We are in March 2020, and if you are an office worker, there is a good chance your office is now your living room, or you are at least practicing the new “it” term, social distancing. In short, you are probably not able to catch up with people and pop in and out of meetings like you did a few weeks ago.

Another “it” term is agile, and as an agile practitioner, I can tell you the most prominent “it” in agile is standup meetings.

In this article, I will explain the purpose of a standup meeting and share some best practices my clients follow to make them effective.

For purposes of this article, I assume you are not an agile practitioner, so I will avoid the industry jargon. I will leave those topics of agile transformation to other articles.

What is a standup meeting?

The standup is a short meeting that connects a team every day so all team members understand the current work, provide status to leaders and stakeholders, and identify issues that are blocking some work effort.

Wristwatch. Photo by Ana Azevedo on Unsplash

What is the agenda?

The standup agenda is only three bullet points. That said, it is worth giving you a bit more detail since this might be your first standup.

Time: 15 minutes (although, to be honest, it usually takes 30 minutes the first week).

Purpose: Replace other status meetings and ad-hoc Slack/Teams/Email status requests so everyone can focus on their work, not be in a meeting talking about it.

What to bring: Your voice and your readiness to discuss the agenda. Not a PowerPoint deck, not an Excel spreadsheet,

Leadership: One person should lead this meeting and is ideally someone leading the team efforts.

Who should attend? The people you have identified as a team that is working toward a set of objectives. There is a whole topic of whether people can be optional or outsiders can join. You have to decide that for yourself, but people should generally make themselves available.

When to attend? Morning meetings are ideal because it sets the tone for each team member’s workday. You have to decide what morning means for your team. As a general best practice, the standup does not start any later than 9:30 am.

How should you attend? As I write this, Covid is forcing many people to work from home, take care of their children that are no longer going to school, and work out family schedules. Consider making your standup a voice-first session, so people do not feel the pressure to put themselves on video first thing in the morning.

Agenda:

Each person, one at a time, will cover the following topics (allotted time according to the number of people to remain within the 15-minute limit):

  1. What each team member accomplished yesterday.
  2. What each team member plans to accomplish today.
  3. What issues or blockers each team member may have that will prevent them from delivering their work effort.

Standups are not for general discussions

What makes a short meeting long? Someone brings something up, and everyone tries to collaborate on that topic in the meeting. We all love collaboration, but that is not the purpose of the standup meeting. Read the following scenarios to get a sense for how to run a productive standup meeting:

Scenario #1 - The blocker

Me: I cannot complete the work because I still do not have access to the database.

Various people (the wrong way): Did you talk to Sam? How about logging an IT ticket? Hold on, let me see if I can get you access, can you share your screen?

The standup leader to the team (the right way): If you have some ideas to expedite this, please message Bill. However, I understand this is a blocker, so I will take the action to escalate this to our database team.

Scenario #2 - The wrong meeting

Paul’s turn (the wrong way): Yesterday I finally got the budget numbers! I am really excited to share this detail with you. If everyone can see my screen, I am showing you what I learned. As you can see, we were under budget for the last quarter and that means we have some extra spend dollars we can use this quarter. Now, it is important to recognize that these numbers are based on capital spend, not O&M, so we will have to make judgment calls on the appropriate use of the funds. What’s that Sally? Yes, we do have your specific numbers. As you can see on this spreadsheet, I’m pulling up…

Paul’s turn (the right way): Yesterday I worked on the monthly budget numbers, and I am really pleased to announce we are in good shape and may have some additional funds for this quarter. Today I plan to put those details into a deck and share the draft with all of you. Please provide me with your feedback no later than Friday. There are no blockers at this time.

Scenario #3 - The standup leader forgetting the standup rules

Erika: Today, I will schedule training so you are all familiar with the new CRM system we are launching.

Standup leader (the wrong way): Great! How long will those meetings be and who should attend? Do you know if we can track internal customers rather than just external customers? When does the CRM system rollout?

Standup leader (the right way): Great! I have a ton of questions for you and others may as well. Could you set up a follow-up meeting to address them before sending out the training sessions?

Erika (The right way, again. Erika is on it.): Will do!

Replace at least one meeting, if not more

The purpose of the standup meeting is to reduce status meetings. Sure, you might still have other status meetings, but those should be targeted and only with the right people in the room.

The standup meeting should be a way for team members to sate what they are up to so they do not have to repeat themselves or be in meetings that have little to do with their work.

Stick to it (if you can), and have fun!

As much as I have tried to force upon you the importance of keeping the meeting short and simple, it does not have to feel like an Army drill. Standup meetings take place first thing in the morning, where some will still be making their first cup of coffee, so keep the standup upbeat and positive.

Finally, do not let the meeting morph into something it is not. Far too often I witness standup team members asking for too much information and then letting the standup go from 15 minutes to 30 minutes to even many hours. Those discussions should be in follow-up meetings.

Keep tight on that agenda and if the standups just aren’t working, then remove it from them from the calendar and figure out something that does work for your teams.

Remember, I do not want to be blamed for a useless meeting :-)