The daily standup meeting sounds like one of the simplest ceremonies in the Agile toolkit. You get everybody together, they discuss their recent progress, and work gets done much faster.
In theory, stand-up is easy. In practice, it can be much more complicated, particularly for the Agile marketing teams that I work with. Distributed teams working on a wide variety of projects, and sometimes even Agile team members assigned to work outside of the Agile team, complicate this seemingly simple meeting.
The lessons from these difficult situations apply outside of marketing too, so I want to share the three most common avenues for improving a difficult daily standup meeting.
Respect the Timebox
Without exception, respect the 15-minute timebox for standup. That means no problem solving, no argument, and no veering away from the purpose of stand-up: to share progress and remove impediments.
Especially in the early days of a team using Agile, this practice may require a leader to act as a strict timekeeper.
If the team chafes under this kind of direction, posting a large timer in the standup space can serve a similar purpose. The clock, however, can’t redirect contributors when they’re going off topic or trying to problem solve during stand-up.
You may find it helpful to strike a deal with the team: as soon as they can complete stand-up for a week without intervention from the Scrum Master or Agile Team Lead, they can go back to running stand-up without such constant clock watching.
Many marketing teams struggle to commit to a daily standup, hoping to get the same benefits by meeting just two or three times a week. This means they have twice (or maybe even three times) the amount of progress to report in the same amount of time.
Of course, it’s nearly impossible to stick to a 15-minute timebox in this case.
When this happens, I encourage the Scrum Masters I am coaching to let the stand-up fail. Cut the team off after fifteen minutes and see what opportunities for collaboration and communication are lost.
It doesn’t take long for the team to realize that meeting daily, while sometimes logistically complicated and occasionally inconvenient, actually saves them time by reducing the need for communication outside of stand-up.
Include the Right People
Marketers struggle to get the right attendees at stand-up, and I suspect they aren’t alone. This challenge arises most often when there are multiple Agile teams inside a single marketing department, and each team wonders if they need to attend the other teams’ standups.
One 40-person department that I worked with springs to mind, in which projects needed to pass through at least two, and sometimes as many as four, separate teams before being completed.
Those teams’ leaders were obviously reluctant to attend 3-5 standups every day, but not showing up was sometimes introducing impediments to other teams who needed their input. These dependencies were actually symptoms of a larger issue: siloed teams who were far more inclined to lay blame than to collaborate with one other.
Standup is the opportunity for the team to take its pulse every day, so hopefully, the problems revealed by these kinds of dependencies and complexities can be addressed at their root cause.
Then, of course, there are the stakeholders, people outside of the department whose input could help the team, but isn’t always required. Should those people attend standup?
My gut reaction is yes, they should be there if they provide guidance more often than they sit silently. If time goes on and they find themselves giving less and less input as the team matures, perhaps they can remove themselves from the meeting.
Pick the Right Format
So often the traditional Scrum format of, “What I did yesterday/what I plan to do today/what impediments are in my way” format becomes a meaningless script. For those times, it may be time to make a change.
In these cases I often suggest moving to a more Kanban-style standup, in which a facilitator walks the board (either physically or virtually), bringing up new and noteworthy insights that have emerged since the previous standup.
With this style of stand-up, there’s no need for each and every team member to give their input, which can provide a shorter meeting that’s just as productive. It may also make it possible for larger teams to complete their daily standup in under fifteen minutes.
In my experience, there’s no perfect style of stand-up. Some teams, particularly the marketers I work with, benefit from the Kanban style that allows them to focus on the work rather than on the contributors.
Many projects pass among only a couple of team members, and their status has little impact on what other team members do. In this type of situation, the Scrum style of stand-up doesn’t deliver a lot of value. They prefer to discuss projects rather than people.
Standups Need Continuous Improvement Too
Don’t get too complacent about how your standup is going. This is the most frequent opportunity for the entire team to get together and communicate.
Ensure that you’re keeping the timebox, getting the right people attending, and using the best format, and the whole team will look forward to those fifteen minutes every day.
Andrea is a content marketer by trade and functions best when she’s writing regularly. Her most recent book, Death of a Marketer, chronicles marketing’s troubled past and charts a course to a more agile future for the profession. You can find more of her articles on the AgileSherpas blog.
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