Programmers face plenty of ambiguity in their job, be it from all the variables they have to juggle or from all the clients who keep changing their expectations. So, to deal with this uncertainty, they have come up with several operational tools that make them more efficient, including scrum and standup meetings.
Because of their efficiency, these tools have become popular among professional circles, getting adopted by countless teams, plenty of which don’t have a single coder in them. For instance, standup meetings have proven to be a very powerful tool capable of bringing teams together and almost eliminating unnecessary redundancies.
With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at standup meetings and see how they can help your organization grow and excel.
So, what are standup meetings?
Also known as “daily scrums” or “huddles,” standups are regular meetings that bring together team members working on a certain project. These meetings are most common in teams that adopt Agile methodologies, and they help get all the team members on the same page and alert them to any possible issues facing one of the team members.
The main idea is that team members stand around in a room and share their progress on tasks they’ve been assigned as well as issues they’ve been facing. One clear case where this concept has come in handy in the restaurant industry, where standups are dubbed “line-ups”: Waiters can gather early and talk about the problems they’ve been facing at work before their shift begins. So, if one waiter had a particular problem with a certain type of customer the other day, they can bring this up and learn from more experienced waiters how to handle a similar situation next time around.
All that being said, standups should be short, no more than 10-15 minutes. To ensure this brevity, team members should be standing up during the meeting, which is where the process’s name comes from, the idea being that the discomfort of standing up will force members to cut things short as much as possible.
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How does a normal stand up meeting go?
To keep things simple, standups have a set structure that helps participating team members know what to expect:
Team members should stand in a circle, like a huddle, and get ready to share three main things:
- What they completed between the previous standup and this one?
- What current goals or objectives are they currently pursuing?
- What are the challenges that are preventing them from achieving the aforementioned goals and objectives?
2. Start sharing:
As each team member is sharing the above three main points (completed objectives, current goals, and challenges facing these goals), they should remember to try to keep things as succinct as possible. Not only are they on a strict timeline as the meeting is supposed to last for no more than 15 minutes, but they also have to account for their other teammates who have their own reports to share.
Consequently, each team member should only go through the main highlights; anything else should be explored after the standup. If one team member believes that they can help another member solve their challenges, this should be explored later, not during the standup.
3. Wrap things up:
Once each member has had their say, there should be a few extra minutes where team members can provide extra updates or ideas to the rest of the team. For example, a programmer working on a project can recommend to the rest of the team a certain update that may help the entire project. Once this suggestion is made, interested team members can approach our programmer about his idea after the standup is concluded.
As simple as this structure may seem, there are plenty of ways it can go wrong, something we will explore in-depth later on, but the one thing you should remember is that any challenges raised during a standup must be addressed head-on; otherwise, the standup would have been for nothing.
What are the benefits of standup meetings?
Standups first came into being to help software designers become more efficient and to do “twice the work in half the time.” Imagine for a second someone working on a certain task, feeling frustrated by an almost impregnable obstacle stopping them from completing the task. Think of all the time spent trying to fix that problem and finding an adequate solution.
Now, think of how much time could be saved if that same individual shared their problems with the group only to learn that someone else had encountered a similar problem earlier and had solved it. Gaining this knowledge from their colleagues could shave weeks off their learning curve, helping them save time and helping the company save money.
Another possible scenario is that one employee could be working hard on a task, putting in countless hours each day to finish it as fast as possible. Can you imagine how demoralized this employee would feel if they learned that, as a result of some miscommunication, one of their colleagues was also working on the same exact task and had already finished it, rendering the original person’s work redundant?
Worse still are the jobs and tasks that fall in-between the cracks because each team member is convinced that someone else is taking responsibility for them.
Mistakes like these can delay teams, frustrate their efforts, and cost companies money. The good news is that most of these issues can be avoided with the use of standups:
- Standups ensure that all team members have a shared understanding of the team’s goals:
When plenty of people are collaborating together within a team, they are bound to misunderstand each other every once in a while, and plenty of those times, the misunderstandings are a result of poor communication. This confusion leads to team members being unclear about the team’s overall goals, which can cause each member to stray into a different direction.
However, with standups, team members can keep revising their understanding of what the larger picture looks like. So, even if there were a misunderstanding at some point, this issue will be rectified by the next standup, and the end result of all of this is a team capable of coordinating their efforts and concentrating on a single objective with laser-like focus.
- Standups create a common pool of experience:
When a team pools all their knowledge together, making it available to anyone who needs it, not only does every member of the team become smarter, but the entire team also develops this hive mentality, nicknamed “supermind” by the author and MIT professor Thomas Malone, that makes them better at tackling problems than any single individual ever could.
