Agile 101: Practical tips for effective stand-up meetings
Over the last 15 years, Agile’s widespread adoption has spurred an increase in collaborative engineering and delivery at organizations both large and small. Some of the reasons for the increase in Agile’s popularity relate to the practical implementations of Agile methodologies that arose since the Agile Manifesto’s publication. Some of the more notable methodologies to gain traction in the industry include SCRUM, Kanban, LEAN, and more. One standard agile element to gain a foothold in the industry is known as the ‘Daily Standing’ meeting. These meetings provide a unique format, where individual team members stand up and share updates related to their engineering activities. Daily standing meetings conducted correctly can have a noticably positive effect on the morale of development and delivery teams. Standing meetings aim to align team members, encourage hallway conversations, and seed collaborative engineering. While for the most part Daily Standing meetings are a net positive for an organization, some orgs have made the standup counter-productive and could make use some re-work. This article aims to outline some tips and tricks That can help you host a meaningful stand-up ceremony.
TIP #1: Try to keep to the core elements required by the standup meeting
Daily Agile standup meetings have a very specific purpose and format. The aim the standing meeting is to provide each team member with an opportunity (usually at the start of the day) to provide the team with a highlight reel of the previous days efforts, the current workload, and any raise any hinderences to progress. Generally each member participating in the standup meeting is asked to answer the following questions:
- What did I do yesterday?
- What am I planning on doing today?
- What (if anything) is in my way?
While the content of the above may sound like criteria for individual statuses it is important to ensure that the standing meetings do not become status oriented. For this reason keeping the answers brief and to the point will help prevent the meeting from being derailed and turning into a status meeting. For this reason SCRUM masters are also encouraged educate the teams on agility and not lead the team directly.
TIP #2: Master the Art of Brevity
While it is human nature to share our accomplishments and vent frustrations the daily standup meeting is not a good venue for this. To ensure tangental conversations don’t take place, keep the answers to the core questions described in the previous tip brief and to the point. Long winded and overly detailed explanations will only serve to draw out the length of the standup meeting and defeat its purpose. So to sum these points up the art of brevity could be boiled down to the following bullet points:
1. Keep individual updates short and to the point
2. Keep the length of the overall standup to under 15 minutes
3. Physically standup during the meeting (this helps remind people of the brevity rule)
4. Don’t speak unless its your turn to provide your standup update.
TIP #3: Rotate the conductor
Throughout the course of Agile history, companies have increasingly taken a more serious approach to Agile. Sometimes this takes the form of hiring a ‘SCRUM MASTER’ to help the org realize their dreams of being Agile. Scrum masters (also known sometimes referred to as Agile Coaches) often focus on educating organizations on agile tactics and conducting agile ceremonies. Hiring a SCRUM MASTER can be a wise decision when done properly and absolutely disastrous if poorly implemented. Some of the most effective Agile teams I have worked on were 100% self organizing (no leadership involved). Rotating the conductor of the standup meeting simply requires the relinquishment of control by the development management structures, and the scum master (which may or may not be easy). Some ways you might achieve this are provided below.
- Rotate the SCRUM standup leader and organizer (someone different every day)
- Try having a random person go first
- Ensure the SCRUM master doesn’t direct or guide the meeting.
- Try a last in first up approach
By rotating the conductor your team will have a better chance of feeling more self organized. This in-turn encourages team members to work harder.
TIP #4: Don’t turn the standup into a status meeting
No one likes status meetings (except maybe the person receiving the status updates). While it’s easy to misconstrue standing meetings as simple status meetings it is important to try and avoid turning the daily standup meeting into a status meeting. While the two may sound similar they are most certainly not equal. One of the philosophical tenants of the Agile manifesto can help us better understand why:
“Build projects around motivated individuals.
Give them the environment and support they need,
and trust them to get the job done.”
the key word in the above quote is ‘trust’. Status meetings in many ways illustrate a sincere lack of trust. They encourage leaders to babysit development projects, play nanny to developers, track status, project code complete timelines, and race to meet fictional deadlines. In true agile environments this is not needed because the individuals are motivated internally. Deadlines are timeboxed, delivery is iterative (even if its not feature complete it gets delivered to the business), and everyone is aware of the status. When an individual is unmotivated it should be come fairly obvious all by itself who’s not pulling their weight and what areas are lacking in functionality.
TIP #5: Anyone can attend the standup but only IC’s can speak
So this one primarily aims to keep the standing meetings brief. When non contributors interject or the standing meeting becomes more of a conversation agility falls apart. Same goes if the leadership aspects weigh in on priorities (during standup meetings) and dictate where resources should be focused. These issues and others can be brought up during planning, retrospectives, 1:1’s or specially scheduled meetings. Its really easy to get off track and derail a standup as such the best practice here is to save hallway conversations related to others work progress for AFTER the meeting.
TIP #6: Know when to take it offline & help others to do the same
Anyone who has worked in an Agile oriented development atmosphere has probably heard the infamous ‘Guys let’s take this conversation offline’ comment. This phrase (injected when the standup meeting gets derailed) is a simple way for agile practitioners (team members included) to encourage the tabling of sidebar conversations until after the meeting is over. One good practice here is to let the team police each other in this regard. This should even be encouraged by the scrum master or Agile coach. Once taking it offline becomes a habit within the team, the standup meetings increase in efficiency dramatically.
Hopefully these tips are helpful in your Agile Journey. If you have any to add or things I missed, please drop me a line in the comments below and I’ll try to add them. In the meantime Happy Agility!