Daily standup

September 07, 2020. Written by Yves Gurcan.

You probably heard about Agile and Scrum. Maybe you said to yourself that it wasn’t for you. Fair enough!

The beauty of these methodologies is that you don’t necessarily have to go all-in to reap the benefits of a better workflow. Don’t feel like hiring a Scrum master yet? Retrospectives seem like a waste of time to you? Ok. Why don’t we start with something small but which will have a huge impact on your day-to-day work life: stand-ups.

What is a stand-up meeting? To put it very simply, it’s a recurring work meeting where all participants share 3 things: What they did since the last stand-up. What they will do until the next stand-up. The blockers that are preventing them to progress on a particular task.

Despite the name, stand-ups don’t have to be funny (insert comedy drum punchline sound here). It’s probably better if they aren’t, actually, but feel free to crack a joke, especially on Monday morning 😉.

Stand-ups don’t have to happen every day either. Some teams are more comfortable with meetings every other day, twice a week, or even once a week. Doing a stand-up more than once a day might be overkill. Your teammates need some time to dig into the problem they’re solving and hopefully you can trust that they will communicate if they are encountering new obstacles throughout their day. The frequency of these meetings should probably be discussed as a team.

There’s no need to stand during the meeting either, really. Especially on a remote video call! If you’re doing stand-ups in person, though, it might be best to gather in some sort of circle. Either by somebody’s desk or in a conference room where the table isn’t in the way or, even comfier, in a lounge area with sofas and chairs. Nice!

Meeting in a circle is important because each participant takes a turn to talk about what they did, what they will do, and blockers. Typically, one person volunteers to start and then the person next to them (clockwise or counterclockwise, depending on your preference) takes a turn, until we reach again the teammate who spoke first. One of the points of stand-ups is that the meeting isn’t run by somebody in particular. The stand-up should be a one-to-many relationship (where the person who is talking is sharing the information with everybody) instead of a one-to-one relationship (where each person in the circle is only talking to another person in particular). In other words, it is not recommended to have the meeting centered around the team lead or the Scrum master. This nuance plays actually a big role in giving your teammates the means to be more self-sufficient and involved. If you’re meeting over Zoom, for example, you can either ask your teammates to volunteer one after another until everybody has spoken, or you can ask the teammate who last spoke to designate who goes next.

Having a TV screen, an ultra-wide monitor in sight of all the participants, or somebody share their screen is also a huge visual aid for the whole team to follow what the person currently speaking is referring to. But that will only be useful if you have a tool like Jira or Asana to keep track of tickets and issues that the team is working on.

“Who participates in stands-up?” you might ask. Well, the short answer is: everybody! Stand-ups typically happen at the team level. Developers, designers, DevOps, product owners, team leads… if you want to maximize communication, you will greatly benefit from having all co-workers focusing on the same project to gather together every day. Having guests who can be particularly useful on a pressing issue might also be super helpful.

How long is the meeting? Don’t worry! Stand-ups are meant to be short in nature. Fifteen minutes is a standard amount of time but it’s also normal if it goes over. If it constantly lasts more than 30 minutes, though, you might want to think differently about either the structure of your team (too big?) or the dynamic of the stand-up. If a particular conversation becomes too detailed or the participant is rambling, scheduling a meeting with 2 or 3 attendees could make more sense than keeping the whole team captive about the problem.

Tardiness is a big deal. A stand-up is the best way for the whole team to be aware of what is going on with their teammates. Being late is utterly disrespectful as it may convey the message that the person doesn’t care about the rest of the team. Even worse, they might waste their teammates’ time by asking them to repeat what they said earlier. Please don’t let that kind of behavior happen regularly.

Starting too early can also be problematic for the same reasons. Make sure to wait that everybody is here before starting the routine to avoid communication gaps. Nothing wrong about asking how your teammates are doing, though, and tell them the amazing hike you did last weekend.

So, I told you about the what and the how of stand-ups, but what about the why?

I have sprinkled some of the reasons that make stand-ups a powerful ritual for your team: It promotes self-sufficiency as well as good and efficient communication. With a 15-min time commitment, you will gain much more visibility on what your team is doing, thus giving you the right tools to alleviate pain points and make your teammates’ life easier. Streamlining this process will make stand-ups a routine that kicks off the day in great conditions.

You already adopted stand-ups? Excellent! It might be the right time to reflect a little more on this meeting, then. Are stand-ups giving you the information you need to help your team? Are participants mindful of everybody’s time? Are there extended periods of time where you’re in the dark about possible problems that are hindering your team? If one of your teammates is not present at the meeting, does the stand up run smoothly?