Daily Standup: The technique everyone practices – yet doesn’t even exist

At the beginning of a Scrum training I often ask participants if they can name a Scrum practice. Almost without exception, the answer arrives quickly: the Daily Standup. It seems like everyone is doing it, whether they work in Scrum or not. Some people even seem to think that using just this technique makes them agile somehow.

How do most people imagine a Daily Standup?

When I ask them to tell more about this practice, colorful answers arise: this is the status meeting named after the rule that you gotta do it standing up. The Scrum Master, Team Lead or the Project Manager asks everybody in turn using the (in)famous three questions: what did you do yesterday, what will you do today and do you have anything to confess… er, anything you are stuck with? Ok, the last question is often ignored, the poor chap will ask for help anyway if in trouble, won’t he? And we don’t wanna get him in an uncomfortable situation where he has to admit that he’s not progressing. Even the second question is not as necessary, the first one is perfectly sufficient to report status. The Daily standup is not always done each day and usually we won’t fit into the prescribed 15 minutes timebox, but we are not as narrow minded as to do everything by the book, we are flexible and we are tailoring agile to our needs…

Too bad that almost all of these statements are plain wrong.

What does the Scrum Guide say?

Guess what? There is no such practice as a Daily Standup in Scrum.

Yup, you read it right. If you look up the Scrum Guide, it does not mention Daily Standup at all. Instead, there is Daily Scrum and this is not just being grammar nazi or a weird Scrabble game, the practice of Daily Scrum – although might look similar to the technique mentioned above – is fundamentally different. 

It ain’t called Daily Scrum for nuthin’. Funny that while the practice has been distorted, “Daily” has remained in the name although there are a lot of places where it is not held each day. Its essence, “Scrum”, the very element after which the whole framework was named, has been replaced by “Standup”, something that is not even a mandatory part of it. By that I am not saying that you cannot do it standing up, in fact it can be useful, even Jeff Sutherland, one of the creators of Scrum has been doing it that way from the very beginning. But standing up is not the main part of the technique, it is just one way of doing it, and it has not even gotten into the Scrum canon.

Let’s ask ChatGPT 

The confusion is so paramount, that it fooled even ChatGPT. I asked it about the difference between Daily Scrum and Daily Standup, got a comprehensive answer, but, due to limitations of space, I will only quote the most relevant parts:

“…The Daily Standup is a daily meeting that is often used in other Agile methodologies, such as Kanban. The purpose of the Daily Standup is similar to that of the Daily Scrum: to synchronize and plan work for the day. However, the format of the meeting is slightly different. During the Daily Standup, team members answer three questions:

What did you accomplish yesterday?

What are you planning to do today?

Are there any impediments that are preventing you from achieving your goals?

The key difference between the two meetings is the use of the word “impediments” instead of “obstacles”…

…Another difference between the two meetings is that the Daily Standup does not require the team to stand up, as the name might suggest…”

ChatGPT is obviously quite confused about this technique, defined as Daily Scrum, but often called Daily Standup and also just as often misunderstood. So let’s go back to the basics, check the official description of Scrum, the already mentioned Scrum Guide one more time.

The definition of Daily Scrum in the Scrum Guide 

The purpose of the Daily Scrum is to inspect progress toward the Sprint Goal and adapt the Sprint Backlog as necessary, adjusting the upcoming planned work.

The Daily Scrum is a 15-minute event for the Developers of the Scrum Team. To reduce complexity, it is held at the same time and place every working day of the Sprint. If the Product Owner or Scrum Master are actively working on items in the Sprint Backlog, they participate as Developers.

The Developers can select whatever structure and techniques they want, as long as their Daily Scrum focuses on progress toward the Sprint Goal and produces an actionable plan for the next day of work. This creates focus and improves self-management. 

Daily Scrums improve communications, identify impediments, promote quick decision-making, and consequently eliminate the need for other meetings.

The Daily Scrum is not the only time Developers are allowed to adjust their plan. They often meet throughout the day for more detailed discussions about adapting or re-planning the rest of the Sprint’s work.

The purpose of Daily Scrum

Voila! Daily Scrum (and the whole framework, by the way) is named after a rugby technique where players group together with heads down, arms interlocked and push to gain ground in order to scoop the ball out to their team and ultimately gain position to be able to reach the goal line with the ball. That is exactly what a Daily Scrum is for: the team groups together in order to gain ground and work together toward the common goals, the Sprint Goal on the short term and ultimately, the Product Goal.

It is not about reporting status, especially not to the Scrum Master, Team Lead, and absolutely not to the Project Manager. There is no mention of three questions. Previous versions included these as recommendations or examples, but they have been completely removed from the latest version precisely because some people mistook them for a mandatory element. They are not forbidden, it is still ok to ask them, but please be aware that the Daily Scrum is not limited to answering these questions mechanically. Other techniques can be used as well, such as the one described in an earlier post.  

However, it is mandatory to do it each day of the Sprint (maybe except for Sprint turnovers) and you have to fit into the 15 minutes timebox. By mandatory I mean of course, that you can still do it as you  like, but if you do not do it according to the Guide, don’t call it Scrum.  As the Scrum Guide states: The Scrum framework, as outlined herein, is immutable. While implementing only parts of Scrum is possible, the result is not Scrum. (www.scrumguides.org

What, when, why?

Daily Scrum is just another wasteful meeting if it does not render other meetings unnecessary. If you don’t feel the need to do it each day, you don’t save time by reducing the frequency, it is just an indicator that the team is not working together towards a common goal. It is likely not a team at all, as probably everyone is busy just following their own agenda, fiddling around in their own little silo. If you cannot get through it within 15 minutes maximum, it is an indication that you are not communicating enough throughout the day or you are using it for status reporting where everyone tries to prove that they are working like hell, really, really!

So get rid of that status meeting disguised as Daily Standup, instead have meaningful Sprint Goals, collaborate on them and have purposeful Daily Scrums each day!

If you want to know more about what Scrum ceremonies are really for and how to use them for their real purpose, attend one of our Scrum/Agile Elevation or Advanced Scrum Master training.

Written by: Gábor Erényi, Sprint Consulting