Your daily standups should be async. Here’s why

Many teams start their day with the infamous three questions of the daily stand-up: “what did you do yesterday?”, “what are you going to do today?”, and “what are you blocked by?”. Instead of a daily stand-up, they should consider asynchronous communication.

The 15-minute round-robin daily stand-up is one of the cornerstones of Scrum, a popular way to manage product development teams. Unfortunately, Scrum — and the daily stand-up — was created back in the 1990s, when office workers labored away in cubicles and shared a common physical space and work day. Today, our workplaces look very different and have offices and teammates spread across the world. This is especially relevant now as companies are forced to embrace remote work as they adapt to the COVID-19 crisis.

While the daily stand-up was created with good intentions, asynchronous communication is much more productive and better for the team. Here are some reasons why:

Daily standups are often misused as a way to micromanage teams.

Traditional office workers tend to fall in the trap of equating presence with productivity. Standups, as mainstays of traditional offices and co-located teams, are used as crutches for managers to collect updates from employees and force them to awkwardly report on their progress so they can reassure themselves that everyone is actually working.

Remote work calls for new notions of accountability and trust. Asynchronous communication is a great way to build that trust by focusing on output, as opposed to presence. We’ll cover what we mean and how to build this without real-time daily status meetings in a future post.

Daily, real-time meetings aren’t practical for remote teams.

It’s highly unlikely that your remote team all resides in the same location. Instead, your team is likely spread across different timezones in the US, or even across the world…

Different timezones means that everyone is operating on different schedules. When one person is winding down for the day, another may just have started. Having a regularly scheduled, synchronous meeting is incredibly disruptive, as it pulls people out of their flow states and schedules, likely at inconvenient times. Asynchronous communication allows people to communicate at a time that’s most convenient for them.

Daily stand-ups aren’t meant to resolve blockers.

In an ideal world, daily stand-ups are meant to unblock problems and help teams ship product faster. In reality, there’s actually no space in the standup to dive deeper into actual issues. The second you do, everyone else tunes you out, your standup drags on much longer than it needs to, and you’re asked by your manager to “take it offline”.

In fact, the best teams actually unblock problems as they come up, instead of waiting for a regularly scheduled standup to report on a blocker. Flexible update platforms such as Cadence allow you to update your team as you’re working. A common pitfall of co-located teams is that they tend to save topics for the meeting and wait until then to bring it up.

While we’re clearly of the strong belief that your daily standups should be asynchronous, we’re even bigger proponents that you should do what works for your team. At the very least, I hope this post gave you a new understanding of the common pitfalls of daily standups.

In a future post, I’ll talk about strategies you can use to move your daily standups to an asynchronous format. Until then, I thought it’d be best to close off with a quote from a particularly apt blog post on daily standups:

“It’s clear how even though all companies say they “do agile”, in fact most don’t; they just do random meetings while standing up, which produces bad results that I consider right-out offensive towards developers.”

Liked this post? Check out a related one on the types of meetings that suck.