Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Late to the standup, pay a fee! (or not?)

In my last company we realized something very quickly. If the standup meeting is only 15 minutes long, then anyone who is 5 minutes late probably causes the meeting to extend by 30% while we repeat stuff. If we aren't repeating stuff for the late person, then you have to question how engaged that person is in the team.

With that in mind, we started complaining about lateness over 1 or 2 individuals... one of which was the PO. His initial solution was to start without him. We poked at this and it became "meet without me". This turned into our marginalization of his input, which degraded to major problems during sprint review because the customer (PO) wasn't on the same page as the team.

So, we agreed to make this marriage work and the PO said he'd make an effort.

The cycle started over. He always had excuses. This meant that other people started riding his coat-tails and coming late too. Eventually the standup was a mess because it wasn't predictable. People who were on time got punished by those who were late (and didn't respect the team).

How did we solve it? We added a fine. Now, Foo wrote a great blog post about how this will backfire. Once you put a price on something, it's valued a different way. Sure enough, our PO threw $50 in the goldfish bowl and stated "That will cover me for the month and buy pizza for the team" as if he was doing something good.

New rule... $1 / day for being late, fee doubles for consecutive days.
Outcome: PO is present every other day and buys pizza for the team every month or so. This was a compromise everyone could live with.


  1. Have the standup in the PO's office :)

    But seriously, at my last job, we had the standup at 8:45. Those who were there would then go on a quest as a group for those who were not, and we'd often end up having the standup right in the office of the last one we found. We all worked on the same floor in the same area, so this was effective.

    After the third one on one where the problems of missing or coming late are addressed, it's time to replace the broken part.

  2. Great idea... agreed on the broken part comment!

  3. I like the idea of the doubling for consequitive lateness. However I think it's still placing way too little value on the cost being paid by all who were on time when one person is late.

    The book Freakonomics talks about this kind of thing. The 'late fee' gives someone the freedom to not feel guilty for being late. So if it's 'reasonable' then people just pay it and are late and don't care. It's a cheap cost to them to just be able to do what they want and not care about the impact on others. So if the price is any kind of token amount, it can actually backfire. Bigtime.

    So the fee has to be high enough that the offenders see the true 'cost' to others of their being late.

    Consider a 6 person team, you're burning 5 minutes of people's work time for each minute one person is late. That's a direct cost to the productivity of the team, and the company as a whole. A dollar is putting way too low of a price on that. $5/minute would be a lot closer to the value of the time of all the other team members that's being wasted by the late one. Yeah it's 'high' but it's also fully justifyable and serves as an eye-opener that makes folks think about the impact of their actions on others. And having to look at it that way can perhaps start to turn around selfish attitudes where people are more concerned about themselves than the team as a whole.

  4. Chuck-

    Totally agree, this is the same study mentioned in Foo's article that I linked to. The doubling factor handles repeat offenders but a higher fee puts more value on it up front. The token value doesn't work.

  5. Interesting. One of my teams has a late-to-meeting fine and loves it. It's $1 per minute, plus mockery. It works well because everybody involved really wants to be there on time, and this is their way of holding themselves accountable to their shared standard.

    If a team were still having trouble, I'd wonder what the deeper issues were. When teams I coach are running well, the product managers are vital parts of the team, and have strong incentives to participate. Your description of the disengaged product manager makes me think there's a feedback loop broken somewhere.

  6. William-

    You are actually right. When I was at that company and we went agile, we trained the tech group, then the QA and analysts. It wasn't until much later we trained the PO's. This led to many problems like this because they weren't used to needing to be accessible and involved on a daily basis.

    Classic anti-pattern! I learned a lot from it, so did the company.

  7. Is doing the standup as a JIT event not possible? Can a team not adapt, or must it do standups on a pre-determined schedule?

  8. Scott-

    I've found that there is a huge psychological advantage with a fixed standup schedule. When it is random (time or place or people), it tends to degrade. When it is fixed, it happens... and people are so in tune with it that they know signs of problems. They hold each other accountable to staying in tune with everyone. It is one of the few things that I hold on to as predetermined.

    I'd be curious what triggers your team defines to invoke the JIT standup.

  9. A friend's team has implemented something similar for all their meetings. If you're late:
    -in the morning, you bring donuts for the team (of 9) the following day.
    -in the afternoon, you throw a pizza party later in the week.

    It's like what you've got going on, but a little stiffer penalty, and from what I've heard, it works pretty well.