives you the means to bring order to the chaos.

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Photo by Paulo Carrolo on Unsplash