Adam Ralph

Software, tea, and snowboarding

Shadow Stand-ups

If you’re doing agile, you’re probably doing daily stand-ups. A good stand-up is useful. A bad stand-up is a waste of time.

My current team needed some time to make our stand-ups good and there was one symptom in particular which took us a while to recognise.

Things happened like this:

  1. We stood up (developers, line manager, product owner and scrum master), walked the board, dutifully gave updates and closed the meeting.

  2. The developers walked back to their desks and, still standing, talked about technical issues with stories, who was going to pair with who, which stories we would tackle next, etc.

Then the penny dropped - isn’t that what the stand-up is for? Why were we having a shadow stand-up after the official stand-up?

The reason was that the meaning and purpose of the stand-up was distorted. We were treating the stand-up as a status update to those people with an interest in the stories but not actually working on them personally (line manager, product owner, scrum master). The developers were afraid to talk about things they really needed to talk about because it didn’t feel suitable for the audience.

This kind of stand-up is a waste of time for the team. Jason Yip delves into what makes a good or bad stand-up in his great article “It’s Not Just Standing Up”. As Jason points out, there are far more efficient ways of communicating overall project status to stakeholders, etc. than that of digging into day to day operations.

The stand-up is for people working on stories to communicate with each other and synchronise their efforts. Although this should be a continual process and not just once-a-day thing, the stand-up is still a good reminder and habit builder.

It’s important in a stand-up to talk to your peers and relay information which you would find useful in their shoes. Make sure that everything which you need to say to your fellow developers at the time is said. Don’t leave it until after the stand-up. These days, we’ve largely manage to eliminate the shadow stand-up by concentrating on these things, but we still slip into it occasionally.

If you ever find yourself in a shadow stand-up, stop the conversation and share your revelation. It’s all too easy to do it without realising. It could also be that your shadow stand-up doesn’t happen as a discrete activity but is spread into the rest of the day as you attempt to get the information which you really needed to have in the stand-up. Or perhaps you don’t get the information at all!

Once you’ve recognised the problem in whatever manifestation it takes, you can take action to fix your official stand up to make it as useful as it should be.