You might be doing standups wrong
Common mistakes I have seen and/or made when facilitating standups, and how to fix them.
Going through the people, not the work
At the start of my career, I remember being part of standups where it was routine to go round people one by one with each person talking about what they had been doing yesterday and would be doing today.
This typically results in people waffling and going in too much detail on what they are doing personally, and not how the team or other people are affected.
This can also arise in low-trust environments where people feel the need to prove that they were productive.
While a people-oriented standup may work in some cases — such as replacing an exec or board meeting with a standup — it is generally not the best approach for software development.
Visualise the work, and go through the work (from right-to-left), not the people. Try these alternative three questions:
- Did you make good progress yesterday? Or were you blocked, or had too many meetings?
- Is the work going to be delivered roughly on time? Or is it significantly more complex or time consuming than expected?
- Are you lacking anything you need to make good progress today? Support from someone, access to some system or knowledge, time to focus?
If the answer to those three questions is yes - a simple “It’s all good” or some variation will suffice. The standup is not a status report meeting.
Missing the forest for the trees
Sometimes people are so focused on going through the items on the board they miss the bigger picture — why are items stacking up in this column for example, or why are items being batched into a single release?
Look for patterns and any work in progress building up.
Only focusing on the work on the board
A standup brings the whole team together and is a great opportunity to make the whole team aware of something or get the whole team on the same page.
Leave time in your standup to go through any announcements or changes the team needs to be aware of, such as a migration or patching activity happening today that means some necessary resources will be unavailable, or a change in priorities.
Too many people
In some cases the standup serves a double purpose as a status report meeting, with many people from around the organisation joining in to understand progress and ask questions.
Having lots of people in a standup makes it take longer, and having senior members of the organisation join in who may have little context on the day-to-day work can reduce the psychological safety of the team, resulting in them avoiding the discussion of topics that may be misunderstood or misinterpreted.
The standup is intended for the team doing the work to organise themselves. It is not a status report meeting. It is fine for some individuals such as managers to join as long as they stay silent and just observe.
Always the same person
Variety is the spice of life. Switch up who runs the standup on a regular basis. Try different formats.
You can have a rota, take volunteers or just go with the flow. One thing that can help with sharing responsibility for running standup is to create a short “Standup Guide” documenting your process. Allow and encourage each individual to bring something unique to every standup.
Having standup take place in the late morning
When standups are scheduled in the morning people often wait for the standup to happen before commencing work.
Either start the day with the standup, or move it to later on (such as the afternoon) so that people do not wait for standup to happen.
Taking too long
A standup, including any announcements and any games, should take no longer than 15 minutes total.
If there is more detail to go into that is only relevant to a subset of the team, such as wanting to discuss some technical aspect of implementing a feature, then this should be parked and done after the main standup in a separate huddle with just the necessary people, freeing the rest of the team to get on with their day.
Not having fun
Standups should be about the team coming together and shouldn’t feel like a chore.
If you are remote (or even if you’re not!) try kicking off your standup with some short stretches or exercise to get the blood flowing.
Try playing a short game together at the end of standup to have some fun, build relationships and get your brains in gear.