Maximising your day with stand-ups

3 minute read

Stand-ups are a great way to synchronise as a team and create a plan for what you'll do until the next stand-up but like any tool they're open to misuse, over dependency or misunderstanding. Many teams will most likely perscribe to the Scrum model of a time-boxed, ~10-15 minute meeting that happens in the morning as a way to plan out the work for the day. While this is a good first step it's easy to forget why you have a stand-up and fall into the trap of waiting (waste) for the stand-up to happen in order to truly start the day or next piece of work.

One problem of a stand-up is when do you have it? Too early and people may miss it or you lose out on being flexible to different people's needs (doctors appointments for example). Too late and you're not maximising your day as people may be waiting for it to happen (a consequence of over dependence) before they're able to really get going. So how can you be both flexible and efficent?

(Micro) Stand-ups

A technique I've successfully used, largely due to people arriving at different times in the morning, was to use micro stand-ups. Many people may already do this, but if you don't it's worth formalising initially until it becomes natural:

  1. The first team member arrives at work and starts working on the most important thing.
  2. Later the second team member arrives who then has a quick stand up with the first person. A very short quick discussion; what are you working on? can I help? etc...
  3. Later still the third team member arrives, and again a quick stand-up takes place and the three team members set to work.
  4. This continues as each person arrives.

Also if you finish a feature, or hit a problem part way through the day. Again... have a micro stand-up; synchronise; plan; get to work. Any time you need a quick discussion or plan just shout out to the team for a micro stand-up rather than waiting to raise it the next day.

The aim isn't to push people to 100% efficiency (I'm a big believer in having slack), it's simply to have discussions and planning sooner to enable people to be able to get on with work sooner. That doesn't mean they have to, but it means they at least have the option.

Questions/doubts

Isn't it disruptive? It may seem so but it encourages collaboration and discussion which aren't bad things and the aim is to be brief and quick each time. It also helps reduce waste as you're synchronising/planning right away rather than waiting for a set timed meeting.

What about updating people outside the team, or people who need a set time to attend? There's no reason why you can't still do your main stand-up. Given all the discussion that will have already happened in the micro stand-ups, then the main stand-up should consequently be very quick and to the point.

What if we can't continue something because the person working on it isn't in yet? Firstly, try not to leave work in progress before going home. Collaborating and working together also helps stop this happening as knowledge is shared between the team.

What if we all arrive at a similar time anyway? Then maybe you don't need micro stand-ups! But certainly have a stand-up the second everyone is there, why wait? (you can still have your main stand-up later).

How does the first person know what to work on? I'll cover this below...

Stand-downs

At the end of the day we would have a quick stand-up (stand-down), more like a mini retrospective. Again, it should be very quick. We would often answer 3 questions (as an example)...

  • Were there any problems/blockers today?
  • If yes, what can we do tomorrow to stop them repeating? (card/action goes on the board etc...)
  • Do we all know what we'd get on with if we were first in tomorrow?

The quick stand-down / retrospective meeting is a way to review the day and ensure that people know what they are doing tomorrow. So if someone does get in early they are able to get on with work straight away.

Give it a try

While this technique may not work for all teams, it's worth trying to at least find out if that's the case. Stand-ups don't need to be a one off, set-time, daily occurrence but instead can be used throughout the day to great effect, especially if your team takes a while to get going in the mornings.

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