A Better Way to do Standups

Most teams that do a version of SCRUM have a similar format for the Daily Standup Meeting. They last fifteen minutes and each team member takes a turn in explaining what he/she did yesterday and what is in store for the current day. This is not a surprising form, as it is an exact copy of how the meeting is described in the online scrum guide.

Personally, I find this form rather tedious and inefficient. I don't know whether people uncounsiously want to defend themselves for not having made enough progress, but a lot of times they will start listing everything they did the previous day, including all the meetings and actions that have nothing to do with the tasks in the sprint. It is as if they're saying: "I did not get such and such done, because I had meetings with people outside this team, got calls about a project I worked on last year, etc. etc. Also, there was a traffic jam on the way to the office and my cat threw up on the carpet and my kid slipped on the barf and strained his ankle." Then they usually end with some form of "I'll try my best to do some real work today. I promise".

While this is all very interesting, it does not have much to do with the actual goal of the meeting, which is coordinating the work of the day. Furtunately, there is a simple way to fix this and that is to flip things around: instead of going over the team members one by one and try to talk about their tasks, go over the tasks one by one and let every member that has to say something about it weigh in. Everybody is already standing abound the story board, let's actually take a look at it.

Going over the tasks can be done in different ways. Previously, in small teams, I have found it useful to start with the last column on the board (excluding the 'Done' column, of course) and go over all the tasks/stories that are listed there. After they are discussed, go to the column before that and do the same. Repeat until all stories are done, or until the time is up, whichever comes first. The general question for each story or task is: what must be done to before it can move to the next column? Is there an impediment, or is it just "work" to be done?

The reason for starting with the last column and working backwards is that the stories near the end tend to need only a few, concrete actions to finish them. Usually the type of action that requires communicating between team members and as such they are a good topic for discussion in a meeting like the Standup. Stories that are more in the beginning stages generally only need to be worked on by the person to which they are assigned, and can do with less discussion. Of course there are always exceptions.

In larger teams and in virtual meetings this works not as well, because it takes more time to figure out who's turn it is to speak. This leads to questions, back and forths and other noise. In these cases it is good to have digital board with swimming lanes that can filter on assignee. Select each member one by one as before, but then repeat the process described above: go over each story, starting with the ones in the last column and work your way backwards in the process.

Every team I've been in that gave this process a try was convinced within days and made the switch permanent.