Tony Pitale

How I've Been Running Email Standups

Lots of people do standups, but most frequently they're done synchronously; either in-person or over video chat of some variety. After reading this post from the development team at Treehouse on why it might be best to do them asynchronously I decided to try out their ideas with my small team.

As suggested in the blog post, we set up Google Groups. In order to send the email from my own account to kick things off, I had to tweak some settings. First I had to enable sending as the group email from my own account. Then, in order to actually receive my own emails, I had to tweak a setting in Google Groups. See the instructions below.

And of course, since I have stuff to do every day and I'm a "good" developer :-), I automated the sending of the email with a little cron and a ruby script.

All in all, this as been a huge success for us. Our favorite benefits:

  • reduce this mundane but useful task to something I can do when it's convenient to take the time
  • do not pull me out of my own work for a standup
  • do not start other discussions not related to standup
  • link to PRs, commits, and code in Github directly from the email
  • it's all logged and searchable by the project/product managers

Lots of win, there. We were happy to find even more reasons to stick with this approach than are given in the initial Treehouse post.

The only downside we could come up with is that we're taking away a time when we get to socialize. But this barely counts. First, we don't want to use the standup time for socializing and building camaraderie. And second, if standup is the only time your team is socializing, you'll want to make an attempt to correct that.

Make it Happen

At a high level, getting it set up involves:

  • Create a new google group.
  • Go to settings in your gmail to allow you to send mail as the email for the google group.
  • Confirm that you have access to that email by clicking the link.
  • Put the mail script somewhere in your path.
  • Set cron to trigger it when you would like to have your standup.

Google Group Settings

Inside groups > settings

  • Information > general information: Allow posting by email.
  • Information > Content control: Archive messages to the group.
  • Information > Web view customization: Allow users to highlight code.
  • Permissions > Posting permissions: Post As The Group should include Owners and Managers

The Ruby Script

standup_email ruby script gist

Personally, I put this in my home directory .bin, and call it with the absolute path. Note: If you have two-factor authentication turned on for your Gmail, you'll need to generate a token to use.


    0 10 * * 1,2,3,4,5 /bin/zsh -ic '/Users//.bin/standup_email' > /tmp/standup.log 2>&1

I've been running standups this way for 3+ months, and everyone on the team loves it. Surprisingly, everyone still knows what other people on the team are working on. Perhaps even more so, now!

I can't vouch for how this will scale to a team of greater than 5 people, so YMMV. I do expect there is an upper limit to how well this will work on large teams. That being said, it's probably the same constraint on time that holding a large synchronous standup would have anyway.

So please, give this a try, and see how it works for your team. Tweet at me with your results, I would love to know how it goes for you!


If you'd rather pay for this sort of functionality, and not mess with Google groups, you should check out iDoneThis.

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