Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Daily stand-up: 10 tips to energize & strengthen team focus

Have you been in daily stand-up meetings that were not well run? Believe me, you are not alone if you visualize a bunch of headless chickens when you attend a badly run daily stand-up. So what can you do to improve the daily stand-up, other than pressing the reset button (which you should consider)?

Here is my list of top tips to energize and strengthen a Scrum team's daily stand-up meeting. These are not things must be done all the time, but general ideas that help. In other words, these are just tips that should help you identify patterns in your team, use them when practical and only with agreement from the team.  Some of these tips that apply to all meetings and others are specific to stand-ups:

  1. Actively find and remove impediments - Many team members think meetings are a waste of time. Usually, this is because they find doing their own work more meaningful and meetings take them away. If they do not understand what's in it for them, team members are likely to be less attentive. One way to change that is by showing results. If you are the Scrum master, strike short conversations to help identify the impediments. Ask the team what is impeding their progress, who can help remove the impediments and when. By helping to identify (and thereby remove) impediments, your team is guaranteed to improve its performance and gain more confidence.

  2. Clarify purpose and rules, but keep it informal - It is hard for team members to be attentive and participate when they don't know what the meeting is really about. I urge you to beyond asking the team members to answer the three questions of a daily stand-up - I urge to let them know how important it is to sync up and ask each other for help and provide help. If your stand-ups are mechanical and just revolve around Scrum master collecting status updates from each individual, clearly your team does not understand why they need to attend the stand-up.

  3. A short daily stand-up - Here is another extreme that some teams might wind up into. In their love and passion for talking, they ignore the 15-minute boundary of the stand-up and forget that it is a short sync point in a day, where everyone is getting visibility and highlighting impediments and asking/offering help. A stand-up is not an endless chat, and extensive discussions should happen elsewhere.

  4. Keep chairs away - Do you have a stand-up in your work area or in a meeting room, where everyone has to come in and find a chair? Do you have a stand-up standing up or sitting down? All of this makes a difference. Standing up helps people to get back to work and keep conversations short. Getting in a room to have a stand-up means more time lost in getting into and finding a chair in the room.

  5. All pigs must attend - What happens when a team member does not join the stand-up? The team as a whole loses visibility into the progress and challenges of that team member. The team member loses the ability to ask for the help of the whole team. The team member also loses the opportunity to help other team members who are facing difficult tasks.

  6. Ensure remote participants get value - Special handling is required for remote participants. Since they are remote, this is their time to get a direct sense of what is happening. Remote attendees are likely to use an online collaboration tool such as GoToMeeting or Skype. Ensure that their audio and video (if you use a camera) works. If there are problems, that can derail the entire meeting. When there are problems ensure they are addressed promptly and prevented from occurring again in later meetings.

  7. Ensure new team members get up to speed fast - Often new team members may join the team. While new team members bring in new knowledge, they could also lag behind in their understanding of how the team operates. While most new team members learn to adapt, it can be harder for some and at times disruptive. Assuming your stand-ups are running well, pay special attention to needs of new team members and identify what they bring to the party. Consider if they need training. Make an effort to prepare them to participate in the stand-ups and you will usually be fine.

  8. Use physical or virtual boards - I have noticed that teams that review a stand-up board with a sprint backlog get better visibility on progress. Personally, I prefer that the board with physical - with real stickies and real wall. This encourages collaborative nature of the stand-up and allows anyone to move around the stickies. Sometimes that is not possible - For example when a team member is remote. In that case, using a tool like JIRA, VersionOne, Rally etc. is an alternative.

  9. Supplement with solver sessions - This can be tricky and can take a good amount of skill. In order to keep the meeting short and keep the team focused, the Scrum master may be tempted to shut down the conversation. At the same time, the conversation may be really important for the team to get on the same page. You may have to choose what to do depending on the conversation. Intervene when necessary and help setting up solver sessions to go into details of the issue that requires a deep dive.

  10. Inform in advance (if you miss, but miss rarely) - At times there are situations when team members can't avoid skipping a stand-up. There is no good solution to this. In such situations, I recommend working with the team on how they can inform each other about their daily updates and plans, in advance if possible.


I hope some of these tips will help teams run better daily stand-up meetings. As always, I am interested in learning more. So if you have other tips to share, I would love to hear about them - leave a comment! And I will inspect and adapt.

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