The dysfunction of the 9am standup

9am standups are probably a sign of organisational dysfunction.

Why?

Easy one: the scrum guide calls them “daily scrums” and in any case “standup” is not disability friendly. If you’re not standing, don’t misuse the term or offend people in wheelchairs. I’ll call them “daily meetings” here, you can stand if you want when reading this.

The real argument:

There are many reasons why 9am is a bad time for a meeting, but often it is driven by having remote teams in Asia doing the development and the morning is peak coordination time so there is massive diary congestion in the 3–4 hours when everyone can speak to one another. Diary congestion is a dysfunction irrespective of whether your team is distributed or not.

1. Your team is split across many time zones. Are you addressing this? We know that people speaking to one another is far better than emails, so is anyone working on the problem that causes the teams to be split across multiple time zones? I’ve come into teams where the BA was in New York, the management team in London and the development team in India. That’s a 10.5 hour time gap. There was about 30 minutes of sensible overlap time and many longer meetings had to be duplicated so there was a US timezone friendly meeting and an India timezone friendly meeting. Could the organisational design person please make themselves known as Houston we have a problem.

2. After doing the daily meeting, you’ve maybe left with the impression that people are all working on the things they said they would be working on. But following a discussion about maybe moving the meeting to 9:30 or 10am you find this isn’t possible because of diary congestion. This sudden discovery of other meetings is often a revelation and then you can have the conversation around why these other meetings haven’t been discussed before. Also, in a clash of priorities isn’t the team coordination meeting more important anyway? If the congestion is because Important People Who Don’t Need To Be There are coming to your meeting and have Important Meetings They Need To Go To afterwards, maybe a conversation around who the daily meeting is for would be helpful.

3. In the days before Coronavirus, lots of people commuted into work. Train delays, traffic jams, train cancellations are a real thing. Please schedule the meeting at a time which is resilient to ensure good attendance otherwise you might be prioritising process over people (another dysfunction). When I travelled to London for work, I’d be staying in a local hotel so I would have no problems getting into work, but permanent staff would typically have commutes of an hour or more involving 2 or 3 changes and the number of cancellations, late trains, and sadly people on the line made travel times unpredictable. Having the meeting later in the day creates contingency. Why would a team choose robustness over resilience?

4. People with young children can’t just abandon them in the morning and many schools don’t allow children to be dropped off before 8am. If you live more than an hour from the office, how do you expect people with children to be able to drop them off, commute in, find a desk and log in ready to start for a 9am meeting?

5. Early doctors appointments are great, but due to the same reasons above, you probably won’t make it in on time again either. An appointment in the middle of the day means you will lose a lot more time travelling back home to make that appointment.

6. It’s a reasonable request to ask people to come in for about 9am, but many organisations with flexi-time say that 10am to 4pm are the core hours. What’s the point of saying this and then scheduling meetings for 9am that can’t be moved?

7. It’s also a reasonable request to ask people to come in for 9am, but coming in and being productive are two different things. We’re people, not machines. It’s nice to be able to come in, find a desk (sorry organisations that practice flexi desking and then there isn’t enough space), log in and wait for the computer to boot, have a quick check of emails and then fire up the tool your distributed team is using so that your mind can switch fully into work mode while you have your morning coffee. A 9am meeting would generally thus mean people arriving for about 8:30–8:40 depending on the above. See reasons above why this is logistically difficult. Isn’t it better to come in unhurried, talk face to face to your fellow colleagues over a coffee for a few minutes while your computer starts up and ask them how they are doing before you don the headphones and get into battery farm project meeting mode?

A possible way forward is to create contingency and resilience so that people come in as soon as they can and meetings start at a mutually agreeable time. The general order is usually daily scrums and then any escalation meetings or scrum of scrums. If there is anything outside the team such as cross team learning, communities of practice, centres of excellence type calls then aim for a time when the team meetings are done — e.g. 11 to noon. If you are in the UK and your main offshoring is India then your afternoons are then just for UK based calls. That way with a strategy for timetabling you minimise the risk of the CoE dumping a 9am call in your calendar and then wondering why noone shows up.

Thoughts?