Daily Scrum meetings: Must we really stand up?

Often called the daily stand-up, must everyone at the Daily Scrum meeting literally stand? Which rules are inflexible? How are the rules enforced? Find out the objectives of the Daily Scrum and how agile teams are operating to meet these objectives.

Yvette Francino

Many people put "Scrum" on their agile resume, but they don't really understand it, said a member of the Boulder Agile User Group at a this week's meeting. One example he gave is that people don't understand that you really stand up at the daily stand up meetings!


After this was said -- and in such a way that would imply anyone who knows scrum would know such a thing -- I felt a little embarrassed to admit that I didn't know this was such a strict rule. It seemed unnecessary and kind of silly to me. Can't we just keep the meeting short? Must we really impose a rule to physically stand?

This statement sparked a discussion about "rules" of the Daily Scrum meeting, how they should be set and how they should be enforced.

So just what are the "rules"? 
To remind myself of the hard and fast rules surrounding the Daily Scrum Meeting, I checked the May, 2009, ScrumAlliance "ScrumGuide" by Ken Schwaber -- one of scrum's founding fathers -- that I'd received as part of my ScrumMaster certification course. Note that the whole guide is filled with rules describing roles, responsibilities, meetings and processes. Here's Schwaber's rule of thumb on rules, described on page 4:

Rules bind together Scrum's time-boxes, roles, and artifacts. Its rules are described throughout the body of this document.

Tip: When rules are not stated, the users of Scrum are expected to figure out what to do. Don't try to figure out a perfect solution, because the problem usually changes quickly. Instead, try something and see how it works. The inspect-and-adapt mechanisms of Scrum's empirical nature will guide you.

The rules of the Daily Scrum as described in the guide included the following:

  • Each Team meets daily for a 15-minute status meeting called the Daily Scrum.
  • The Daily Scrum is at the same time and same place throughout the Sprints.

During the meeting, each Team member explains:

  • What he or she has accomplished since the last meeting;
  • What he or she is going to do before the next meeting; and
  • What obstacles are in his or her way.

Schwaber explains that a ScrumMaster must ensure that the Team has the meeting and is responsible for conducting the Daily Scrum. In addition, the ScrumMaster…

  • Enforces rules and regulates comment length to leads the team in keeping the Daily Scrum short.
  • Does not allow chickens -- the term used for people not on the Team -- to talk or in any way interfere with the Daily Scrum.

How flexible are agile Scrum rules?
Nowhere in the document does it say the Daily Scrum must be done standing up, yet it is quite common place for Scrum teams to set this rule and take it seriously.

"We definitely stand up physically. It keeps the meeting short and people are not as likely to diverge off-topic," said consultant Aleksey Dmitriyev at the meeting. He admitted, however, that when meetings included remote members and calls were held early to handle time zone differences, standing wasn't required.

The rules state that the meeting should be held daily, and though his team was initially skeptical, Dmitriyev told them to trust him. "There are some rules you can't bend," he said.

A rule that seasoned ScrumMaster Eric Goldgeier never breaks is the one that says the meeting must be held to 15-minutes. Often, he said, the conference room must be vacated. Sometimes this means not everyone gets a chance to give status. The team must be self-organizing and figure out how to give status more quickly next time.

Someone in the meeting asked: "Do people feel frustrated if they can't say what they need to say in their 2 minutes?" Responding, Goldgeier said that it was the Scrum Master's responsibility to facilitate appropriately. If needed, the Scrum Master should log issues and make sure there's follow-up.

Are we taking Scrum rules too far?
As we chatted, I was reminded of my interview about scrum meeting with Chris York, a testing veteran. He had a bad experience with Scrum.

"I felt like I was in Kindergarten," York said, explaining that there were one dollar penalties for all kinds of trivial transgressions, including such things as being even two seconds late for a meeting, talking out of turn, drinking coffee, a cell phone ringing, sitting during a stand up meeting or deviating at all from the stand up script.

I told the group about York's experience, giving an example of how these rules can actually have the opposite effect from the intended purpose of team collaboration. Goldgeier said that the dollar penalty for transgressions is not the worst he's seen. "He's lucky they didn't make him sing," he said, chuckling. Goldgeier pointed out the problem: "They should have had the conversation about how things were going to be handled," emphasizing again that self-directed teams need to work together to agree on rules beyond those prescribed in Scrum and consequences of not following them.

Understanding why we have Daily Scrum rules
In my opinion, in order to have buy-in for the rules, we must understand their purpose and ensure they are meeting that intended purpose. In Martin Fowler's article, It's Not Just Standing Up: Patterns of Daily Stand-Up, he explains that daily stand-ups should:

  • Share commitment
  • Communicate daily status, progress, and plans to the team and any observers
  • Identify obstacles so that the team can take steps to remove them
  • Set direction and focus
  • Build a team

Fowler points out that, besides keeping the meeting short, physically standing up together creates more of a team feel, like a group huddle. He admits, however, that "The team must balance closeness with personal comfort zones. Even on a very trusting team, there is a point when people are standing too close for comfort."

While I see there can be some benefits to standing, I also see issues, obviously for distributed teams or for teams with team members who have physical disabilities. Must they endure the pain of standing, simply because of this rule? Will they feel less part of the team if pain prevents them from standing?

Adapting for the good of your Scrum Team
Agile environments are adaptive. To me, that means that each team needs to work together to decide on the rules they will be following, how much flexibility will be granted, and how the rules will be enforced. In my opinion, the many rules outlined in the ScrumGuide seem overly-prescriptive for a methodology which touts adaptability. However, they have been put in place for a reason; so before changing these rules or others that are common practice on Scrum teams, it would be a good idea to fully understand their purpose and weigh the pros and cons of making exceptions.

In the end, whether standing, sitting or assuming a yoga pose, the important thing is to fulfill the objectives of the Daily Scrum.


Yvette Francino joined the Application Development Media Group as Site Editor for SearchSoftwareQuality.com. She has over 20 years of experience in all phases of the software development lifecycle, including 11 years at IBM and 10.5 years at Sun Microsystems. She has held management positions in software development, quality assurance and customer operations, managing diverse workgroups from various geographies and cultures. She has a Masters of Science in Management/Project Management degree from Regis University, and a BS in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science from the University of CA, Davis. A proponent of distributed agile, Yvette facilitates a network for IT professional development called Beyond Certification. Yvette also enjoys writing, blogging and social networking. When she's not on her computer, she can usually be found spending time with her family, running or hiking on the beautiful trails of Boulder, Colorado.


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