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Tips on having a stellar standup

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In the book “Death by Meeting,” Patrick Lencioni  points out that we often take a meeting and bloat it so that it no longer accomplishes the original intent. I’ve heard enough tales about one-hour standups to know that this is relevant here as well.  The fix is to recognize, and stay true to, the original purpose and ensure that everything else is attended to in its own time & space.

Use the standup to make a plan for the day

So, what’s the purpose of a standup meeting?

No matter what industry you’re in, the daily standup is used to make a plan for the day. You read that right… standups aren’t just for software developers.  Standups are great because they help us focus each day and everyone at the meeting becomes an instant accountability buddy. I can tell you that my workouts at the gym would be much less productive if I didn’t have one of those with me. Its easy for focus to meander at work too. Knowing that you have an accountability buddy that will know if things have progressed helps us stay motivated to push forward. You can see standups in retail stores, restaurants, or anywhere that needs to work together to achieve a common goal. That leads to my second tip:

Invite people who are working towards the same goal

If you invite a group of people who aren’t on the same mission then your standup is almost guaranteed to turn into a status report. I know some of you are thinking “wait, my team isn’t working on the same mission!” You could be right! I’ve seen “teams” who are nothing more than individuals who are working in close proximity. No matter what your org chart says, standup with the people that are going to understand your challenges and help you solve them because it benefits your mutual goal. If you can’t do that, don’t do a standup – use your board to relay status.

Focus on completing work, not status

If you are spending time delivering status, you’re not making a plan for the day – you’re fondly remembering the pastf. Instead, discuss cards on the board in order from right to left.  Talk about:

  • What should finish up today and any potential challenges you forsee
  • What is blocked AND stale, why and how people can help get it moving again
  • Any work in progress that’s not on the board (and a commitment to get it on the board today)

Here’s a great excerpt from the post “It’s Not Just Standing Up: Patterns for Daily Standup Meetings” on the blog of Martin Fowler authored by Jason Yip:

One of the team members steps up to talk about the card on the furthest right of the board, closest to the point of deployment. He’s still having some problems with the deployment script. Another team member suggests that she can help resolve that. The sequence continues from right-to-left, top-to-bottom, people describing what is happening with each of the work items, and others chiming in if they can help resolve obstacles. On the side, the team leader is recording the raised obstacles on the improvement board.

Leave this meeting with a list of who you’re going to talk about what, and when you’re going to do it.

Gather key info and monitor trends

The first thing to track is impediments. What impediments did you have today? How often do you have those specific impediments? Are they always in the same area in your work? This information can help you improve for the future. You don’t have to have long conversations… that can be left to a restrospective. But, this information should be surfacing and capturing it in the moment seems like the most reliable way not to miss anything. You can do something as simple as making tick marks under certain headings on a whiteboard or something more complicated with software and assigning various tags to reflect as much information as possible. Whatever you do, get the information so you can benefit from it later.

The second thing to consider tracking is team mood. Happy teams do better work. Understanding the mood of your team can be a good leading indicator of future success or challenge. A previous team I was on used a “drama-meter” to track how stressed they were using a whiteboard and marker. Some teams use kiwi dials to track the happiness of their teams. Whatever way you do it, get a sense of the day, and if you can track it to see longer trends, even better. Compare these trends to the

Keep the meeting short enough that you’d be comfortable standing up

I don’t care if you actually stand up… you might be sitting in front of monitors scattered around the globe! But, if you were in the same room having this meeting and you wouldn’t stand up because the meeting is too long, you should re-evaluate what’s happening. Skip the status report. Keeping conversations in check. Remember that the goal of a standup is to make a plan for the day, not solve the day’s problems. The team can help each other keep this focus. If you see people start solving problems, suggest that they make a plan to discuss at a specific time during the day to keep the work moving. Also, if you’re doing a lot of pairing or have other reasons why someone would have already covered the work you are working on, and you have nothing else to add, you don’t have to talk. You should be able to have an effective standup in about 15 minutes even with large groups. The key is to stay true to the goal of the meeting.

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1 Comment

  1. A good blog, enjoyed the read, good advice

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