Agile Practices: Judge & Jury

gavel

I recently participated in a podcast recording over breakfast with friends in the Southern California area. While enjoying a mix of smoothies, acai bowls, and coffee (lean coffee, that is), we discussed a variety of topics – among which was mine, “if you could, which Agile practice would you eliminate?”

This is not to say I think practices should be removed from use. In fact, throwing away practices that Agile teams have found success with reeks of the worst kind of waste. Instead, I wanted to explore the extent of subversion within the group’s collective experiences and gather insight into contributing factors.

During our conversation, I placed my condemned practice on the chopping block: the “daily stand-up” meeting. Enthusiasm for removing this tool was (enthusiastically) not shared.

So why point the gavel squarely at this 15-minute ceremony? Admission of personal opinion within: when it comes to the daily stand-up, there is no practice more firmly cemented under the guise of “that’s just what Agile teams do.” I’ve even experienced an engagement where a company was “adopting Agile” and management scheduled their own daily stand-up meeting because, “we need to be Agile, too” (and that’s an actual quote).

I can’t think of a single behavior-turned-ceremony more fitting for status-quo assimilation than the stand-up meeting. It maps perfectly to a traditional status meeting, at least from the perspective of centralized, plan-driven development. It conveniently secretes odors of “cookies in the oven” invitation to nearly every distrustful individual close enough to catch the scent. Furthermore, it isn’t intuitive: where a team working in collaboration may see the potential to connect on a daily goal, others often wonder why yesterday’s progress needs to be communicated in a world of GitHub pull requests and stickies clearly moved to the “done” column. I once had a team member observe that, if obstructions are escalated immediately, wouldn’t the question, “What are my impediments?” always be redundant? Touche, grasshopper.

It’s worth reiterating that, as a prescribed Scrum ceremony, if the team is operating in the Scrum framework–especially teams new to Scrum–the daily stand-up (“daily Scrum”) should be followed. After all, it’s clearly installed as a required activity for Scrum teams.

With that exception aside, I reject the notion that a 15-minute daily team meeting is part of being an Agile team. I often wonder if some Agile transformation activity may actually benefit from removing stand-ups, if only to amplify a greater systemic lens for looking at the impact of communication and dysfunction. I have coached numerous teams without stand-up meetings which resulted in adaptive experiments to discover meaningful–and unique–ceremony that fit team needs. I’m not sure we would have ever discovered these outcomes together if the focus was dogmatic (i.e., working on the “3 question” format), instead.

To be clear: I am not suggesting that we should eliminate the stand-up meeting from our toolbox. But if I were forced to play judge and jury for a single practice, without question, the stand-up would be sent to the firing squad.

What do you think about this? Do you agree the stand-up is the most subverted of Agile practices? If not, what would you remove from common practice?

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