Daily stand-ups for agile teams

Whether you’re just getting started with agile or you’re looking for ways to improve, optimizing your meeting time is one of the best places to start. Daily stand-ups are a key part of agile project management and a quick overview will help you optimize every sprint.

This post will help you understand:

What is a stand-up?

A stand-up meeting is a short daily meeting that allows team members to talk about immediate progress and challenges with their work. Participants discuss important tasks, address issues, and hold one another accountable for regular goals. Because everyone is standing, the meeting is necessarily short — 15 minutes is best — to allow everyone to participate and stay on task.

The guiding principle of agile project management is breaking down projects into smaller sets of tasks (or sprints). Daily stand-ups are a critical component of this method because it is the very best way to keep the team organized as they proceed through their sprints to the finished product.

How to run an effective stand-up — a basic framework

Although there are probably as many ways to run a stand-up as there are people standing up, some guidelines can help you get the most out of the meeting. There are two basic types of stand-up meetings — one is more agile and one is based on kanban project management .

Agile stand-ups

Agile stand-ups — sometimes called “round robins” — are 15-minute standing meetings where team members discuss their tasks for a particular project. These meetings center on individual team members and their work, including how they can improve. The purpose of the agile stand-up is to break down a project into manageable pieces and help each team member be accountable for those pieces.

The three agile stand-up questions

Every agile stand-up meeting is built around three questions that each team member answers.

1. What did I accomplish yesterday?

2. What will I do today?

3. What obstacles, if any, are impeding my progress?

These questions are the heart of the agile stand-up. They give each team member a chance to be heard, offer support to one another, and ask for help when they need it. A project can easily get bogged down without this accountability and structure.

Kanban stand-ups

Sometimes called “walking the board,” kanban stand-ups are similar to agile stand-ups in that they are brief, focused, and designed to give team members accountability and structure. But a kanban stand-up is based on a visual representation of the workflow — called a kanban board.

The function of kanban stand-ups is to find bottlenecks and address them before they derail any part of the project. The focus is less individual and more about the most important tasks at hand. Kanban meetings are all about efficiency and moving work through the board to completion.

Common daily stand-up mistakes to avoid

To get the most out of your stand-up meeting, there are some common pitfalls to watch out for. Avoid these mistakes and set your team up for success.

Taking too long

A well-run stand-up is fast. It touches the important points quickly and allows team members to get back to work. If your stand-up is taking longer than 15 minutes, it’s probably too long.

If anyone is sitting down, for example, you’re not really holding a stand-up. Keeping everyone on their feet is one way to adhere to the time limit because people are more likely to ramble on if they’re seated in comfy chairs.

Letting it become a status report meeting

This is where many stand-ups go wrong. Daily stand-up meetings should be peer-to-peer communication, not reporting-to-manager commentary. The goal of a stand-up is to keep the team aligned and on the same page.

The difference is often in the vibe of the meeting. An alignment meeting is collaborative and team-focused, allowing team members to talk about what they’re doing and what they need. In contrast, a status report meeting is a top-down arrangement where a few people talk and everyone else listens. The latter makes team members feel like they’re being micromanaged, which is not the goal.

Not discussing blockers

Sometimes an entire stand-up will go by and there will be no blockers or problems to discuss. But if there are never any blockers to talk about, something’s not right. No project ever goes off flawlessly.

If you’re not hearing about blockers during stand-ups, it’s possible that your team members don’t feel comfortable talking about their challenges or asking for help. In that case, it’s up to the team leaders to recognize this and help those people engage.

Skipping it

Everyone is busy, and it can seem like a big sacrifice to set aside time to meet every single day. Busy people can also get overwhelmed and miss meetings — even when they don’t mean to. Then there are days when the team might feel that the project is going well and there’s no need for a stand-up.

But skipping the daily stand-up is a bad idea. If the team opts not to meet, they lose an opportunity to touch base and identify where each member is with tasks. If the team is meeting and a few people don’t make it, the team will move ahead without those people — and that could have a serious effect on their work and productivity.

Not helping the introverts

Introverts sometimes struggle in groups, and it’s even worse when you add a bit of public speaking. Even those team members who aren’t introverts may have a hard time talking in front of others. The team leader should identify those who show signs of stress during meetings and find ways to help them speak up when they need to. This can be as simple as providing some guidance on how to prepare ahead of time so they’re more confident.

Losing focus

Agile stand-ups should be concise and everything discussed during the meeting should be relevant to the entire team. Long recitations, social interactions, or updates that don’t apply to everyone are inappropriate for a stand-up.

Getting caught up in problem-solving is another common way that teams lose focus during a stand-up. There is a time and place for that, but the stand-up meeting is not it.

How to run stand-ups for distributed and remote teams

You can hold effective stand-ups even if your team is spread out. With the remote connection options available now, you don’t have to be in the same time zone to have a stand-up meeting.

There are a few ground rules for hosting a remote stand-up.

Of course, when time zones don’t match up well, getting everyone on their computer at the same time can be difficult. That’s why asynchronous stand-ups are becoming more and more popular. In this format, daily meetings are replaced by written communication using a common platform that everyone on the team can access.

Team members should be asked to answer the three agile stand-up questions in writing by a certain time — giving each member the freedom to do it when they can.

Additional tips and best practices for effective stand-ups

If you’re devoting time every day to a stand-up, you want that time to be productive. The best way to guarantee it’s not a waste of time is to adhere to a few basic best practices.

  1. Hold your stand-up at the same time every day and at a time that works well for everyone. Mornings are often best, but it’s not a requirement. It’s more important to ensure the meeting doesn’t interrupt workflow, so use that as your guiding scheduling principle.
  2. Keep your team engaged. People can zone out even in a short meeting. First, ask team members to put their phones away during the stand-up. Then, find ways to keep people attentive that don't interrupt the conversation. You may try tossing a ball around the group during the meeting to keep people alert. Passing around a snack is another good way to keep people’s attention focused while not disrupting the conversation.
  3. Keep the team small. If your team is too big, your meeting will be too long. It’s best to keep it to no more than 10 people — and fewer is better. If you have a large team, divide it half and have separate meetings.
  4. Stick to the schedule and use alarms. Set one alarm for five minutes before the meeting to ensure no one is late, and set one for the end to guarantee a timely wrap-up. The alarm can be anything that gets the attention of your team — a pop-up on the calendar, a bell in the office, a song, or a gif or meme in the team chat. The options are endless.

Getting started with stand-up meetings

Daily stand-ups are a key part of agile project management — and if they’re run well, they can improve the productivity and efficiency of your team.

Start by explaining the concept to your team — including how it will work and why it’s important. Ask for their suggestions on the best time to schedule them and set up reminders for the start and end of each day’s stand-up.

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