In "Tools, Iterations, and Stories," I talked about how you should "focus on implementing and completing stories, not iterations. If your iteration is 10 days, and you have 10 stories of 1 point each, you should have delivered one story by the end of the first day, and two stories by the end of the second day, and so on."
Today I helped deliver training on agile estimation and planning. One topic that arose was the daily stand up. We quickly surmised, no surprise, that this group's experiences with daily standups were negative. We discussed some of the reasons why these meetings might be so poorly received. As typical, their standup meetings went on much longer than 5-10 minutes. Reasons? Also typical: people didn't literally stand up, the meetings lacked focus, and people tried to use them to solve problems instead of just identify them. Most people, rightly so, viewed these meetings as very costly.
In response, we talked about why daily standups might be useful. We discussed the importance of getting the entire team to communicate more frequently. Daily should be a bare minimum!
The other part of our discussion was around what should be said during a standup. One of the complaints was that the standups were boring and tedious. The teams were using the typically recommended elements: what did I accomplish, what am I working on, what might I need help with? You know the drill.
Then it struck me: a focus on completing iterations, not stories, was part of the problem, contributing to the tedium.
The classic mistake in an initial stab at doing agile is to treat each iteration as a mini-waterfall. Spend a day discussing requirements, spend a day or two on design, code it, then test it, then integrate it. A team will open most of its stories on day one, and on the last day of the iteration, most of these same stories will still be open. The team will struggle to close them out prior to iteration end. The article I wrote (see link above) talks about a better approach: initiate work on one or two stories, and move on only after these stories are completed. That allows for incremental delivery of business value throughout the iteration, and usually minimizes the amount of work at risk for the iteration.
A team following the first approach, where an iteration is a mini-waterfall, will have very little useful information to say during a daily standup:
In contrast, here's how a standup might go in a team that looks to complete stories, not iterations:
The more I do agile, the more I find that a primary focus on (really) completing stories is the best path to success.
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