An Abridged History of Scrum Standups and Agile Project Management

Have you ever wondered where daily scrum standups started? Or why yours are starting to feel more like mindless meetings than productivity-boosters?

In this post you’ll get a short history of the daily standup trend—and how to make standups more effective for your team.

Today’s standups can be traced back to World War I.

Military leaders used them to minimize distractions when time-sensitive decisions needed to be made, according to a paper published decades later in The Journal of Applied Psychology. In the 1999 study of 555 undergraduate students, University of Missouri professors set out to determine if the same approach used by soldiers could work for group decision making.

They found that meetings were 34% longer when participants were sitting down. No big surprise there. We’ve all experienced how challenging it is to settle in and get comfortable when standing.

What did surprise researchers was the fact that standing participants came to the same conclusions as those in the sit-down groups. They just got there a lot faster.

Next came agile project management.

Two years after the undergrad experiment, a small group of software developers authored the Manifesto for Agile Software Development. Their “agile” method compressed projects into short pieces and prioritized fast and flexible response to change over following a preset plan.

The proclamations were quickly circulated and widely adopted. Today, anyone working in the SaaS industry knows exactly what it means to be agile.

Soon “agile development” and “standups” went hand-in-hand.

Within a decade, thousands of teams—mostly software developers, although some spanned other industries—replaced status meetings with daily Slack standups.

Participants had just a few minutes each to update colleagues on three things:

  • What did you accomplish yesterday?
  • What are you planning to do today?
  • What challenges stand in your way?

Often this format worked. Sometimes it didn’t. As with any trend, there were kinks to work out as businesses adopted and adapted the method. By 2012, one thing was certain:

Daily scrum standups were here to stay.

It didn’t matter if the team developed software, made sales calls or offered consulting. If a company was on the cutting edge of productivity, it was using standups.

But then…

Many of these same companies started letting employees work from home. Trends like “telecommuting” and “flex schedules” gave way to full-on remote work. It not only offered employees the ability to work from home, but empowered employers to hire the best talent possible regardless of location.

Water coolers were replaced by online chat tools and conference rooms gave way to video conferencing.

Suddenly, everyone was sitting down again.

This presented new challenges. How could team members outside of the office stay engaged with those working in it? How would managers stay updated on projects and progress when they couldn’t physically see where and when employees were working? And how was everyone going to stay in sync?

Standups were no longer a reliable option—not unless you wanted in-office employees standing in a half-circle while the other half awkwardly participated via Skype or conference calls.

Time zones became an issue, as did mismatched schedules when team members were given freedom to choose their own work hours. It became much more difficult to maintain the structured standups that can keep a team truly agile.

That’s why we created standups software.

As our own startup struggled to coordinate and communicate in a fluid way, we knew there had to be a better approach for modern remote teams. When we created Jell, it was out of sheer frustration: How could we get everyone in sync? Was there a way to stay updated on what everyone was working on? Could we still identify and resolve challenges quickly?

That’s when we entered the era of online standups.

This new system is being built to combine the best features of daily standups with agile philosophies and remote work best practices. It’s designed to be simple for anyone to share what they’re working on and what they’re struggling within just a few minutes each day—without adding yet another meeting to the calendar and interrupting the flow of the workday.

Of course, there are always challenges to overcome. With remote teams still in their infancy, we have a lot to learn.

But if we work together and share best practices as we discover them, the tools and technologies being developed today can become another part of the standup success stories of tomorrow.

Run your daily standups online with Jell! Get started today for Free!

Unite your team with daily standups, make progress visible, and reach goals faster—all in minutes a day.