A team’s daily stand-up meeting is an execution of a process, a series of steps taken to achieve a purpose. Stand-up meetings lose effectiveness when they don’t follow a process, when participants try to multi-task during the meeting, treat the scrum master like manager or when stand-up meeting becomes a status meeting. All of these problems are process problems.
Stand-up Meetings Without a Process Stand-up meetings are daily planning meetings. During the meeting the team sorts out what has been completed, what will be accomplished in the near term and whether there are any “blockers” inhibiting progress. There are numerous approaches that can be used to do stand-up meetings, including the famous three questions approach and walking the board. The team should leverage more than one technique on a regular basis to keep the meeting fresh. What should never happen is for a team to abandon structure and just hope team members will share all pertinent planning and problem information. The job of a scrum master/coach is to ensure the team has a pallet of stand-up techniques and that those techniques are used.
Multi-tasking One of reasons stand-up meetings work efficiently is that they are short and focused. The meeting should be 15 minutes (or less). Nearly everyone can focus on one thing for 15 minutes without doing something else (like day trading or checking email on their smart phone). I strongly urge all teams I work with to ban smart phones or any other electronic tools during the meeting UNLESS absolutely needed to view the team board (video, teleconference or Agile tool). I have even gone as far to suggest that phones be put on the floor during the stand-up meeting. Fractured attention reduces interaction. Recently I was walking through Little Italy in New York City after dinner. As I walked past restaurant after restaurant, I noticed that many diners were sharing their attention between their phones and their dinner party, reducing the conversation at each table. Stand-up meetings ONLY work when the team is sharing and listening.
Reporting to the Scrum Master Stand-ups are a team meeting. The team members talk to and interact with each other. Occasionally the meeting might require some facilitation, however the communication and interaction needs to be between team members. They are ones writing the code, testing the software, building the hardware or writing documentation. The scrum master/coach is the facilitator, not the focus of the meeting. Team members must address each other not the facilitator. One technique I learned early in my coach career was to stand behind the team rather than in front of the team or in front of the team board. Team members will tend not turn around to face the coach, so they will make eye contact with their team members instead.
Status Meeting The single worst process problem is converting the stand-up into a status meeting (or any other kind of meeting). Just don’t make this mistake. If a meeting to collect and discuss the status of a project is needed, first do the stand-up meeting, end the stand-up meeting and then convene a separate meeting. The Scrum master/coach should draw a very distinct line between meetings, even if people don’t leave the room so that no one confuses the purpose between the two sessions. For example, in organizations where stand-ups are done standing up, I have had team members sit down to mark the change of meetings. Another example, when I have done distributed stand-ups, I invite everyone that needs to attend the second meeting to hang up and re-dial. This clean break makes it easier for people that don’t absolutely need to be involved to get back to work.
The practice of stand-up meetings is one of the first techniques most organizations adopt when they begin to implement Agile. Because of the simplicity of the technique, organizations forgo coaching or training on how to do stand-up meetings. They rely instead on the best efforts of everyone involved. Without coaching stand-up meetings can be implemented poorly, robbing the organization of the benefits of the technique.