The great Standup Report controversy

Posted by Andy Singleton on July 6, 2010 13:12:00 PM
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When we started telling people about our new Standup/Scrum report offer, we expected our main problem to be that this incredibly useful tool is low-tech (basically, one form), and boring.  Instead, we got a some pushback that actually makes this discussion pretty interesting. 

Our friend, Ian Ippolito - the founder of vWorker, started by saying that he didn't see why it was useful.  

Derick Bailey wrote: "I think the product misses the point of the daily standup and could facilitate anti-collaborative measures in a team. Instead of having people talk to each other and gaining value through communication, understanding what other team members are working on and hopefully offering insight into the issues and directions that those people are taking, your product reduces the daily standup to a management task that serves only managers, not the team doing the work. Online collaboration with distributed, global teams is a difficult problem to solve...Understanding the big picture requires communication not just one-way statements...".  Here's a link to Derick's blog.

Tobias Mayer wrote: " actually, it sounds like a tool for micromanagement. In Scrum there is no 'reporting'. Team members meet to align with each other, not to report to their manager." Here's a link to Tobias' blog.

I learned a few things.

First, a tool like this must be useful for team members, not just management reporting.  I believe that engaged management is very helpful, but ideally, teams don't need or want much top-down intervention.  We have always tried to make Assembla first and foremost a place where team members can communicate with each other and get something useful in their daily work - in contrast to my last project, PowerSteering, which quickly became a rather intrusive management reporting system.  From this point of view, we see Standup as having two advantages.  First of call, you can see what team members are doing without bugging them.  Second, you don't spend much time at it.  Every minute saved from chat and calls is a minute that you can think more clearly about your own work.  And, finally, there is the top-down benefit of being able to easily raise a flag about what you need.

Second, the online Standup report is most useful if you have a team of five or more people.  A lot of the people that we talked to work with smaller teams, and they get good communication from email, chat, and other things that they do together.  On the other hand, the single biggest problem in software is working with bigger teams.  Bigger teams are always much less efficient, a syndrome that was analyzed almost forty years ago in The Mythical Man Month, and proven out by numerous benchmarking studies and our own mutual head-banging personal experience.  Given these problems, it's incredibly valuable to find methods that actually work better with bigger teams.  With the Standup report, I find that we are able to work effectively in teams of  up to 15 or 20, with the same type of teamwork that goes around in a four person team.

Third, that it is important to use all of the other communication tools that we recommend - an online ticket/task list, a daily chat, a shared build with daily, hourly, or continuous integration, and a shared view of the team activity stream.

We did hear from a number of users that like the Standup/Scrum report.  Here are some of their comments.

"Assembla's StandUp/Scrum tool helps us coordinate the activities of team members on three continents. A regular, light-weight report of tasks and problems makes a huge difference to our forward progress, and Assembla's tool fits the bill perfectly."
-- Daniel Hardman, Senior Architect - Perfect Search Corporation

"We use Assembla's standup tools extensively to coordinate our development teams in the UK, Europe and India. It's really useful when face to face standups aren't possible due to working time differences. Using this means we are all aware of what each person is doing and most importantly when they need help.It definitely helps to bring the teams together."
-- Gareth Gower,
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"At MeYou Health, we use the StandUp/Scrum reporting tool to allow the team to easily communicate to each other their progress on tasks, their upcoming priorities, and any blockers that others can help with. We usually do daily standups in addition to using the tool, but we find that the tool is nice because it helps us organize our thoughts before our standup and allows us to keep a running history of our high-priority tasks."
-- Chad Dressler, Senior Web Architect - MeYou Health


"IconApps uses the StandUp / Scrum reporting tool to allow both the management team and the development to keep track of our sprint progress, upcoming plans and overall team activity. We use it to collect team activity in one centralized place, so it's also like a history log. We found that asking everyone to fill out the "What I will do today/this week" section, forces everyone to really know what need to complete before they actually start the work."
-- Liana Gevorgyan, QA Manager - IconApps

"As a virtual company with employees across the United States, having a single place for everyone to share information is essential. The StandUp feature in Assembla is an integral tool in our semiweekly staff meetings as it allows us to share information about current projects, and note any needs we may have. Since using the StandUp feature, our meetings move faster and are better organized."
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"I am a professor teaching software engineering project courses. We are using Assembla to give the students a realistic set of tools to work with in their team projects. We use the StandUp report tool for student reporting on a weekly basis. It pushes them to have something to report and allows a quick overview on how they are doing as well as giving them a clear way to ask for help. I like the way the tool rolls up the reports and highlights the "blockers" if present."
-- University Professor

So, is a written standup report the best way to manage a distributed team or is it anti-collaborative?  Please leave us a comment below and let us know which side of the fence that you fall on.

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About the author

Andy SingletonWorking on Continuous Agile and Accelerating Innovation, Assembla CEO and startup founder

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