Synchronous vs Asynchronous Daily Stand-ups

Which “works” better for your team?

Yang
Yang
Jun 22, 2019 · 4 min read

What are daily stand-ups?

Several management methodologies, such as “Agile”, prescribe the use of daily “stand-up” meetings as a means for the team to track progress and for team members to keep each other up to speed. These daily meetings are usually scheduled to last <15 mins (although this isn’t always the case). While, “stand ups” have traditionally been done standing up in order to promote more efficient meetings (apparently people don’t like standing up for more than 15 minutes 🤷🏻‍♂️) this is no longer the case, with some teams taking more extreme measures such as planking through their daily stand-up.

Commonly, the 3 questions answered by each team member at a daily stand-up are:

  1. What did you do yesterday?

Seems simple doesn’t it? but as always there’s more to stand-ups than meets the eye…

What is the difference between sync and async?

Owing to the prominence of daily stand-ups in the tech world, I think it is fitting to look at the definition of these words in the context of digital communication. Merriam-webster defines synchronous or sync and asynchronous or async as:

Definition of synchronous

5: of, used in, or being digital communication (as between computers) in which a common timing signal is established that dictates when individual bits can be transmitted and which allows for very high rates of data transfer


Definition of asynchronous

2: of, used in, or being digital (see DIGITAL sense 4) communication (as between computers) in which there is no timing requirement for transmission and in which the start of each character is individually signaled by the transmitting device

Pros and Cons of sync and async

Sync

The more traditional sync stand-up is not without its benefits. Being sync, often means that a greater amount of information can be transferred, in that people can probe on points and even solve problems on the spot. Something that can never be replaced with non-face-to-face meetings is the human element. Daily sync stand-ups are great for developing a positive team culture and for fostering strong relationships between team members.

However, sync stand-ups also bring a range of disadvantages. The primary complaint with sync stand-ups is that they can often drag on for longer than the allocated <15 minutes (hence why some teams started planking!). As to why this happens, there are several causes. Sometimes, people start 1–1 conversations during a daily stand-up, meaning everyone else just stands around listening to a conversation that should instead be taken offline. Another primary driver is the tendency for people to go off on tangents or provide inappropriate levels of detail. The entire team often doesn’t need to know the finer details of any challenges you are facing, but for the person facing the problem, they often feel that they can’t explain the problem without detailing all of it. Sync stand-ups are also incompatible with the rising trend towards remote or distributed teams, where members are often in different time-zones. Having people attending daily stand-ups at 10pm is probably not an outcome you want to be aiming for.

Async

Async stand-ups also bring a range of benefits for teams. First and foremost, whether you are using Slack or a specialised solution such as TribePulse, the tendency for async stand-ups to also mean that a record is kept. This has clear benefits both in terms of helping people keep on top of things, but also comes in handy during performance reviews! Another benefit of async stand-ups is that they tend to be better structured. This comes from both the fact that individuals are able to edit/reflect, as well as from the structure provided by software used for async stand-ups (e.g. TribePulse). By definition, async stand-ups also mean that people can do them when it suits them — blocking out periods of time for deep and focused work becomes possible. Putting these advantages together, generally means you are looking at overall time-savings.

However, async stand-ups also have disadvantages. The key factor here is lag, or the inability to resolve issues on the spot, whether that be challenges faced by team members or asking for more information on what someone has worked on. The other key disadvantage is the potential loss of team culture, whereby the lack of face-to-face interaction negatively impacts camaraderie among the team. Finally, an issue faced by some teams switching to async stand-ups is making sure all team members actually complete the stand-up daily. When the social pressure of attending meetings disappears, people can start to slack off. However, having a regular schedule followed by regular follow-ups on those that don’t complete daily stand-ups to emphasis their importance often remedies this issue.

Conclusion

Although an unsatisfying conclusion, this is one of those situations where the old adage “why not both?” applies. What I mean by this, is that sync and async stand-ups can be mixed and matched to get the best of both worlds. Perhaps, your team may work better with async stand-ups from Monday to Thursday, with a sync stand-up on Friday to cap the week off? Or maybe your team works better the other way around, with sync stand-ups daily, and a weekly async stand-up to wrap-up the week? At the end of the day, what “works” best for your team will depend on your team. If you aren’t currently doing both, why not try a combination with your team and test what works?

If you wish to learn more about how to engage your remote workforce, we invite you to check out our other content by joining the More signal, less noise Tribe.

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