What is a Good Standup?

Anyone who has used the Agile methodology knows the term "Standup" otherwise known as the Daily Scrum.  It’s the opportunity for everyone working on the project to provide an update on their progress and plans and reinforces one of the keys to successfully implementing Agile: discussion over documentation.  Ideally, everyone is in one place and the meeting is held with the participants standing up and huddled together – this is a short meeting.  At Quoin, our teams are rarely in the same place – we’re spread across a couple of offices, typically including off-shore developers, and rarely in the same location as our clients.  As a result, our standups typically happen sitting down over the telephone or Skype.  Nonetheless, the basic tenets are the same:

  • Who conducts the meetings?  All the Project Managers at Quoin are Certified ScrumMasters® so the responsibility of organizing and running the daily standup typically falls to them.  Most of us like to hold our stand ups early in the day.  We’re fortunate that our off-shore development team is in the Central or Mountain Time zone.  Participation by members of the client team varies – some projects, members of the client team attend the standup; on others, there may be a separate scrum with the client. 
  • Who attends?  Typically everyone associated with the project is involved in the standup.  It’s an opportunity to update the team not just the project leadership.  It’s the easiest way to understand the day to day progress on the project.  The ScrumMaster is expected to introduce newcomers to the process and expectations.
  • What’s the purpose?  Everyone answers the same basic questions:  What did I do yesterday?  What am I planning to do today?  What is blocking my progress?  It’s the ScrumMaster’s job to take note of and follow up on the obstacles as well as to know when to defer the problem solving.  Typically, there’s no prescribed order of who speaks which is somewhat reminiscent of grade school (Who will the teacher pick next?).  With our remote model, it’s hard to know who is multi-tasking but teammates will normally call the offender on being ill-prepared or inattentive. 
  • How does the standup end?  A good standup is brief – 5-15 minutes is ideal.  After everyone has given their update, the meeting can adjourn.  Some teams establish a ritual to end the meeting.  Given that our teams aren’t in the same location, the ScrumMaster can end the meeting with a phrase as simple as “Enjoy the rest of your day everyone.”  A subset of the team may agree to stay together to resolve obstacles or deal with items identified for offline discussion during the standup.

So what makes this process good? 

  • The meeting is brief; everyone understands what is expected of them and is prepared.
  • Same place, same time.  If the ScrumMaster is unavailable, appoint someone else to run the meeting. 
  • When the participants aren’t co-located, set the expectation to avoid calling in “casually” from the car, subway or the middle of a busy street.  Participants should be in a quiet place and be engaged even if they aren’t with the team.
  • Make sure everyone can hear and is heard.  This is important when the team is not co-located.
  • Focus on the work – Are tasks getting done?  Are obstacles being knocked down?
  • Ensure obstacles are raised in a timely manner — not solely at the standup.  The team should feel comfortable raising obstacles or blockers during the standup, but they also know to raise obstacles to the project leadership as soon as they are discovered. 
  • Limit but don’t stifle the problem solving during the standup.  This requires good judgment on the part of the ScrumMaster and it’s incumbent upon them to make sure it continues offline.

If the standup is early in the day, but not at the start of the day, ensure the team is being productive during that time.  If not, adjust the time so it’s not viewed as the start of the day.

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