Finding the path to meaningful standups

Standups tend to have a fixed structure. In my team we stepped out of the box and chose to turn it totally upside down. Wanna know how and why? Read on!

Finding the path to meaningful standups

All of us who work in agile teams, and particularly applying Scrum or any of its flavours, know the basics of daily meetings (or standups): get together with the team and, in no more than a couple of minutes, answer these questions one by one:

  • What have you been working on since the last standup?
  • What are you doing next?
  • Have you come across any problem or blocker?

But while many of us may be falling in the classic mistakes of daily meetings (make it last too long or speak in too technical terms, to mention some), I bet many others may be following it to the letter, but still not taking advantage of having a daily team meeting and missing the point of it.

In the past, I’ve felt plenty of times it was just a report meeting. Everyone gathered and told the others (but most frequently, just the product owner) what they’d been up to, sometimes specifying what they would do next (if it was something different) and sometimes sharing some of the frustration of their recent work in the form of a “blocker”.

Not super accurate, but not totally wrong anyway.

As I said before, what happens in those situations is that we miss the point. We know exactly what to do, but we forget why.

Standups are the daily moments where the whole team can get together. Sometimes, in fact, and most frequently with remote teams, it’s the only time of the day when this happens. Hence, it’s very important to make the most out of it.

So, what’s the objective? Basically to get in sync with the whole team. To know what the others are up to. To raise concerns about current or future work. To speak about deadlines, if we are meeting them or not. To check the team velocity. To ask for help, or to offer it. To communicate rather important news.

Summarizing, it’s meant to be the moment when the team checks how it’s doing, what it needs to do next and how. It’s not about individualities, but about the group as a whole.

How we do it in my team?

In my team, we’ve drastically diverged from the traditional standup format. The most disrupting action was to get rid of all “status reports”. Minutes earlier, we post in our Slack channel what we’ve been doing from last standup, and in the meeting itself we don’t repeat it. We call this our “digital standup”. It’s there for everyone who wants to read it, and it can even be accessed several days after; it works as a standup summary, in a way.

So, what do we do in the meeting itself? We focus on blockers. We start by asking if anyone has a blocker on their current work, so that they can share with the team anything that’s pushing them back, and we can as a team work it out. Maybe we can’t do it in that meeting, but still we can come up with an action item we think will help to unblock it. It can range from a request to do acceptance on a story to ask for some help on a particular subject. The truth is we don’t always have blockers, and a lot of times the meeting ends early, but that doesn’t really matter. It’s a good sign that everyone’s doing great!

But we not only speak about blockers in our standups. Something very important we also usually do is to check the goals of the sprint. We get attuned on how well we are doing, if we are gonna make it, and if not, what we can do about it (Can we speed up our work? Should we reduce the scope?). It’s a commitment we reaffirm every day.

Other things we do every now and then include: point some story that didn’t make it to the planning meeting, briefly discuss the results of a spike and even do short demos. The limit of what can be done or not is the time (very important) and its usefulness to everyone. Other than that, we try to seize the opportunity to make any important contribution to the team.

We know we have a lot of room for improvement, and as we’ve got here not long ago, we may change it again in the near future. Every team is a world and they are all in constant evolution (hopefully), so what works for us now may not work for other teams or even for ours in a few months.

But as long as we remember why we are getting together everyday, we’ll always be able to find the way of making the best out of it.