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  • Writer's pictureSavita Ferguson

Standup Meetings

Standup meetings are a quick, regular sync that enables a self-organizing team.

Every word in that definition has importance:

  • Quick - Many teams keep this as an agenda-less meeting where individuals speak in a round robin fashion. Those can very easily drag on. Make sure your meeting is efficient. And efficient doesn't mean force it to fit within 15 minutes - efficient means make sure there is value to everyone there in discussing whatever you choose to discuss.

  • Regular - Cadence matters. If only that it allows team members to plan their lives, or focus periods around it - that already makes the predictability worth it. But there's also a bit of psychological push that you get with boundaries - if you know you'll have to tell your teammates your level of progress, you instinctively try a little bit harder the closer that meeting gets.

  • Self-Organizing - Standup meetings are not status meetings. I cannot stress that enough. They are meetings which enable your team to be self-organizing. This means that the important things to discuss aren't necessarily what you did yesterday and what you'll do today; but rather what's blocking you, what new information did you discover, what decision did you make that you think others need to know?

  • Sync - Standup meetings are most effective when they allow team members to know what their next steps are. For this reason, your team members have to be there - both physically and mentally.

So, what do you do if ....

The meeting doesn't really yield self-organizing outcomes:

  • Do your team members really know what the meeting is for? Agile ceremonies are so commonplace now that individuals sometimes just go through the motions without actually honing in on the value of the ceremony itself. I'd start by making sure everyone is on the same page about what they would find valuable to get out of a standup meeting and include a reminder about the moving-us-forward expected outcome.

  • Are the right people in the meeting? I'm an advocate of letting others join your standup meeting iff they'll add or gain value from being there. Think about it, if you invite a an individual from a team that's blocking you to join your standup, that thing that's blocking you can get resolved in that quick meeting - instead of having to create another followup meeting. Of course this only works if the thing to resolve doesn't require too much discussion. But I've found tons of issues resolved sooner if we get out of the mindset of having standup be such a sacred team members only time, and instead make sure we're having the right individuals to facilitate self-organization.

It has become a status meeting:

  • Is that a bad thing or is that actually what would be a good way for your team to use this time? I've worked with some wonderful team members who were so very in-tune with what each other was working on that most of the issues/ blockers/ new information etc. would be discussed via asynchronous means even before their standup meeting. This meeting was more for social purposes than anything else, and in their case that was a good thing!

  • Are the wrong people in the meeting? Sometimes product managers / engineering managers attend standup in the "chicken" fashion. While there's nothing inherently wrong with this, if these individuals are not privy to your team's other regular communication mechanisms the meeting can easily turn into a fill-them-in dialogue. Consider having the scrum master fill them in separately instead of individuals on the team feeling as though they need to repeat things the rest of the team already knows.

  • How's the trust? Do you have an odd-one-out team member who might be struggling more than the rest? Sometimes that desire to give a long status update is coming from a deeper rooted problem. Handle that.

Team members don't show up:

  • The first thing I'd do is find out why they aren't showing up - rule out the obvious: this is an anomaly because of something personal, they've got a conflicting meeting at the same time etc.

  • They find the meeting pointless. Make sure you know what they are looking for in this meeting and why it hasn't met their needs. Sometimes we get stuck a psychological pattern of thinking something sucks and avoiding it instead of trying to make the situation better. Help them.

  • Are they focusing instead? Different individuals have certain times of day when they are most productive and meetings at that time should be avoided, so they can get their best work done instead. Make sure your team members think about when actually would be a good time for a standup - I recommend right after lunch, as it's a time of day that most team members are in (and preserves their ability to start late/ finish early); and it is right after you were doing a different task and doesn't interrupt focus.

  • They're avoiding the rest of the team members. This calls for a retro. It makes sense to talk to the individual 1-1 about this, but it's highly likely that the other team members have noticed as well and so I'd advise getting everyone together to discuss what's going on. It could be that this team member feels left out somehow, perhaps they're struggling with imposter syndrome or it could be that there's something else other team members are doing during standup meetings that they'd prefer to avoid.

Standup meetings take more than 15 minutes:

  • Is it a useful meeting? If all attendees are finding it useful and you're being efficient, then it doesn't really matter how long it takes right? Remember that 15 minute idea was just guidance not a rule. Your team will differ depending on how large your team is, but also it is likely to vary day to day too.

  • Would team members benefit from a visual reminder of what you're there to discuss? Perhaps have the following kinds of questions visible somewhere:

    • Do you have any blockers?

    • Are you unsure of/ need to double check anything?

    • Did you discover anything that you need to report (for example that your delivery will take longer than expected)

    • Did you make any decisions that others need to be aware of?

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