Oh no, daily again!

This article is part of my Agile series, where I discuss various Agile-related practices from developer’s point of view.

Background

This has got to be the second most discussed “issue” (first one being “story points vs hours”).

  • “Why do we have dailies?”
  • “What’s the purpose of reporting (or raporting) my status day after day?”
  • “Why am I being micromanaged?”
  • etc.

Truthfully, I’m in favor of them. Seriously. I guess we could probably do without having them every single morning, but overall – I’d rather DO them. And I’ll elaborate WHY. Bear with me as I start with a real-life story first.

Real-life story

I was part of an Incident Rotation team for a week. Namely, if you’re part of a larger corp, you surely have those. For a week or two, you pretty much focus on incidents (tickets, bugs, customer reported issues, or whatever you call them). What was new to me was that this team had TWO “dailies”. Yep.

They weren’t called dailies, though. The first one was considered a “Daily Check-in”, as in – opener for the day. You discuss what you’re planning to tackle for the day and then you’re off to work on it. The latter one was a “Daily Check-out” and it was organized as a small retrospective. What went good, what went bad and what could be done better tomorrow.

Frankly, at first, I thought this was the most nonsense idea I ever heard of. I was joking around like “yeah, maybe we need one mid-day-checkup meeting as well”.

Now here’s what’s actually funny. At the day 3 or so, I actually started to love them. And this is not a cheesy “I’m writing this to make my company look good” kind of crap. No. And I’ll elaborate why.

I’m generally a guy who never actually knows when to stop with work. As in – if there were not for my GF or this blog, I’d probably be working from early morning to late at night. Working hours don’t really “affect me”, so to say.

Two dailies actually gave me a structure that I needed. It was like – at 10AM I know I’m about to start my day, so my brain gets all ready to discuss what my battle-plan is. And at 4:30PM, I’m literally checking out both physically and mentally! I’d report how I did for the day and … off I’d go. And I enjoyed it, really.

I spoke about this to one of the team leads, who also happens to be a certified Scrum master. “Man, in some strange way, I’m actually enjoying these two dailies. It’s like they give me the mental start and finish and I actually love it”. “Yep”, he said, “it’s like having a sprint that lasts one day really. You plan in the morning, execute over the day and retrospect in the evening. Rinse & repeat”. And, without lying to you – I liked it.

Daily as a burden

This is really my personal opinion and is based solely on my personal observation, evaluation and thoughts. To me, it seems that in cases where people literally HATE dailies, it usually is related to an improper use; or, shall I say – abuse. I’m pretty certain you’ve heard of horror stories of manager sifting their directs for a rapport, people being forced to sit and talk for X minutes (e.g. 15) even if there’s nothing to talk about, etc.

But let me ask you differently. If you use a hammer to harm someone, does that make hammer a bad tool? Of course not. Use a tool the wrong way and you’ll have consequences. It’s the same with dailies.

We’ve all heard the famous “daily is not a report meeting” and “keep it under 15 minutes”. And yet, even though it sounds simple, untrained stuff can pretty much get it the wrong way and harm everyone in the process. My advice for you, if you are a Product Owner or Manager, or whatever – make sure to educate yourself! Not only because of the team, but because of the long-term results!

Daily as an effective tool in your toolbox

Use them wrongly and you’ll end up in a pickle. Use them properly and you’ll thrive. Really.

I see daily meeting as a mental preparation for the day. A mental check-in of a sort. It provides you an opportunity to retrospect on how you did yesterday and to mentally prepare for whatever it is that you want to tackle that day.

It’s also an amazingly useful tool for checking up with your peers. I know, we’re all chatting constantly, but daily is and should be a unique opportunity to align with your peers. It’s ~ 15mins when you have everyone present and (hopefully) focused on whatever it is that you are saying. It’s just a great opportunity to announce any issues that you are having and ask for assistance from your peers.

I’ll give you yet another example which is very personal, as it comes straight from my experience. My days are incredibly busy. Busy as in – I have bunch of things going on in parallel, many meetings to attend, etc. And before you shout “but that’s wrong!” – no. I actually enjoy it. I enjoy it because I love the fact that I’m able to interact with so many things and push each one of them just a little bit further. But the fact remains – my days are incredibly busy.

I also generally really hate interrupting other people. I always assume that every person is busy enough that they don’t like being bothered. And I assume that because I, for one, hate being interrupted and bothered.

Hence, I use dailies as a scheduled time where I’m literally fully-focused on providing my status report to other guys, letting them know what I’m dealing with and announcing to them if I’d need assistance from any of them, which, in turn, mentally prepares the other person to expect being contacted by myself. I believe that’s both reasonable and respectable thing to do. Same is true for others – they let me know if they will be requiring my assistance and, in turn, I can better prepare myself to be of better use for them.