- Standups help cement a team identity:
Ask anyone who’s played a team sport, and they’ll tell you that being part of a group and feeling that you belong to that group is one of the most satisfying feelings you can ever enjoy: It gives your efforts meaning and makes putting your back into a certain task all the more rewarding.
Similarly, when team members meet regularly, share their problems, and feel a sense of support from the other members, they will start to identify more strongly with the group and begin to feel that they are part of something bigger than themselves.
- Standups are ideal for fast-paced environments:
Teams that operate in fast-paced environments may have difficulty when it comes to communication; they are so busy trying to keep their heads above water that they can’t afford to waste time to solve problems together and troubleshoot issues while on the job. They may even be unable to offer constructive feedback to their fellow coworkers due to all the hustle and bustle.
However, by taking sometime early in their schedule, they may be able to communicate all the necessary information they need to get across and make sure that they are on the same page. This just helps further with the coordination of efforts and with the efficiency of the team.
How to best run a standup meeting?
If you decide to have a standup meeting in your organization, you should learn how to run one. Even though you might understand the basic structure, you still need to understand a few key principles to ensure that the meeting is a success.
You should organize the standup in a way that is best suited for your team and their personality. So, whereas some teams are comfortable answering questions directly, other teams might feel more comfortable working with a board.
Nevertheless, there are a few questions you should always ask yourself to better guide your efforts:
1. Who ought to attend the meeting?
Any project your team is working on must have numerous stakeholders interested in the outcome of your efforts, including marketers, upper management, project owners, and clients, and all these different stakeholders are interested in knowing how the project is progressing as well as how they can contribute to it.
This multitude of stakeholders can be problematic. On the one hand, having too many stakeholders translates to having too many reports that need to be filed, wasting valuable time trying to keep everyone up to speed. On the other hand, if you invite everyone with an interest in the project to a standup, things can get hectic and newcomers can be disruptive without meaning to.
Therefore, your best bet is to invite only those with a direct interest in the project and who have some awareness of what’s going on. You also want to notify them of how they should conduct themselves during the meeting beforehand to minimize the possibility that they disturb the flow of things.
You should know that standups aren’t the best way to report on the overall progress of a project; instead, they offer a sort of snapshot, an instantaneous picture of where things are at this very moment. If someone wishes to see the overall progress of the project, you should provide them with a specialized report that answers that very question rather than inviting them to the standup.
A different way of looking at things:
You can approach the question of who should attend differently. Instead of looking at the people attending the meeting, you might want to ask yourself which issues should be present at the meeting. Put differently, you can encourage your team to speak on behalf of the tasks that need to be completed as opposed to speaking on behalf of themselves.
In this manner, not every team member will get an opportunity to speak, but each work item will get discussed. By shifting the focus from the team to the work, the challenges are more likely to be met head-on and only the progress of the work is focused on.
2. What items should be discussed?
If you choose to take a people-centric approach, where each team member gets to speak about themselves and their progress, you might want to follow the three questions listed above:
- What was accomplished before this meeting?
- What will be accomplished after this meeting?
- What are the challenges standing in front of achieving the coming objectives?
Otherwise, if you don’t ensure your team members are focused, you risk having a meeting where individual participants meander and wander off, causing the entire meeting to have low energy and distracting participants that actually want to engage in problem-solving.
The questions above do not have to be answered in the above order. Your team members can tackle them in any way they like; they can even change the wording to get more excited about the entire process.
Jonathan Rasmussen, author of “The Agile Samurai,” suggests the following wording:
- What you did to change the world yesterday?
- How are you going to crush it today?
- How are you going to blast through any obstacles unfortunate enough to be standing in your way?
The wording of the individual question doesn’t matter so much as the actual answers provided by your team. At first, your team may offer information in an unstructured fashion, but with time, they will become proficient at succinctly giving valuable answers.
What if challenges aren’t being addressed properly?
In the event of having challenges that are raised but not resolved promptly, you can use what is known as an Improvement Board, which is a public board visible to all. You can raise challenges on the board as well as track the resolution of these problems.
You and your team members can update the board outside of the standup and can raise challenges anytime you are working. This helps you better prepare for the next standup and allows your team to raise challenges in the least confrontational way possible.
Nevertheless, you should make sure that the Improvement Board doesn’t devolve into a whining board where team members complain about challenges facing them, but nobody does anything to resolve these challenges.
3. What order should people talk in?
To ensure things go smoothly, you want your team members to know which order they should speak in. You can moderate this as the facilitator, but you want your team to self-organize, meaning they should know whose turn it is to speak without looking towards an outside authority figure.
There are several ways your team can arrange the order of speakers, and here are a few ideas to get you started:
- The last person to arrive has to speak first.
- A simple rule like round-robin can be followed.
