A quick daily meeting to check the pulse of your project can be immeasurably helpful to everyone on the team. If you’re not careful, these quick daily meetings can easily turn into long sessions where everyone talks, not much is said, and even less is heard. One of the ways to encourage these meetings to be more efficient is to have them standing up.
Even though more and more teams are working remotely, the daily meeting is still often referred to as stand up. I work remotely, and participate in “stand up” every day: I’m just rarely standing. Most mornings I’m still wearing my pyjamas, or even less!
These days “stand up” is something that many teams practice. I’ve been on very few teams over the past decade that didn’t have a stand up every day, and in the few cases where they didn’t I strongly recommended it. Unfortunately, many teams don’t do stand up very well. I hate to see teams not realizing the full potential of the things they do, but I hate even more to see teams doing things that provide them no benefit at all.
I feel the same way about stand up that I do about testing. Doing stand up poorly is worse than not doing stand up at all. I find so much value in daily stand ups, though, that I want to help ensure that teams as many teams as possible are doing it well.
If it Doesn’t Work, Don’t Do It.
First, I want to point out that stand up may not be for everyone. Treating stand up meetings as a prescription is completely foolish. There are some teams that won’t realize any benefit from stand up, and those teams should stop wasting their time.
If your team has infallible communication, an office that buzzes with chatter about the things that are being worked on, or an online chat room that is constantly active and up to date, stand up probably isn’t necessary for you. There’s an easy way to tell if stand up isn’t right for your team: If most people on your team generally know what everyone else is working on, at any given time during a day, you might be wasting your time at stand up.
For the rest of you, keep reading.
Over time, definitions and meanings can get cloudy and confused, so I thought I would go back to the “horse’s mouth” to demonstrate where we’ve come from. To find out the origins of stand up, look no further than Stand Up Meeting on the C2 wiki.
You want everyone to know what’s going on, even if they weren’t there when something interesting happened. You want to know who’s got a problem you can help with, you want to get help if you need it. You need a forum to announce interesting upcoming events.
Ron Jeffries goes further and describes exactly how his team on the C3 project runs a standup.
Every day at a specified time (C3′s is 10 AM), everyone on the team (developers, customers, people passing by) stands up in a circle. Go around the circle and briefly describe what you’re working on, how it’s going, anything interesting you have discovered, any problems you are having.
Stand up came from simple roots. Go around the circle and say what you’re working on. Don’t account for hours; don’t re-iterate conversations that everyone was involved in. Simply state what you’re working on.
There are some great links on the C2 page, including some stand up anti-patterns. As always, C2 is a wealth of knowledge, and I expect you to click on anything interesting and read it. See you next month.
Punching the Clock
The most common stand up format I’ve experienced is “This is what I did yesterday, and this is what I’ll do today.” Sometimes a request for help will get thrown in, but not often. This is the format that I’ve experienced on nearly every team I’ve been involved with over the past several years. In fact, every single project I’ve worked on that has had remote members used this format.
Chances are this is the format your team uses. It is the 21st century equivalent of punching the clock. It’s adored by the bean counters and the micro-managers, but it’s not useful at all to your team. To your team, the people who work with you, what you did yesterday is almost universally useless. Why? Because you told them yesterday what you were working on then. As your teammate, I want to know what you’re working on right now, so I can infer which ways we might be able to help each other.
The worst part about this format is that it causes people, especially remote folks, to be defensive about how their days are spent. Long lists of mundane and trivial tasks are read. Sometimes you’ll hear things like “I didn’t get much done because I was in meetings all day yesterday.” That information does not do your team any good, and it’s demoralizing to have to say “I didn’t get any work done yesterday” even though sometimes it happens.
Work in Progress
Another format that I’ve encountered is to iterate over “work in progress”. That is, we opened Pivotal Tracker and talked about each of the open stories. The person currently assigned to that story explained the status and anything relevant that the team might want to hear.
This worked out rather well. It meant we were talking about what we were working on right now. We weren’t uselessly accounting for hours, and we weren’t talking about things our teammates didn’t care about like how many meetings we had yesterday.
It wasn’t perfect, though. We spent time talking about long-running or stories which probably didn’t need to be discussed, because we were iterating over every story. We often missed opportunities to talk about things we learned or other important bits that weren’t tied to a specific story. This format also gets cumbersome when you have a large number of stories in progress due to a slow QA process, or organizational blockers.
Optional Stand Up
Format isn’t the only problem with stand up today, but a poorly executed stand up will lead to other problems. If your team is punching the clock and trying to make it sound like they were busy yesterday, the rest of the team is going to tune out. If members aren’t getting value from stand up, they won’t feel that it’s important to be there. This is both a symptom of other problems, and a problem of its own.
Recently, I participated in a stand up in which a co-worker attended remotely while in bed sick. When I announced what I was working on, my sick teammate offered to email me some relevant documentation before tending to his ailments. On a day that would have been otherwise lost to illness, my co-worker was able to save me a considerable amount of time effectively making up for what would have otherwise been a lost day.
If you find that members of your team routinely miss stand up, or often have conflicting appointments or engagements, your stand up probably needs to be improved. Mandating that stand up is required isn’t an effective way to solve this problem. Simply making sure that stand up is valuable to everyone on your team will encourage them to join.
Stand up is easy when everyone’s in the same office. Simply stand in a circle, and everyone speaks after the person next to them. If your team is partly co-located, it’s a bit harder to do well. Do everyone on your team a favour and buy a proper conference phone. It’s really hard to be engaged in stand up when you can’t hear your teammates, or they can’t hear you. It’s also hard to know which order to go in, without visual cues, so it’s important for someone to take the lead and call names for each turn.
If your team is remote, you’ll need some tools to help out. Skype is a simple choice if your entire team is remote. It lacks visual cues, so you’ll still have to appoint someone to keep order. There are free phone conference services, if you want to be able to call in from a telephone. There aren’t many video conferencing solutions that can support an entire team, but I’ve had good luck with Adobe Connect.
If your team is all located in one office, I would still recommend having a conference line available for days when people can’t be in the office. This enables people to contribute even when they can’t be in the office.
How to Stand Up
I’ve been over a lot of the issues that many folks have with getting the most value out of stand up, so I’d like to close by suggesting how to get the most from your daily meeting.
As with most things, the best thing you can do with stand up is to keep it simple. Don’t spend time on bits that aren’t useful to the other members on your team. If you need help, ask for it. If you learned something that might help others, share it. And if you can provide specific help to someone else, offer it. Your status should be present tense.
Just answer this question: “What am I working on right now?”