Sarah Taraporewalla's Technical Ramblings

Improvements to the Usual Stand Up Meetings

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Stand-up meetings are a healthy part of the daily routine. They are a useful forum to keep everyone up to date with the happenings of the team, escalate any blockers that may have arisen and set direction and focus for the days activities.

However, in practice they can easily degrade to daily habits, where each person talks, no one listens and nothing is accomplished. Observable signs that this is happening in your team:

  • there is low energy - people walk away nonchalantly
  • the developers say “I worked on xyz story. Today I will work on xyz story. No Blockers” (Yes I know - I can see the story board and we were all there when you picked it up)
  • their pairs say “yeah, what he said”
  • the QAs say “I tested stuff yesterday, I will test stuff today”
  • after the meeting, a conversation ensues along the lines of “Oh, the builld’s not running. Hey everyone, I have just spent 20 mins looking at it and there’s something really wrong with the box as it doesn’t even respond to pings.” “Yes, I know. I have brought down the network for the moment to install the latest patch. I said so in the standup this morning.” 

 

Needless to say, the standup is no longer a useful forum. The major problem with this style is that people tune out because no one is saying anything of value. They are usually repeating common knowledge (by stating on what they were working on, when the whole team can see that by the story wall).

At my current project, we faced a similar problem*. So, I changed the rules of our stand up.

The new format

  1. No one is to say anything in the format What I Did Yesterday; What I Will Do Today; Any Blockers. This format is scrapped, binned. 
  2. Instead, I only want you to tell the team what you think is valuable to them; what did you do or find yesterday that is of value sharing with the team; what do you know, that we need to know.
  3. The only person allowed to be speak will be the person holding the speaking token.
  4. If something has just been said that you feel you should to add to, answer or have question, all you need to do is signal for the token (hand gestures along the lines of “Pick me Pick me” will be rewarded). 
  5. If someone requests the token, the token-holder finishes the sentence and passes the token along to the requester.
  6. Every member has a red card. If a discussion starts, and you are not interested in it, you raise your card. Two cards (dependent on the size of the team) and the conversation is immediately (mid-sentence) stopped and is taken offline.
  7. When you have finished sharing, you throw the speaking token to someone who is not to your immediate left or right. 
  8. If you don’t feel you have anything of value to add, you can pass the token onto another person.
  9. The standup does not remove the need for us to talk to each other throughout the day.

The Result

Our meetings are quite high energy, high paced and highly informative. Everyone adds value and we all walk away from the meeting energised and ready for action. Our meetings allow for useful discussions to start, but also allows for a mechanism to control them if they are getting out of hand. If suddenly you find the same repeat offender does not have anything of value to add, that is feedback; perhaps the person is a little shy, perhaps they have been slacking off - either way, if they don’t feel like they can say anything of value now, what were they saying in the old method. Blockers are still talked about, as they usually have value. Also, having a cute throwable soft toy helps.

 

  • Actually, before we faced this problem, we had the problem where no one would start talking. The introduction of a speaking token  solved that problem.

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