- Your team members can pass a token, such as a ball, making the order of speakers unpredictable.
- The team can draw cards from a deck to determine the order.
4. Where should the meeting be held and when?
First off, you want the place where you hold your standups to be where the team does most of their work, which will make an Improvement Board within reach, among other things. Try to steer clear of meeting rooms as they may not give your team the right energy for this kind of meeting.
Wherever you choose to have your meetings, make sure that you schedule every consecutive meeting at the same place and at the same time. This will enable your team to have a sense of consistency and know when to expect the meetings, hence giving them a sense of ownership of the whole process. It will also make it easier for outside stakeholders to join the meeting if they so choose.
Keeping all of this in mind, you might want to have these meetings at the beginning of the day. It will offer your team focus and awareness that will guide their efforts for the rest of the day. But, circumstances differ from one team to another, and you might find another time more suitable for your team, at which point you should go ahead and commit to that.
5. How to ensure that your team remains autonomous throughout the meeting?
As mentioned earlier, the ideal situation is for your team to self-organize. You want them to take responsibility for the meeting and direct it themselves as much as possible. To achieve this, you should minimize your role as a facilitator as much as you can.
Better yet, why not have the role of facilitator rotate from member to member for each meeting, with a different individual playing the authoritative role each time? This idea will have a better chance of working once your team becomes experienced with standups and understands how to conduct one successfully.
As for the facilitator, there are little things they can do to keep the team from being reliant on them as much as possible. For instance, the simple act of breaking eye contact with the team member that is speaking can remind the said member to address the entire team instead of just the facilitator.
What are some rules of thumb you should keep in mind?
Even though your standup might be a success, there will always be room for it to grow and become more effective. With that in mind, here are a few rules you might want to look into to make the most out of your meetings:
- The regularity of the meetings:
With regard to how often you should hold standups, it really depends on your particular circumstances, including the team itself and the culture. Some people prefer to have these meetings every day, cementing them as a part of their daily ritual. Other people prefer to have these meetings on an as-needed basis. You need to figure out what works best for you.
- The length of the meeting:
Standup meetings are meant to be brief: That’s the whole point of having them while you’re on your feet rather while sitting in a comfortable chair. Try to keep the meeting under 15 minutes, and encourage people to focus only on the necessities without going too much into detail; anything else can be discussed after the meeting. Just be sure to keep the flow of the standup going and get rid of anything that might hinder its momentum.
- Starting the standup with a goal in mind:
The problem with making standups a routine event is that you run the risk of having the rest of your team losing sight of why they’re having the meeting in the first place. When we keep doing the same thing over and over again, it can become an ingrained habit that we never stop and question. So, always be sure that everyone participating in the standup knows why they are there as well as what is expected from them.
- Remembering remote employees:
In today’s hyper-connected world, many companies choose to hire their employees from all over the globe, giving the company access to a diversified talent pool. What’s more, some companies have opted to go fully remote, meaning that the company itself doesn’t have an office and that the employees of said company are scattered all over the world.
If your company has hired remote employees, make sure you include them in your standups; one of the main objectives of standups is to make the entire team feel closer together, which includes your remote employees.
To ensure that remote employees can take part in your standups, you should think ahead of the equipment. You will need to have the meeting and set it up before the meeting starts. You will probably need video conferencing solutions, possibly screen sharing capabilities, and an accessible link for everyone to join.
- Giving everyone the floor:
Unless you’re running the standup on a per-task basis, you want to give every team member the chance to talk. The issue is that some members may be more talkative than others, making it easier for them to hog the spotlight and to run over shier attendees. So, find a way to let everyone have their day in the sun.
- Never skipping follow-up:
Having a standup on its own is not enough; you need to follow-up with your team members, especially the ones that have raised challenges and to make sure that these challenges have been handled. Otherwise, your meeting will have been for nothing if all you got to do was to stand around, talk about your problems, and then go about your day as if nothing had happened.
- Staying focused on the challenges ahead:
When discussing a certain obstacle, team members may inadvertently adopt a somewhat challenging tone, making the teammate facing said challenge feel personally attacked. Not only is this detrimental to the process of handling obstacles, but it may also deter the poor teammate from sharing other obstacles in the future.
So, when tackling an issue, make sure that the team keeps its sights on the issue, never the person. In other words, don’t shoot the messenger.
So, what can we take away from all of this?
Incorporating standups into your team’s daily routines can have a massive impact on the general company culture. It helps show people that their efforts are going in the right place and affirms the fact that everybody’s goals are in sync. Additionally, standups are an excellent way to offer outside stakeholders a quick window through which they can peer behind the scenes and see how things are going. Just make sure to follow the above rules and guidelines to ensure the best standup meetings possible.
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