Monday, April 23, 2012

Thoughts on Standup Meetings

I just came across this really useful blog post on standup meetings: It's Not Just Standing Up: Patterns for Daily Standup Meetings
This reminded me of the fact that I wanted to write about my own thoughts on stand ups and the results from the standup session held at the Limited WIP Society meet up in March.

Standup Meetings as an indicator

As a coach I often meet new teams. Often they start implementing Kanban and the one thing they already do is holding standup meetings. For me it‘s really useful to watch a standup, take notes and talk with some team members afterwards. I discovered that standup meetings are a great indicator for finding problems and improvement opportunities.
One pattern I often observe is that the standup is nothing more than a status report. The team members are reporting about their work - often looking at their boss or product owner. While this might have some value, it gives away much of the potential power of a standup (coordinating the team‘s work, improving, just-in-time planning, gaining and keeping focus). So this is definitely something to have a closer look at.
Another thing that makes me suspicious is when there is not a single problem raised during the standup, especially. This can point in the same direction as the previous pattern: The team is not using the standup as an improvement opportunity.
A third problem - and this is a really tricky one - is people not listening to each other, coming late or not attending at all, not showing interest in the meeting etc. In my experience this is not a problem with dumb people but with a systemic problem that causes the standup to not having value for the team members. Quite often the underlying problem is that the "team" its not really a team - they don't have a common goal and no shared context. Sometimes a manager just selects a couple of people and decides that from now they are a team, e.g. the maintenance team. They might all use the same board, but if everyone only has his own tickets and there is no opportunity to collaborate (specialization is often a problem as well), then it‘s a valid question to ask: "Why should I attend this meetings an listen to others while their work does not affect me at all?" When this situation keeps going, the team often decides to only meet every other day, once a week or they completely abandon the standup. Before re-starting the standup, you need to have a closer look at the real problem and solve it.
Another pattern that is worth observing is people preparing themselves for the standup meetings by writing down what they did since the last standup meeting. There might be an underlying problem that people do not work on the tickets visible on the board, or are not using the board as their main planning, coordination and tracking tool.

But...‘s really dangerous to consider all these things as anti patterns that need to be fixed! Sometimes there is a whole different story behind this patterns. For example, people might gain a lot of focus by preparing themselves for the standup meetings. And by taking notes they feel much more comfortable with speaking in front of the whole team - you know, not everybody is a great speaker.
And there is another interesting story, a Limited WIP Society member shared: One team in his organization found out that they don‘t like stand ups and that for them they feel like a waste of time. But the reason for that was not that they weren't working as a team. The opposite was true! They communicate so much during the whole day that they don‘t feel the need for a separate standup meeting.
Standup meetings should be short and usually not longer than 15 or 20 minutes. But here, again, I would‘t stick to that rule religiously. Some teams combine "traditional" stand ups with other tasks and they are quite successful with that. So why should they change this? For example, a lot of operations teams combine their daily standup with a short planning meeting. Is it a problem if the whole meeting takes 25 or 30 minutes?
So in my view it‘s not only necessary to discover patterns like these but to investigate the reasons behind them as well.

Try something new

There are two main routines for running standup meetings: people-based and ticket-based (both are explained in this post). They both have their advantages and disadvantages. I think picking one of these routines is a good starting point. But over time you should change the routine and experiment with different kinds of modifications. Here‘re some examples:

  • Don‘t ask: "What did I do since the last standup?" and try "What did I accomplish since last time?" instead. This is especially useful when people tell about every phone call and every line of code they were dealing with.
  • Don‘t ask "What am I going to to today?" and try "What can we, as a team, do to accomplish our goals?"
  • Let every team member answer the first question, then everybody answers the second question and then everybody answers the third question. This might help to keep the energy level high.
  • Aks "Can I work at 100%?" If the answer is no, ask "What is preventing me from working at 100%?"
  • Let everybody answer the question: "Do you think, we are on track to reach our next short-term goal (e.g. sprint goal in Scrum)?"
  • Surprise the team and let them answer an additional question that might be completely out of scope, e.g. "What did I do after work yesterday?" 
  • Have a closer look at your metrics, or one specific metric like the CFD, once a week during the standup meeting.
  • Try running 2, 3 or even 4 standup meetings every day. You think it‘s crazy? Perhaps it is - but perhaps you will be surprised what will happen. And if it does not work, how big is the damage you did? (Thanks to Stefan Roock for this one).
  • Perhaps the Two Hands Rule, described by Benjamin Mitchell is is something you want to try?
  • ...
Do you find this useful? Do you have other ideas for improving standup meetings? Please share your thought in the comments!

P.S. Thanks to everybody who attended the OpenSpace session at LWS DE and shared his ideas!


  1. If there is more than one team with separate standups, it could be useful to swap team leaders just to observe other standup.
    Especially when team tends to just address team lead, it's interesting to see what happens when there is only "stranger" present. Do they self-organize etc.

  2. Good one. I wanted to share with you my blog on the daily standup.


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  4. This article gives the light in which we can observe the reality. This is very nice one and gives indepth information. Thanks for this nice article.


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