Lean and Agile organizations have harnessed the power of the stand-up meeting as a valuable process tool. The stand-up is an efficient and effective way to communicate. It promotes transparency into the progress of work and highlights issues. The meeting fosters a collaborative work environment and creates accountability.
In this article, I share best practices and the “what”, “who”, “when”, “where” and “how” for conducting a successful stand-up meeting. The meeting can be used for managing projects or operations from Finance to HR to IT. The meetings are often daily, but they can also be periodic, weekly or monthly. Teams following these practices will see marked improvements in productivity and morale.
The first step is defining the meeting’s purpose and objectives. If you are working on a Lean/Agile team, the stand-up is already a central element in the process. For instance, the daily scrum is listed as one of the primary events in The Scrum Guide. If you are introducing this meeting independent of an existing methodology, set the framework and expectations.
Stand-up meetings can enable self-managing teams. Consequently, the team should help establish the objectives and parameters. Bring the team together, have an open discussion:
- Why are we having this meeting? What are they expected outcomes?
- Who are the meeting’s stakeholders? What are their needs?
- Who will the meeting serve? Who should participate?
- What should be measured? How will it be measured?
Understanding the stakeholders and their needs is critical. We want these meetings to provide value. Through the stakeholder assessment, we may find that multiple meetings each with their own constituency and focus are required. For example, on a large program there may be concentric circles of meetings:
- Each development team may meet daily to review what has been completed, upcoming work, and issues;
- Teams working on a common component may meet every other day to coordinate hand-offs and discuss common problems;
- Product owners may have monthly meetings to review priorities with customers to ensure alignment with the product vision; and
- Management status updates may held every 2-weeks to review milestones and program level issues and risks.
Periodically, the meetings should be evaluated to ensure that they are still providing value. If meetings are no longer needed, cancel them. If the purpose is valid but the team has adopted has strayed, review, refresh, and change.
The stakeholder assessment will help determine who must attend the stand-up meetings. The required attendees are generally those that have a direct role or stake in the process or project. For example, if we are reviewing the daily operations, then all team members involved in the process should be required attendees.
Depending on the type of meeting and the organization’s culture, attendance can be inclusive. In other words, those that do not have a direct role may participate as observers. The observers are there to gather information, but generally do not have a speaking role. If they have questions, they should refrain from interrupting. Time may be reserved at the end for questions from the floor.
Allowing observers offers several potential benefits. It democratizes the flow of information. It promotes an open and transparent work environment. It creates an open culture. Many poor organizational behaviors can be minimized by openness and transparency.
When and Where
The meeting should be scheduled early in the day and at a time that is convenient to participants. We want members to attend without creating work-life balance stress. Often a 9:30 or 10:00 starting time works well. Meetings with international participants should try to accommodate all parties.
The best place for the stand-up is a dedicated team room where the walls are covered with information radiators. There should be a Kanban or task board, metrics, issues and risk lists, etc. Colored stickers can be used to designate assignments, high priority, or delayed items. Publicly displaying this information creates shared knowledge.
In person meetings are preferable. The most effective form of communication is face-to-face—93% of communication is non-verbal. The quality and depth of communication generally degrades when we meet via conference call or video conference. People tend to multi-task and disengage when they are not physically present. The telltale sign that people are distracted is, “Can you repeat that, again?”
Remote work and distributed teams are increasingly more common. Consequently, we need to develop strategies to adopt and adjust how we manage our stand-up meetings. Use technology and team norms to close the gap between virtual and face-to-face meetings.
To keep people engaged, the stand-up should be structured, well-facilitated, and disciplined. It is very easy for a daily meeting to become sloppy, perfunctory, lose its value, or become a social gathering. The following practices and tools can provide the structure to initiate and maintain the integrity of the meeting:
Team chartering and ground rules establish normative group behavior and helps expedite the team formation process. For the stand-up, we should establish rules that encourage constructive engagement from all team members. Common rules may include:
- Meetings start and end on time. Don’t be late or pay into the penalty jar.
- No electronic distractions. When team members are looking at their smartphones or laptops, they are not engaged.
- One person speaks at a time. Some teams employ a “talking stick” to enforce this rule.
- Reserve questions and comments until the end of the meeting.
- Resolve problems outside the meeting. Reserve time immediately after the meeting to discuss issues.
- Both individual updates and the meeting are time boxed. It is amazing how much can be communicated when the timer is running.
- Be prepared. Have your updates ready.
Ground rules should be clear, observable behaviors. “Being engaged” is a great ground rule, but how do you explain what that means. “No electronic distractions” which leads to disengagement is clearer.
Write the ground rules on a flip chart sheet and post them on the wall. Consider having the team sign the sheet indicating their agreement and acceptance. Review the rules periodically and update them as needed.
Time boxing is the process of using a timer to limit the duration of the meeting or each person’s update.
The stand-up meeting should be time boxed to 15 minutes or less. It keeps people focused and engaged. Strict adherence to the time box avoids meeting malaise.
Individual updates should also be time boxed. The facilitator can use an egg timer or their smartphone. When the designated time is up (often 1 or 2 minutes) it is time for the next person to speak. Time boxing promotes crisp, focused updates.
A good facilitator can be the difference between a great and a horrible meeting. A good facilitator keeps the meeting on track and gently reminds participants of the ground rules. They can also read the room and divine when there are items that need to be raised and addressed.
Unless the team is very disciplined and mature, I do not recommend rotating the facilitator role. The stand-up is foundational to coordinating and managing the team’s progress. Poor facilitation can lead to meeting pitfalls.
The task or Kanban board should be the primary tool for conducting the meeting. The most basic task board has three columns:
- Backlog or work waiting to be executed;
- In-Process the items or tasks that are currently being executed, and
- Done the items that are completed and verified.
More complex boards may decompose the work into granular steps, show swim lanes that depict ownership or priority. Colored string can be used to show the relationship between tasks. We can use card colors, tags, or dots to reflect issues, ownership, or other valuable pieces of information.
Since the task board visually depicts each task’s status, oral updates can be focused on critical items, hand-offs, or blockers. Not every card needs to be addressed.
Following these guidelines will help you develop and mature your stand-up meeting. As a manager, I changed the format of my weekly direct reports meeting to incorporate these practices. As a result, the time spent on updates decreased from a half-hour to less than 10 minutes. It was an amazing transformation!
© 2018, Alan Zucker; Project Management Essentials, LLC
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