Why Your Team Should Try Asynchronous Daily Stand-ups

Yet another way Slack can improve team communication.

Several agile software development methodologies prescribe the use of daily “stand-up” meetings (usually time-boxed for 15min) where each member of a development team can keep each other up-to-date by answering 3 questions:

Simple right? However, anyone thats been practicing agile development for a significant amount of time will agree… it can be a bit more involved. Stand-ups can go over time due to large team size or long-winded answers (i.e. tangents). They can be difficult to coordinate if people are working from home/offsite or in a different timezone. There’s no history of the discussion for new or existing team members to reference at a later time. Further, many organizations with several teams use a “scrum of scrums” (meeting about meetings) approach to propagate information to other interested parties.

Some teams have resorted to planking in order to keep stand-ups on track and prevent any unnecessary discussion.

Long story short, conducting consistently smooth synchronous stand-ups can be a challenge.

What are synchronous stand-ups?

Synchronous stand-ups are probably the type you’re most familiar with. At a specific time of the day, a project team will stop what they’re doing and get together so each person can answer the 3 questions mentioned above. If anyone has any “blockers” specified by answering the last question, a subsequent discussion may take place after the stand-up (or sometimes in the middle of stand-up 😬).

Please tell me this is an all-hands meeting and not a stand-up!

Agile development suggests that team sizes are no greater than 9 people (ideal size being 5–8). For large organizations stickin’ to the agile code, that means there may be multiple synchronous stand-ups happening throughout the day. But what happens when:

With a few of these questions in mind… lets consider asynchronous stand-ups.

For those not familiar with the difference between asynchronous and synchronous, think about the difference between a face-to-face conversation and a sending an email. Moreover, consider the motivations for using either technique in the work place. If you have an urgent request and you’re in need of an immediate answer, which one would you choose? What would you choose if you’re okay with hearing a reply at some time later?

Synchronous is used to describe a sequence of events that happen one after another, with the beginning of each step dependent on the completion of the previous step. A face-to-face conversation is an example of synchronous communication. Person A speaks and Person B gets the message immediately.

Asynchronous (or async) is often used to describe a non-blocking sequence of events. Person A sends an email and Person B receives the email in their inbox, however, both parties are free to do other things in the meantime. When ready, Person B can check their email and see a message from Person A sitting in their inbox.

What are asynchronous stand-ups?

Asynchronous stand-ups are stand-ups that take place over time in a non-blocking manner. This is usually done with tools such as GeekBot for Slack. At a specific time of the day, team members are notified and prompted to answer those 3 stand-up questions via Slack. Thats pretty much it. However, there are several key benefits when compared to the synchronous version:

While there are several benefits to implementing asynchronous stand-ups, there are a few reasons to be cautious:

One of the cool things about agile is that its designed to handle change and encourages experimenting with ways to improve process. Give asynchronous stand-ups a try for a sprint or 2 and see how it goes!

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JavaScripter, Designer, and Gamer.

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