The 15-minute standing meeting is everywhere in the Agile world. For some it’s a tool for collaborative productivity, for others, it’s yet another meeting that takes time away from what they really should be working on. What makes the difference between an effective daily standup and one that just wastes your team’s time? Our short guide is here to help you keep your standup meetings focused and effective.

What is a standup?

The standup meeting or daily standup is quite self-explanatory – it’s a daily meeting where all the participants are standing. It lets your team come together to update each other on their status, set priorities for the day, and get help with any obstacles in their way. Standing up rather than sitting down gives an incentive to keep the meeting short and to the point.

Why do you need a daily standup?

Daily standup meetings keep information flowing smoothly within your team. In a traditional hierarchical management structure, information flow is strictly regulated. Information passed down to employees or up to executives has to make its way through layers of middle management.

Modern teams, especially Kanban teams, value a flat management style and a high degree of member autonomy. Standups bring your team together to gather and share information in a transparent way, keeping everyone up to date with the project progress.

The standard standup format

The basic daily standup format has been well established and can be broken down into these simple steps:

  • Meetings should be short – aim for no more than 15 minutes.
  • Have the daily standup at the same time and place everyday for consistency. Some teams play a specific song to call the team to the meeting.
  • Meet where the work happens – don’t waste time trying to coordinate extra rooms. In front of your Kanban board is ideal.
  • All team members should attend.
  • Meetings should not be postponed if someone is late or can’t make it.

The goal of the meeting is to update team members on project status and keep the project moving forward. In the standard daily standup format, team members answer these questions:

  • What did you get done yesterday?
  • What are you working on now?
  • What obstacles are standing in your way? What do you need help with?

Standard standup meetings can feel fragmented and too concentrated on individuals, rather than the progress of the project as a whole. Standup meetings lose their power when they become unfocused and time-consuming. Team members start to see them as a waste of time and feel micromanaged.

How to keep standups streamlined and effective

When done wrong, daily standups become another obligation clogging up your team’s schedule. Instead of a series of individual reports, treat standup meetings as an opportunity to fully use the power of collaboration. A standup meeting is a quick and effective way to get your team motivated on a daily basis and to make sure that they are all on the same page. Here are some tips on how to keep your meetings focused and efficient:

  • Watch the baton, not the runners
    Individual progress should be contributing to the progress of the whole project. Make sure team members keep this in mind when they share their progress.
  • Walk the board from right to left
    To keep watching the baton, focus most on what is almost done and how to finish it. We instinctively read information from left to right, but with a Kanban board the tasks closest to completion are at the right of the board. Like striking items off a to-do list, each success builds momentum. Starting the meeting with the tasks that are “almost done” and “done” is a great way to boost the team morale.
  • Focus on what’s critical
    Look for the blockages that are holding up the whole project. Use this time with team members to ask for what obstacles you need to eliminate and keep work flowing. Don’t let the meeting get sidetracked with small talk and brand new topics, but you could let yourselves have in-depth discussions about how to tackle most pressing obstacles.
  • Address stale work
    Even with work in progress limits in place, bottlenecks will form and flow debt will accumulate. Keep an eye out for the oldest items in your process during standups. Aging charts show how much time every work item spends in the process and each process state – prioritise completing work items that are moving past the average cycle time. The Aging chart helps you identify where your process is slowing down while the task is still in progress.
  • Agree on the priorities for the day
    Moving your project forward depends on multiple people carrying out dependent tasks in the right order. Use the daily standup to get everyone on the same page in terms of goals and top priorities for the day.
  • Use engaging language
    Rather than “what did you do yesterday”, start the conversation with “what challenges did you overcome” or “what are we going to achieve today”. The words you use as a leader can either empower or demotivate your team. Success depends on your team motivation, the daily standup is an opportunity to keep them inspired.
  • Maintain a positive team environment
    When done wrong, standups can feel like monitoring, implying inherent mistrust in people’s ability to manage themselves. Standups are misinterpreted as a time to report, while the greatest benefit of standups is getting support and advice from the rest of your team. Standups set the mood for the day – keep them positive and upbeat.

Look at daily standups as an opportunity, not an obligation. Bringing your whole team together to set the day’s priorities and draw on each other’s expertise is crucial for close collaboration and keeping your workflow efficient, streamlined and free from obstacles.

What does your daily standup look like? Does it help you collaborate more efficiently? What tips do you use to make them effective? Tell us about your experience in the comments!

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