Agile is supposed to be strict. I am not saying miss a daily standup because you don’t feel like doing it, I am saying there are situations where letting some team members not attend would be acceptable.
As I wrote about in Agile Without Structure is Like a Gymnast Without Bones, that strict adherence to some of the “rules” in Agile approaches (timeboxes in that post) gives Agile the structure it needs to help propel things forward, to make progress. Flexing a bit on those rules can give more agility without breaking the structure. Scrum may define fifteen-minute daily standup meetings, but maybe thirty minutes works better for your situation; or even holding them every other day rather than every day.
It should be noted that Agile itself does not define a set of rules or structure, the Agile frameworks or methodologies do.
Sometimes, Things Need Flexibility
Half your team came into work and were met with an urgent issue. They need to work out a solution as soon as possible or it could be bad for the project – but no, you pull them all away, interrupting their workflow because you want to ask them what they did yesterday and insist that you all stand around your scrum board to do it, while the customer is threatening to pull the project.
I fully understand and support building structure into Agile and adhering to that structure. If you set a timebox, stick to the timebox. However, urgent situations (deciding the color of a button is not urgent) may require some adjustments and adaptation. That is a big part of Agile – adaptation. If your Agile approach is not adaptive, how can we expect your results to be adaptive?
We live in the real world. We don’t live in some idealized Agile Framework. We have to deal with real-world events, many of which are not specifically defined in an Agile approach. We need the flexibility to handle those events.
You are not likely to ever convince me that interrupting work to stand there for 15 minutes to talk about what you did yesterday is more important than an actual urgent customer issue that is threatening to derail or undo project progress. We can hold the meeting later if you are dead set on having one, but pure dogmatism isn’t very Agile.
Fifteen minutes of time for a daily standup may not seem like a lot of time to ask, but when you are on an urgent issue where time is very critical, that fifteen-minute interruption can kill off an hour of work. You leave, come back, and have to figure out where you were and try to refocus. That isn’t what I would call being Agile.
Don’t Break the Structure, Flex the Structure
You don’t want to break the structure, you don’t want to abandon it for every little thing that crops up with someone claiming it is urgent. You also want to return to that structure as soon as possible. Despite none of that structure being defined by Agile, the structure can help your agility – but adhering to it for the sake of adhering to it is not very Agile.
Exceptions should be rare, if they are not, it may be time to revisit the structure you are using. It may be the entire structure just doesn’t work for your situation or you are creating too many exceptions. Weighing the pros and the cons of each situation objectively should help you make a determination about whether to make an exception to the strict rules.
- What are the consequences of delaying action?
- If Injury or death is a possible consequence, it is an automatic exception (I shouldn’t have to tell you that)
- The loss of a million dollar project or a huge customer impact on production environments probably also warrant an exception
- Does it involve the realization/actualization of a high impact risk?
- What are the financial implications?
- Is the structure getting in our way of performing to the best of our abilities?
- What are our alternatives?
While there is value in strictly adhering to the structure, there can also be value in sometimes making an exception. The goal is to be more adaptive and responsive to customer needs, you can’t always do that and adhere to strict rules.
The Value of Daily Standups
I discussed the importance of timeboxing in a prior post, Agile Without Structure is Like a Gymnast Without Bones, Stand up meetings can play just as an important of a role. They help to ensure that the team remains committed to their obligations and serve as a check-in point to understand where the others are it in their progress.
Missing one shouldn’t be something you do just because. There should be a clear purpose behind it. It should be the last resort decision and only done sparingly. Most of my complaints surrounding missed standups (or ignored timeboxes) come from people wanting to do it in non-important situations with little regard to the work that needs to be performed. Never, ever, tell those people it is okay to miss a daily standup, they are sure to want you to spend that time getting their button colors just right.
Timeboxing and daily standups should have strict adherence, but not to the point where they actually hinder agility. It is a balancing act sometimes. You have to weigh the pros and the cons of each situation based on their individual characteristics. I can tell you a button color isn’t urgent, but at what point does it become urgent. You kind of have to weigh that one out for yourself; it can be difficult when everyone always claims that their issues are urgent or important.
The reality is, most issues are not that important. Most things can be put off for an hour or two and not suffer huge consequences for the delay.
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