One of the most common meetings or rituals for an agile team is the daily standup. It is usually short (max. 15 minutes), happens mostly at the same time of the day, and is mandatory for every team member to join. In theory, this meeting can be a great way to align the team and ensure every team member knows what the others are currently working on and surfaces which challenges they face. That made daily standups also a best seller for data teams. So far, so good, and if you feel standups are a huge help for your data team and make you efficient, no need to continue reading because “never change a running system”.
“…a lot of teams perform daily standups just because someone told them to or because they were always done.”
However, in practice, daily standups are rarely as beneficial as described above. The majority of data teams I know struggle to stick to the timeline, and other teams struggle to get always everyone to join or to be prepared. All of these are clear signs that the team has a need for deeper discussions, or that they do not see a huge value in the standup. Even for teams without these issues who have professional standups by the book, due to the short time, the standup is often on such a high level that it is more of a reporting tool rather than helping the team to do their work. I do believe that a lot of teams perform daily standups just because someone told them to or because they were always done.
This results in data teams having unnecessary meetings every day summing up to about 1.15h of valuable time for each team member per week. Of course, one solution could be to follow the common agile and scrum advice more strictly. But there is another option: reconsider what you actually want to solve with these meetings. Following, I will present you how you can easily replace your daily standups with alternatives and use the saved time for weekly team times that allow for deep dives supporting your data scientists’ and data analysts’ needs.
Since daily standups have been proven to be useful, it is not that every data team should now stop that practice. However, there might be quite a few teams for which it can be beneficial to try other rituals. One way to find out is to talk to the team openly and directly. Certain team members probably already have a strong opinion on this topic. Otherwise, I will provide you with a list of points where I would consider a new approach if at least one of the following points is true:
- You do standups only because others do it
- You do standups only because it was done before you joined the team
- Your standups go regularly over time
- In your standups, the team commonly discusses private topics
- Often team members are absent from the standup
- Most team members are not prepared or have nothing to bring up
- The standup is more a reporting to the team leader rather than helping the team members
If one or more of the above-mentioned points are true, your team might benefit from a different approach. However, the question about alternatives is very much dependent on the answer to the basic question: “What are standups supposed to improve in your team?”. When you find an answer to that question, coming up with alternatives can be straightforward. For me, the purpose of daily standups is 3-fold and I would solve each purpose separately. Those 3 purposes are:
- Team update: inform the team on what everyone is currently working on and which challenges they face.
- Support: getting help from team members to solve complicated problems.
- Social: coming together as a team and developing team spirit.
(1) For the purpose of updating the team on existing work and challenges, it might very well be an option to have no meeting at all. Such an update is on a very high level that could easily be done offline with a virtual standup. For instance, we are using a geekbot for slack that asks all team members to provide a short update. Other alternatives could be to use technical drawings or an agile work management tool and make sure every team member updates their tasks/cards every day.
(2) To make sure every team member gets the support they need, I highly recommend having at least once per week a longer team meeting, something we call “team time”. This meeting should be 30–45 min long and ensure there is enough time to really get to the bottom of a problem and find a solution. Every team member can propose a topic and the team discusses it together. If there are no challenges to discuss, this is also a great forum for other ways of knowledge share. When you are summing up these costs, you will be in a similar or even more expensive range than daily standups, but those meetings are actually helpful since they allow the team to solve problems and share knowledge and, with that, replace other meetings and make work more efficient.
(3) The social aspect is something that is rarely stated as a need for daily standups. But, for me, this is a misconception. A healthy and social team will always be an efficient team. Developing a proper team atmosphere and spirit should be key and in the interest of everyone. The above-mentioned team times could serve that purpose but on top of that, there should be regular social events or other forms allowing for social interaction.
Looking back, running standups with dedicated meetings and using that time for a longer deep-dive team time meeting has been one of the best decisions for my team in the past. In fact, we are having 2 team times per week.
If your data team is not seeing the need for regular standups, that might indicate that other alternatives are more useful. High-level team updates can be achieved with automatic chat tools, deep dive topics can be discussed in dedicated team meetings, and social events can ensure team spirit. Based on the team’s needs, those alternatives might take the same amount of time but will make the team more efficient in the long run.
All images, unless otherwise noted, are by the author.