On The Inside: Get up, Stand up…

Welcome back to On The Inside! This is part 6 of my Agile adventure at Allthings, a technology startup in sunny Dundee building a group project collaboration tool. If you haven’t read part 1 (which is all about diving into the deep-end!) then you can find it here (you can read last weeks here). I’m trying to give an honest, personal, warts-and-all account of our journey…

The daily stand up (A.K.A daily scrum or daily meeting) is an Agile ritual. It’s a daily coordination meeting where the sharing of knowledge and commitment between the team facilitates an organic communication flow. Perfect communication. Everything in harmony. Does this sound like your morning stand ups? Probably not.

Like everything else in Agile, and in life, it’s not as simple as that. Often the intentions of the stand up get lost in the ritual. The purpose is diluted, the value disappears and the team don’t see the need for them. They can slowly fade away from your routine. But it doesn’t have to be like that!

The basic ‘out-of-the-book’ format is stand in a circle and each answer these three questions:

  What have you completed since the last meeting?

  What do you plan to complete by the next meeting?

  What is getting in your way?

Just by answering these three questions everyone in the team is aware of anything they can use which has been added to the project. Anything holding up a fellow team member is exposed and everyone is given an opportunity to help. Everyone in the the stand up shares their intentions for the coming day and commits to completing it.

But it’s quite easy to lose that magic if you’re not careful. This can happen due to a number of common reasons.

shareasimage_31

Common problems:

1. They turn into “status report” meetings with each member reporting progress to the team manager or scrum master.

Don’t let the stand up become a status meeting. In a status meeting, you don’t listen you just wait your turn and you are actively encouraged not to contribute until it is your turn. This can kill the cross-pollination of ideas and any offers of help which make for a good stand up.

One way around this is if you are the scrum master or the team manager, don’t make eye contact with the person speaking. This can help break down the manager-to-team member relationship and forces that person to speak to the rest of the group instead.

2. They drag on and on, often with the same people talking each morning and everyone else standing watching them.

This can be easily solved with some meeting facilitation. The scrum master should step in, stop the discussion and suggest any interested parties meet up after the stand up to discuss this further.

3. The team don’t see the value in the stand up so don’t bother having them at all.

In my experience, stand ups can be very valuable when done right but like anything they take practice. I encourage any team that has abandoned their stand ups to rethink that decision and try again.

4. “No problem” standups. No one wants to raise any problems they’re having.

No one wants to admit that they need help. This is a problem with the culture within the team that is preventing people feeling safe enough to admit they need help with their work. Fostering a culture where people are encouraged to openly ask for help and raise problems provides opportunities to share knowledge, increase skills and highlight training areas to managers.

But your stand up doesn’t have to be like that. It’s your stand up after all. However, there are many things that you can do to improve it, here are some suggestions:

Keep everyone involved

Dailysprintmeeting

Change the person who runs the meeting. You may have a budding scrum master in your team. You can also use this to bring shy people to the forefront of the discussion.

Address dysfunctional behaviors and don’t let them slide. If they go unchecked it gives everyone else permission to do the same and it distracts the whole group. If someone is repeatedly late, follow up with them. Make sure they understand that it is not OK.

To help with this, you can play “The Dysfunctional Daily stand-up” game! There’s others like it but basically it gives the team an opportunity to practice facilitating the stand up.

In the game, cards containing common dysfunctional behaviors like “talk endlessly about a technical issue” or “arrive late” are dealt out at random and a volunteer scrum master has to deal with them in a practice standup. It’s a form of role play that can help the team identify disruptive behaviors and provides an opportunity to practice dealing with them.

Keep it light

I worked with one team that would read out a motivational quote at the end of each stand up – they then kept them all stuck on the wall and would go back and read the best ones. It was a challenge to the person who had to get the quote that day to come up with one that really did motivate the whole team.

Another team I worked with passed a soft toy around the team in a random order. You couldn’t speak till you had the toy. That way you couldn’t just sleep until it was your turn and had to listen to everyone else.

Keep it short

Make sure everyone does physically stand up. Everyone stands so that it can’t last a long time.10 minutes is long enough. If you find that your stand up runs longer try asking people to prepare their questions beforehand so that they are ready to present in the meeting.

Vary the format during the sprint

At the start of the sprint you are naturally more concerned with your planning, near the middle you’re concerned with progress and any issues and towards the end you’re focused on the everything being ready for release and finishing. You can vary the stand up to suit. For instance,

  At the start of the sprint, walk through your intentions for the whole sprint to give everyone a chance to hear the whole plan for the next 1-4 weeks.

  In the middle of the sprint, try standing at the board and calling out story by story with those who worked on them. This helps even out dead air where pairs say “I did the same as X”.

  Near the end, use a more traditional three questions format or a problems-only format to make sure that there are no last minute issues going unsurfaced.

If you would like more information about sprints and sprint planning, you might find this article useful: On The Inside: Fail to plan and you plan to fail

Conclusion

There are many other ways to do a stand up. If you’re short of ideas there are some here. A well run stand up can energize daily work, surface hidden issues and make a stronger team.

Experiment, have fun and find out what works for you and your team. As always, if you have any questions about my stand ups or would like further advice, please leave your questions in the comments below or you can contact me either on twitter at @allthings_io or via email at peter.gordon@allthings.io Thanks for reading!