An Alternative to the Traditional Daily Stand-up Meeting Format

By | 2018-10-04T20:11:00+00:00 September 27th, 2018|Startups|

TL;DR During the daily stand-up meeting, focus on the project; not the individual. Structure your stand-up to reflect that by using the board as the focus point, and re-phrasing your questions accordingly.

The daily stand-up has become a very common practice in software teams, especially in Agile ones, as a way to communicate current status. These 3 questions (or a similar formulation) are typical in these meetings:

- What did you do Yesterday?
- What's your goal for today?
- Is there anything blocking you from making progress?

The Problem

Our stand-ups were taking over 20 mins, and most importantly, often times people would leave the meeting feeling misaligned. This didn’t help the team feel confident about our focus and short-term progress. For a little while, we tried tweaking some things about the meeting, like the scheduled time, reminding people to just report “what matters”, etc. Regardless of what we did, the result would essentially be the same. Over time, this would perpetuate the notion that the problem lied in the participants’ communication skills. But, what if that wasn’t the case? What if the problem lied somewhere else?

After much thought, while contemplating the meeting questions, this dawned on me:

  • What did you do Yesterday?
  • What’s your goal for today?
  • Is there anything blocking you from making progress?

See the pattern? The object of these questions is you; the individual, not the project. I realized these questions are framed in a way that could lead people into a mindset that’s more conducive to having to explain how they spent (will spend) their entire workday Yesterday (today). If that was the case, that could explain why people tended to linger on their answers and provide information that was irrelevant to the stand-up; they just needed to defend themselves. If somebody were to ask you (regardless of the context) what you did Yesterday, you would feel more inclined to recreate your entire day; relevant and irrelevant information included.

Another realization that followed, was the fact that our stand-up consisted of “each one” in the team answering the previous questions, regardless of whether they had anything to contribute to the status update for that day. Who wants to appear as if they did nothing the previous day, especially when everybody else in the team does, right? Again, if what we wanted was useful information out of this meeting, this protocol did not seem to help.

So we decided to make some changes to our stand-up meeting format.

Our Solution

We concluded we needed to shift the focus more towards the project. Hence, we implemented these 2 changes:

1. Rely on the scrum board for the updates

Since we are a remote team, we now make sure the board is screen-shared every time. We also let the cards that are not done yet (i.e., In Progress, Review or Testing) guide the stand-up by simply going over them one-by-one. Obviously, each card has an assignee who’s usually the “reporter” for that task, but it doesn’t stop anybody else from providing related information. Another plus to this is that it allows us all to be on the same page after each meeting, by discussing all tasks at hand. Moreover, it creates an opportunity to re-prioritize and re-allocate tasks on-the-spot as unforeseen needs arise.

2. Rephrase the status questions

We also changed the questions to (while focusing on each card on the board):

  • What was done Yesterday for this card?
  • What’s the next step to be done on this card?
  • What are the blockers for this card?

This version is much more focused on the project itself, and on the tasks at hand. It leads us to have a common focus that’s more actionable, and less defensive. In particular, the second question helps clarify short-term goals for junior developers in a team environment as it’s phrased in a way that opens the floor for the entire team to provide feedback.

Results

After 3 months of using this new format, our stand-up average time is < 10 mins, and the best of all, people report higher satisfaction. We all leave the meeting with a concrete understanding of what the priorities and goals for the current day are, which allows our team to adapt more rapidly to the current needs.