Tag Archives: enterprise agility

The only 2 questions to ask in your daily standup

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!

bsktcase crosspost project

I’m cross-posting selected blogs from Northwest Cadence. Here’s the original post from 24 March 2015.

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!

Accidental credibility

It isn’t accidental at all. I just accidentally forget I have it. Sometimes I get reminded.

I don’t read work books. Never have. (I read a lot; not for work.)

It took Steve, my semi-boss, voracious consumer of all information media (he still listens to podcasts!), whose photo should be in StrengthsFinder 2.0 under “Learner”, nearly two years to persuade me to read Getting Naked, our company’s raison d’incorporation. I finished it in about two hours, and it changed my life. I still don’t read work books.

Especially lately, this has caused me some consternation and discomfort when I show up at a client site (or Microsoft TechEd) to train and consult on enterprise agility. There’s always some smarty-pants in the group who reads work books. I don’t mean they heckle; they’re perfectly kind. But those innocent questions that expose that I have heard of such-and-such seminal work and I obviously don’t know what’s in it? Awkward.

And so, for example, I showed up at my latest client site to help tackle their problems with ineffective agile retrospectives. I brought a ziploc bag of Sharpies (hard to find in Europe for some reason), a stack of sticky notes, and a naïvely cheerful attitude. Imagine my dismay to find that several of the thought leaders in the organization were carrying around a book called Agile Retrospectives and wanted to know my thoughts on it. Oops. I’m pretty sure Steve has been trying to get me to look at that one.

In the true spirit of Getting Naked, I swallowed my pride and asked to borrow my client’s copy of Agile Retrospectives, and I read it poolside at my hotel overnight. Quick read, incredibly valuable insights, did I mention I don’t read work books?

Interestingly, when I skimmed some of the exercises in the book, I noticed that I’ve done and used several of them without knowing their names. Simple stuff that I hadn’t thought of as “exercises”, like having everyone write down their thoughts first in order to make sure the quiet ones get heard. It’s likely I picked them up from managers and colleagues—many of whom were surely Learners—and added them to my toolbox over the years.

This afternoon, as I departed my client’s office, the owner of Agile Retrospectives stopped by to thank us for our time with them, and because he’s awesome, to share some feedback. I didn’t expect what he said.

“The developers on our team, when they heard a consultant was coming to train them on agile, they were expecting—well, it seems like anybody can read four books and say they’re a consultant. But the books don’t take real life into account, and the books make everything sound so easy.

“You’re different. You have fifteen years’ experience as a programmer, and it shows. They were really surprised. You created a lot of trust, because they know that you know what you’re talking about.”

Praise doesn’t get any higher than that. Here I was preoccupied with embarrassment that my clients—many of whom are in fact Learners—might be judging me because they’re so much better-read than I. In reality, what I have to offer is so second-nature to me that I sometimes forget everybody else doesn’t have it or know it already.

I’m not saying I don’t need to read a bit more. I clearly do. But I’m never going to be voracious with the work books, and I’m always going to encounter clients who naturally read work-circles around me. What I realize now is, neither one of those is a bad thing. I have skills and knowledge that clients need me for, and I need their skills and knowledge, too. Those motivated Learners will be the ones to help keep enterprise agility going long after their consultant has moved on!

Our complementary strengths are what makes us a great team. It’s what I teach to them. Let’s see if I can teach it to myself. :)

I spoke at TechEd!

I'm speaking at TechEd Europe!

Pre-conference seminar #12, “Enterprise Agility Is Not an Oxymoron”, all day on the Monday, in Madrid, BY MYSELF. That’s right, no Steve-shaped security blanket.

The worst part about giving the same pre-con twice with different speakers is having to compare the (insanely competitive) speaker and session rankings afterward. The good news is, I did OK! by myself. Not amazingly great like we did together at North America, but genuinely OK!

If you’re interested in learning more about how I teach Enterprise Agility, check out my Events page for upcoming webcasts and live workshops, or contact Northwest Cadence to request one. Cheers!