Turning Your Standups on Their Head

Few teams doubt the value of the daily standup.  Three simple questions, each designed to help the team plan their next day’s work
based on the current situation.

  1. What did I do yesterday?
  2. What am I doing today?
  3. What’s in my way?

Paper DollsThe daily standup is one of the most powerful tools in the scrum toolbox, so powerful in fact that when teams move beyond scrum they often still retain the standup as one of their core practices. But what’s the real goal of this meeting?  It’s to identify areas where the team is blocked so we can get those blockers out of the way.  If this is the case, though, then why do we save blockers until end of each person’s update when the team has already started to shift their focus to the next person in line?  In fact, not only has the team started shift their attention, but the person giving the update has often already started to check out!  How many times have you heard a someone simply mumble something about “and no blockers.” when you know for a fact they do?  This is because most people are ready to be done with their update by the last question and just want to move on.  Unfortunately though, they’ve just skipped the most important part.

Meet the Reverse Standup

The Reverse Standup takes the same three questions as the classic standup and turns them on their head.  The result is that the most important questions are tackled first.

  1. What’s in my way?
  2. What am I doing today?
  3. What did I do yesterday?

What’s in my way?

This is our classic “what’s blocking me question”, and the bread-and-butter of the daily standup.  Think about it like this, if someone is blocked then the next question is irrelevant.  Whatever is blocking your team has to be solved before we can move forward, so we need to start there.

What am I doing today?

Assuming nothing is blocking a team member this question becomes the most important.  This is the information the team uses to build their plan for the day so we tackle it immediately after any blockers.

What did I do yesterday?

Forget for a moment that the classic standup leads off with this question.  Instead think back to your last standup and remember what each person answered for this question.  Now remind yourself that the daily standup is a planning meeting, not a status meeting.  Keeping that in mind, think about how useful knowing what each person did yesterday was to your planning?  Not very, eh? It’s not that what someone did yesterday isn’t important, its just that it’s usually not that useful as input to to creating our plan for today.

Sure there are exceptions: Sally resolved an issue with the test deployment that had been blocking John for the past 2 days, or Steve finished the icon set that Sally had been waiting add to her own feature.  But these are the exceptions rather than the rule.  The vast majority of the time “what I did yesterday” just doesn’t impact what we’re doing today. And, when it does, it’s already reflected on the scrum board.

So what happens to this question?  Well, once a team finds the flow of a Reverse Standup this question starts to feel less relevant.  As a result, many teams eventually make this question optional which results in it being skipped during most standups.  The exception is that the question is only answered when it’s relevant to moving the team forward today.

Give it a Try

If you’re finding blockers aren’t being called out as often as they should, or if you’d just like to breathe some life into a stale standup, give the Reverse Standup a try.  You may be surprised with the result

Want to see more about how to make textbook agile work on real teams? Check out my course, Agile in the Real World, for tips and techniques for making agile really work in your organization.

Don’t have a Pluralsight membership yet? Try the entire Pluralsight course catalog free for 10 days here.

Related Posts