Scene 1: there is one person talking in the room. Nobody is looking at him. Everybody else -- except me, because I'm busy observing them -- is staring at or futzing with his phone. The audible conversation is taking place between the one person talking in the room and one offsite guy on the Polycom, ignored by everyone else. I've also seen this happen with two live persons talking and the rest staring at their phones.
Scene 2: the guy on the phone just will not stop talking. He does not seem to register explanations or clarifications from others. He does not, of course, see the others rolling their eyes or pounding their heads on the table in frustration. This seems to be a phone-related disease, because the next day the same guy who wouldn't shut up might come onsite and be rolling his eyes at another long-winded caller.
Scene 3: we're almost at the end of our hour-long "15 minute" standup. People could not resist having extended discussions pertinent to their own work. Those who were exasperated by the interminable conversations also contribute to the meeting's length when it came to their turn to give their respective updates.
You might argue that these are not properly done daily standups, and I agree. But I suggest there is something about the nature of the daily scrum such that without herculean discipline it tends to dysfunction. Think a moment about what you are supposed to do at this meeting: tell everybody about what you did, what you will do, and what is blocking you. You, you, you: it's inherently selfish. It's a meeting to discuss things of interest to almost nobody else. In most other engineering meetings, people come together to discuss one thing that they are all concerned with. The daily scrum is the polar opposite.
This characteristic of the daily scrum is what leads to the dysfunctional scenes I described earlier. When one person gives his update to the manager, his update is usually of interest to nobody else. This explains scene 1. People on the phone have the advantage of being able to do something else, so they ignore the rest of the meeting until they give their own update. Unfortunately, they may not appreciate the fact that onsite members do not have that advantage and are trapped in the meeting until it ends. This explains scene 2. Each person would like to discuss his own issue at length -- it's natural -- but since everybody gets a turn this stretches out the meeting, leading to scene 3.
The daily scrum serves a need for agile micromanagement, but I wonder if there is a more effective way to do this. Consider this: if you trap 8 team members in a room for half an hour daily, you are wasting enough work hours every other day to give one team member a day off. Isn't there a better way? What if we do something like the following?
- Set up an IM group chat room for the team.
- Every morning, within a 5 minute window, have everybody type in their update.
- People read each other's updates, and those interested either continue the conversation or arrange to meet separately to follow up.
- After 5 minutes, everybody can log off and go do real work.