Stop statusing and start standupping with the only two questions that have any business being asked in your daily standup. Take back your team’s time and its sanity—and more importantly, put the standup to work helping you deliver!
In 2013, I wrote that the traditional “three questions” in the daily standup are wrong, and contributing to a plague of bad standups, and that focusing on The One Thing would help teams get the value they want from those dreaded 15(+) minutes per day.
Well, I’ve never been accused of being great at arithmetic. After more than a year of coaching teams on a new approach to the standup, they’ve taught me that The One Thing is exactly right, but in practice there are actually Two Things. Two One Things.
I recently taught a Scrum team The Two One Things, and I could tell by their reactions—even just facial expressions—that we were onto something. Previous client, in 2013, discussing The One Thing: “huh?” This team, in 2015, presented with The Two One Things: “oh! wow!”
In fact, this recent team took The Two One Things so deeply to heart, and they so reliably ask these two questions and only these two questions at every daily standup now, that they engaged the five-year-old son of one of the team members to create artistic representations of The Two One Things, which are displayed prominently in their team room and serve as a focal point and a daily affirmation of their awesome new habit!
Tragically, the images of Conner’s artwork were not captured by the Wayback Machine and have been lost.
The first only question to ask in your daily standup
The original One Thing and still the best.
“Are we on track?”
If you’re doing Scrum, you might ask, “are we on track to meet our commitment within our sprint?” (If you’re doing the new lame Scrum vocabulary, you might substitute forecast for commitment, except don’t do that, because it’s lame.)
If you’re doing Kanban, or something else continuous that doesn’t feature timeboxes or commitments, you still need goals, short- and long-term. So you might ask, “are we on track to meet our goal by our target?”
If your team doesn’t know what its goal is, don’t you think they might oughta?
The second only question to ask in your daily standup
The new, improved, Second One Thing.
I’m an adherent of Patrick Lencioni’s Death by Meeting: A Leadership Fable, in which he posits that the purpose of a meeting is to make a decision. One and only one decision! In this case, the purpose of the daily standup is for each team member to make this decision:
“What is the most valuable thing for me to do today?”
The One Thing, “are we on track?” is, of course, not a decision. But it satisfies the Death by Meeting Rule because we ask it in service of the decision. If the team is not on track, there’s a good chance that the most valuable thing for me to do today, to help us salvage and deliver as much value as we can, is something different than I expect. And that’s certainly the most valuable thing for us to talk about!
What’s really wrong with those three questions?
“Well, that’s fine in practice, but does it work in theory?”—Steven Borg
As I said in 2013, the traditional three questions (whether in their original or revised forms) focus the team on the wrong thing, and almost inevitably turn the daily standup into a status meeting. If you’re familiar with Principles of Product Development Flow by Donald Reinertsen (and you should be because it’s the sacred text of lean product development which is why agile even works, but I digress), you’ll recognize an important framework we can use to understand why the what-did-you-do-yesterday standup is so fundamentally flawed.
By orienting the daily standup around the people on the team, we’re emphasizing utilization. Utilization is the enemy of flow.
That’s certainly borne out by my frustrating experiences with the traditional three questions, which I watched team after team dutifully answer while simultaneously failing to even notice that their sprint was collapsing right in front of them—often literally in front of them, totally visible and obvious on their Kanban board!
By re-focusing The Only Two Questions around the work the team has undertaken to complete, we’re emphasizing delivery. This dovetails nicely with lean concepts, especially work in process, and it enables flow.
Even without formally introducing new terminology like “WIP limits” or “swarming,” we can point out that the most valuable thing for me to do today is to help get a near-complete item across the finish line. That’s true whether the sprint commitment is in peril or not!
A gentle reminder
Don’t forget: just because the team is all in one place at that time doesn’t make the daily standup an appropriate place for other announcements or discussion. If you really need to have a 15(+)-minute team meeting every single day for administrivia (hint: you don’t), by all means schedule one, but give it another name and hold it at a different time. Don’t hijack your standup.
And if members of the team want to collaborate together after the standup to solve a problem that arose during the standup, that’s awesome! collaboration is awesome! but don’t forget to let the uninvolved members of the team leave if they choose. Their most valuable thing to do today may be something different!
Do the two one things work for you?
Now that you have The Two One Things, and you can make your own awesome artistic renderings of them, how do you find your standups? Are they still boring? Do team members show up late and/or mentally check out during? How do you find your sprints? Are you catching problems early and salvaging more value delivery even when a sprint starts to go wrong?
Let me know what you try, and what you learn!