Standup Braindump

The standup is a short recurring meeting used to (re-)focus the team-mind on effectively moving stories through our workflow.

Here’s my recommended approach to having standups be useful and brief.

The general sequence is 1) address team-wide emergency issues, 2) work story-by-story, 3) distribute new work, 4) address team-wide non-emergency issues.

Note that, quite often, there is no part 1, and no part 4. Sometimes there’s not even a part 3.

Some general tips, then.

1) Don’t over-engineer standups.

Stay relaxed with pep. Don’t go telling people I said these were the rules. All meetings involve humans, and once humans are involved, we have to flex.

Rules are far less important than the people in the room.

Think hard about what Benjamin Zander calls Rule Number Six.

"Don’t take yourself so #$@&%#!$ seriously."

2) Timing: Same bat-time, same bat-channel.

Fix the time and place, virtual or otherwise, and don’t move it around often. (Cancelling is fine.) The regularity and stability is an important factor. Start on time, as you don’t need to wait for someone to be in charge.

If we regularly have teammates that are shared by another team, stagger the standups so they don’t overlap. There is no particular merit to having your standup first thing in the day. (A great technique I’ve used, have it right before lunch. Makes it go much faster. 🙂 )

Best time for a standup is a time such that there’s nothing immediately pressing in the 15-20 minutes right after it. This keeps us all free to have important after-standup conversations offline.

Juniors will need help with one key aspect of this: if you are blocked, don’t wait for standup to tell us. Reach out to your PO, your SM, or your lead as soon as you block. In flow, wait states are the enemy.

3) Story-by-story: Work story by story rather than person-by-person.

The stories are the primary focus. In particular, the standup is not for the purpose of establishing each individual’s value to the team.

It’s not that we don’t care about how our members bring value, it’s that this is not the right time, right place, or right info for that conversation. We’re here to update our sense of how/if stories are moving, not to justify our existence or rationalize what we did yesterday.

Work stories "right-to-left": from the ones that are closest to shipping to the ones that haven’t even been started. On most boards, the rightmost column is either "shipped" or "ship it", and the leftmost column is "I wish", and all the columns in between are "plugging away".

What to say about a story is a judgment call. Important signals we need, in rough order: a) needs more eyes or hands on it. b) entered or left a wait-state. c) went backwards. d) went forwards. e) is proceeding normally.

4) After we’ve walked through all of our WIP, we may have individuals who are looking for action.

Because we have a decent picture of our status at this point, we can easily talk about what they should take on next.

The preferred answer, if its possible, is to send that person to pitch in on a story we already have in progress. If you work by pull-request or technical review, that’s the second choice. If you’re a test-after shop or a refactor-whenever shop, that’s the next choice.

5) Questions will come up.

Many of them can be answered in two sentences, and that’s fine. If it can’t be answered in two sentences, or we give two sentences but it still didn’t quite get answered, learn phrases like: "Ping me right after."

It means, let’s talk about this after the meeting, at your convenience. Nothing kills standup like a detailed answer to a detailed question.

If you think others might care, try "Anyone else who wants to work through this, ping me right after and we’ll do it."

6) Parts 1 and 4.

In a perfect world, there’s never a part 1. This is not a perfect world, tho. Outages, freezes, and other brushfire situations happen from time to time, and can dramatically alter the thrust of the standup, that’s why they come first.

On the other hand, issues that are simply the normal global events we encounter, these should be addressed, if at all, when all other business is dealt with. The standup is not "a convenient opportunity to say anything to the entire team".

7) Practice.

It’s not some biological gift to be able to speak in short declarative on-topic sentences, it’s a skill, and we can learn it if we practice it.

"How were the standups?" is a perfectly legit question for a retrospective to take up.

And there ya go. That’s me dumping what I believe I about the best standups. Have at it, have fun, ping me if you have questions, comments, controversy, war stories, or whatever.

Remember Zander’s Rule #6.

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2 thoughts on “Standup Braindump”

  1. Merlijn Tishauser

    I loved to read this nice summary of what to stop and keep doing during standups. I would like to add, esp. during these wfh times, that I find a standdown equally important at the end of the day.

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