Now, I know that this is all easier said than done. I’ve been lucky enough to be a part of multiple teams that had a dedicated (and certified) Scrum master who helped shape a safe ground for my peers and I, but I do understand that not every team (or company) has this luxury. If you are a manager reading this, please take time to actually think about what I’m about to write below.

Creating a safe ground for development team and their dailies

Look, there is a reason why every guide says that “daily is a team meeting”. The reasoning behind this is – in order to help people feel relaxed in their daily, you need to let them feel safe first. If they are not feeling safe, they’re going to feel as if they are being interrogated. And just imagine if YOU were interrogated by your manager every single day! Nobody likes that!

So, first thing is – you need to help people feel safe. And the best way is to provide them with a gentle guidance but avoiding the interruptions at every cost! Visitors are welcome to observe, but unless you are part of the team – you must keep your mouth shut!

Is any member reporting they didn’t have a productive day yesterday? Let them be! Are you feeling the urge of saying anything that you feel is ultra important? Shut up and wait until daily is over; approach the person afterwards and discuss. Is the team reporting that they are feeling anxious they’ll miss the sprint goal? Do not even think of raising your eyebrow! Appreciate the fact that people are feeling safe to communicate that and giving you the opportunity to better manage the risk!

Frankly, I think this is where trained Scrum coaches come really handy. They are being specifically trained in how to ease of the tension while providing a gentle guidance and keeping the avalanche of outsiders flooding the team. So, if you can afford one – definitely go for it! If not, then at least find a person interested in becoming certified and help them learn.

Why 15 minutes?

I love this one, really. I think it just proves how hardwired we are to taking unknown things for granted; and following them obediently.

Well, for starters – why not 15 minutes? 🙂 But I guess that answer won’t satisfy you that much.

Let me put it this way. If you say you’ll need 5 minutes to finish something, you’re indirectly communicating that it’s a no-brainer that can be done super-fast. On the other hand, saying you’ll need 30 mins usually refers to a moderately complex task that will require some mental effort.

15 minutes is a sweet-spot I think. A sweet-spot between a no-brainer and mildly complex thing. 5 is too short, 30 is too long, but 15 mins is just about right.

15 minutes is just a soft guideline that exists to remind you that daily is NOT supposed to be a full-blown meeting! It’s literally a check-up. And a quick one. if you have a more complex topic to discuss – mention it in daily and then schedule a regular meeting. But don’t bother everyone with it!

Does it have to last 15 mins? NO! On most of the days, my peers and I are literally done in 3 minutes! I’m not kidding you. And sometimes they take more than 15mins, but I’ve noticed a really cool pattern emerging – once it overflows the 15th minute, it’s like everybody starts looking at the watch and getting uncomfortable by the fact that something is not right. And I think that’s how it should be!

To put it in words of our Scrum Master (who happened to provide tremendous feedback before this article was published!) – assuming that you already agreed on a goal and how to reach it (which is what you do during the sprint planning), daily is just a tool to check if you’re still on the right course; pretty much like having quarterly breaks in basketball is.

Example of an effective daily

For reference sake, I’ll give you a sneak peak into one of our daily meetings.

We have it booked in calendar for weeks ahead so we’re all used to gathering in Teams Meeting at the same time. A dedicated person from the team shares their screen and opens Jira board.

Each person communicates how they did yesterday, what they are planning to tackle today and then they “pass the ball” to another colleague. We are using this concept of “passing the ball” in order to make things be a bit more dynamic and have everyone keep the focus on the person sharing the status.

Once every member is done (and I can’t emphasise enough how important it is NOT TO INTERRUPT THEM!!!), we usually ask a PO if they have anything to share. PO is a part of your team and they also have the right to speak.

Lastly, we announce the daily being over and everyone goes back to whatever it is that they planned to focus on for the day.

And, as I said, it usually takes around 3-4 minutes. On some rare days where we have more stuff to share, we extend it to 10-15 minutes, but those are more of an exception than a rule.

Conclusion

If used properly, dailies can be a great tool for setting your mind for the day and allowing each peer to stay up-to-date with what’s happening. They are also a perfect opportunity to announce that you’ll need assistance, without having to interrupt your peers.

However, if used badly, they can turn into rapport meetings which will, 100%, harm you in the long run. Nobody likes being interrogated and definitely not so on a daily basis!

If you’re unsure how to do them properly, make sure to hire a certified coach or to have a dedicated in-company person trained for the role.

And, as usual – have fun in the process!

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