Archive | InBrief

Standup pitfalls: How to ruin a perfectly good daily scrum

Standup pitfalls: How to ruin a perfectly good daily scrum

Agile is like the game of golf: easy to understand, but difficult to master.

For classically trained project managers, leading an Agile team can be confusing, intimidating, and contains pitfalls that a PM may never see. But those pitfalls can stifle an otherwise promising Agile team and jeopardize the product.

Typically, the first Agile ceremony adopted by teams “doing Agile” is the daily standup (a.k.a. the ‘daily scrum’). The “official” process guidelines for a standup are:

  • Occurs every day
  • Occurs at the same time
  • Time-boxed to 15 minutes (or less)
  • Anyone can attend
  • It’s not a status meeting
  • Only team members (those building the product) are allowed to speak
  • Each team member answers three questions:
    • What did you do since the last standup?
    • What will you do before the next standup?
    • What impediments to progress are blocking you?

That’s essentially it. It’s a framework, within which teams will self-norm. They will find ways to conduct the standup that work for them, given their circumstances and who they are. My colleague, Alex Foucre-Stimes, has a nice blog showing his team’s example here. Some examples of self-norming can include:

  • Who speaks when (take turns by a random metric, pass around a speaking totem, rotate up to the front to speak…)

  • What is used to record outcomes (physical task board, digital task board, Application Lifecycle Management tool…)

  • When the standup is held (beginning of the day, end of the day, just before lunch, 2:37pm…)

  • Where the standup is held (meeting room, open space, at the team lead’s cubicle, online video, conference call...)

Here are some potential pitfalls that Agile team leads (a.k.a. ‘scrum masters’ or SMs) and teams can fall into, and how to recognize and avoid them:

Pitfall Description Symptoms Possible Causes Remedies
The “Glass Silo” Team members report up and out of their “glass silos” to the SM instead of communicating with each other
  • Team members look at and speak to the SM, not each other
  • Using laptops or mobile devices during the standup
  • “I wasn’t listening; it wasn’t my turn yet”
  •  SM is “command & control,” treating the standup as a status meeting
  • Team members have a cultural or organizational bias deferring to authority figures
  • Get the SM away from the standup board
  • SM break/avoid eye contact with team
  • Team stands in a circle, SM sits outside the circle
The “Deep Dive” standup Lasts much longer than the 15 minute time box. (I have seen standups go 90 minutes.)
  • SM does most of the talking
  • Team members distracted, uninterested
  • Some team members speak at length, others not at all
  • SM not properly facilitating the meeting, not enforcing the timebox
  • Team is too large
  • Reviewing every item in the backlog, rather than focusing on today alone
  • Updates devolve into problem solving discussions
  • STAND UP. Don’t sit down, don’t get comfortable
  • Focus on the three questions
  • Use a timer(sand timer, standup timer mobile app)
  • Use a “speaking totem”…an object passed around and only the person holding the object speaks
The Academic 3rd Question The “impediments” question stops providing value
  • Impediments are raised and never addressed
  • Progress on removing impediments cannot be accurately reported
  • SM not effectively addressing impediments for the team
  • Unspoken impediments not being surfaced
  • Track impediment tasks on the physical/virtual board in parallel with team tasks
  • SM reports his/her progress on removing impediments at the daily standup


These are just a few standup pitfalls. What other ones have you experienced, and how did you address them? I welcome your comments.

Explore our latest perspectives