Black Swan Farming

The cargo cult daily standup

Sometimes, it’s so easy to identify patterns of slow delivery, marginal value and poor quality in systems, it’s almost criminal that they have persisted at all. To a seasoned, knowledgeable observer, there is the distinct whiff of imminent failure.

All too often, these bad smells arise when you see the cargo cult adoption of lean-agile practices coupled with abuse by pointy-haired bosses. A kanban board, daily standup and an “agile process” does not make a team Agile.

Here’s an example of one of the classic anti-patterns (from a great list of 16 ways to torture developers) by Andrew C. Oliver:

11. The faux-scrum daily standup meeting

There’s a special level of hell reserved for the worst sinners. It’s known as the daily scrum meeting for management status updates, where everyone feels compelled to talk for at least five to six minutes, not to convey important developments, but to communicate to management that they’re busy doing stuff and should stay employed. The meetings inevitably have 12 or more people in them, the vast majority of whom don’t need to be present. They run for 30 to 45 minutes or more (a real scrum should take about five to six minutes), and everyone not speaking spaces out. Worse, no one does any work before these meetings because they know the context switch is coming. After the meeting, well, lunch is in another hour anyway, so why start anything hard now? Basically these meetings cost your team their entire morning, poison morale, and accomplish nothing. Learn to do agile right or cancel the meeting.

If your daily scrum or standup smells like this you have two options (as Dan Rough once reminded me, many moons ago):
1. Change where you work
or,
2. Change where you work