Tips for an awesome daily standup

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If you are a part of an agile team, you probably are doing daily standups (daily scrum), right?  As many things in life go, repetition can cause something to be less and less enjoyable, even to the point of dread. If the grind of the 3 questions (what did you do yesterday, today, and what are your blockers?) has got you down, here are some tips to optimize your daily standups.

1.) Start on time – Even if everyone is not there on time.  This may seem counter-productive, but who wants to wait around every day for 2-5 min while people wander in with their Starbucks or like to take a bathroom break every day before standup?  If you consistently start on time, people will get the hint that they need to be on time or will always be late.  Also, This rewards those who tend to be on time more often than not.  If you really want to have fun with it, start a standup tip jar.  every minute late you have to throw in a dollar to pay for the team’s beer run. 🙂

2.) Standup – There is a temptation to walk into a room, put down and open up your laptop, and settle in with a warm beverage.  This is a sure fire way to drag out your standups. By standing up people are slightly less cozy and more apt to get down to business and move on with their day.

3.) Do not turn standup into a status reporting session – In my opinion, the standup should be more focused on the plan forward than going over what took place in the past. There is often value to sharing what you’ve done if it helps share knowledge and communicate that you’ve completed something.  I always try to go by the 80/20 rule for standups. Let me explain: Only 20% focused on the past and 80% of your update focused on the present and future. another way of saying it is to spend 80% of your time discussing your plan forward and any impediments in your way.

4.) Be inclusive of remote team members – This could be a completely separate blog post, but here a few of the most important suggestions I can make.  First, use video if at all humanly possible. You lose so much in translation without seeing someone’s face. Next, consider having someone at the location where the team is mostly co-located be on point to making sure the remote folks are considered.  I’ve worked on many distributed team, and it’s very challenging to keep them in mind unless you are intentional about it. This article from Leading Agile has more great tips.

5.) Utilize a parking lot – if you or your team has a challenge with going deep into solutions at standup, it’s probably time to start using a parking lot.  Or as I’ve heard some people dub it, “The after party”.  If a conversation has gone too far into the weeds someone should propose it get’s added to the parking lot.  Quickly write it down on a sticky note, etc.  Then after everyone has given their update have the folks who need to keep discussing the parking lot item stick around.  I’ve worked with some coaches/scrum masters who are very legalistic about the parking lot. I say, use common sense.  If the team wanders into the weeds once and a while it’s fine, don’t shut it down.  But at the same time, you don’t want 7 team members that don’t need to be involved to have to sit through a conversation that could be had by 2-3 people.

6.) Streamline standup with other agile events if possible – Here is an example: You have a two-hour backlog grooming session from 1PM, then standup at 4PM.  Do you really want the team to go back to their desk to try to work for an hour, then go to standup?  I sure hope not, because context switching is costly and to be taken seriously!  The team should think ahead to try to minimize this context switching when possible.

7.) End on time or early – For a team for 6-12 I highly suggest going NO longer than 15 minutes for standup. And as we know tasks often expand to the time allocated.  This is why it is important to keep the conversation moving so you can finish early or on time, every time.

8.) Try mixing up the format once and a while – I was on a team once that did “third person Thursdays” where you had to give your entire update in the 3rd person.  It still accomplished the goal of standup but it was a fun way to mix things up. Another thing you could try is have team members attempt to give an update for the person standing next to them based on what you think they did and are going to do.  This method is slightly less productive but still fun. If your standup is in the morning, try surprising them with donuts or gourmet coffee once and a while.  Another thing you could do is a brief quiz at the end of standup. “What did Suzie say she was blocked on?” The first person to answer get’s a $5 Starbucks gift card.  I think you get my drift…mix it up!

I’d love to hear your ideas and experiences on how to make standups rock, and keep them from sucking!

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