Preparing for a Daily Stand Up

Preparing for a Daily Stand Up

The daily stand-up meeting is the easiest Agile practice to adopt and the easiest to get wrong.  In order to get it right, we need to understand the basic process and the most common variants. These include interacting with task lists/boards and distributed team members. The basic process is blindingly simple.

  • The team gathers on a daily basis.
  • Each team member answers three basic questions:
    • What tasks did I complete since the last meeting;
    • What tasks do I intend to complete before the next meeting, and
    • What are the issues blocking my progress?
  • The meeting ends, team members return to work OR discuss other items.

This is the barest bones version of a stand-up meeting.  The meeting is typically attended by the whole team; which includes the scrum master/coach, the product owner, and all other team members.  Arguably while the product owner is not a required participant based on the published Scrum guidelines, their central role makes them an important contributor to the meeting when questions about direction come up. I advise team members to discuss whether the product owner will participate (highly recommended) when they develop the Agile team charter and add participation to the team norms.

The most common process addition is the inclusion of a task list/board, either as a physical list often found on the wall of a team room or virtually through the use of a software tool. The team will use the board to guide the discussion.  The tasks they talk about should be on the wall or in the tool.  Sometimes teams adopt a rule that the team members do not work on items not on the wall (or tool). The task list focuses the team and provides visual feedback as tasks change status.

  • You will need to add the following steps to the process when using a list or board:
  • Ensure that all participants can see and interact with the list during the stand-up and throughout the day.
  • Update the board or tool in as close to real-time as possible.

Lists and boards can get out of sync with reality.  Out-of-sync tools deliver bad information and can lead to work failing through the cracks.  When tools or task list are used they must be kept up-to-date. Each team member must keep his or her tasks up-to-date.  This is not the scrum master/coaches role; they are not project administrators.

Distributed Teams

Distributed teams, teams where one or more team members are in a different location, present several challenges, including time zones, accents, organization affiliation and sometimes language. In general, the stand-up meeting should be basically the same, regardless of the participant’s location. Typically, what does change are the tools needed to make the meeting effective. Videoconference or good teleconference equipment is an absolute must, as is access to the task list (a virtual tool is useful).

You will need to add the following steps to the process when the team is distributed:

  • Ensure that everyone on the team can see and hear each other.  This typically means securing or scheduling video or teleconferencing facilities.
  • Ensure that all participants can see and interact with the list during the stand-up and throughout the day.
  • Update the board or tool in as close to real-time as possible.

Techniques that are effective in making daily stand-ups work for distributed teams include:

  • Deal with the time zone issue. There are two primary options to deal with time zones. The first is to keep the team members within three or four time zones of each other. Given typical sourcing options, this tends to be difficult. A second option is to rotate the time for the stand-up meeting from sprint to sprint so that everyone loses a similar amount of sleep (share the pain option). One usable solution that can be tried when distributed teams can’t overlap is to have one team member (rotate) staying late or coming in early to overlap work times.
  • Identify and attack blockers between stand-ups. Typically, on distributed teams, all parties will not work at the same time. Team members should be counseled to communicate blockers to the team as soon as they are discovered so that something discovered late in the day in one-time zone does not affect the team in a different time zone that might just be starting to work. One group I worked with had stand-ups twice each day (at the beginning of the day and at the end of the day) to ensure continuous communication.
  • Push status outside the stand-up. A solution suggested by Matt Hauser is to have the team answer the classic three questions (What did you do yesterday? What will you do today? Is there anything blocking your progress?) on a WIKI for everyone on the team to read before the stand-up meeting. This helps focus the meeting on planning or dealing with issues.
  • Vary the question set being asked. The process of varying the question set keeps the team focused on communication rather than giving a memorized speech. This technique can be used for non-distributed teams as well as distributed teams. For example ask:
    • Is anyone stuck?
    • Does anyone need help?
    • What did not get completed yesterday?
    • Is there anything everyone should know?
  • Ensure that everyone is standing. This is code for making sure that everyone is paying attention and staying focused. Standing is just one technique for helping team members stay focused. Other tips include banning cell phones and side conversations.
  • Make sure the meeting stays “crisp.” Stand-up meetings by definition are short and to the point. The team needs to ensure that the meeting stays as disciplined as possible. All team members should show up on time and be prepared to discuss their role in the project. Discussion includes the willingness to ask for help and to provide help to team members.
  • Use a physical status wall. While the term “distributed” screams tool usage, using a physical wall helps to focus on the team. The simplicity of a physical wall takes the complexity of tool usage off the table so the focus can be on communication. Use of a physical wall in a distributed environment will mean using video to moving tasks on the wall (after the fact a picture can be provided to the team). If video is not available, use a tool that EVERYONE has access to. Keep tools as simple as possible.
  • Don’t stop doing stand-ups. Stand-up meetings are a critical communication and planning event, not doing stand-ups for a distributed team is an indicator that the organization should go back to project manager/plan-based methods.
  • Like any other distributed team meeting, having good telecommunication/video tools is not only important, it is a prerequisite. If team members can’t hear each other, they CAN’T communicate.

The stand-up meeting is a simple meeting that Agile teams hold on a daily basis to plan and synchronize activities.  Adding lists and tools can make the meeting more effective by focusing team effort, BUT adding lists and tools means that the team needs to keep them up to date and use them!  If we add complications such as distributing the team, virtual tools become a necessity. I have had to ask more than one team what value they were getting from a stand-up if part of the team couldn’t hear and participate.