I have long been a fan of standing meetings but to be successful, teams have to use them well. A conversation that rambles around without focus is not helpful. Standing meetings were not designed to be project status meetings or a way to micromanage teams.
The three questions that are routinely answered at Scrum standing meetings were designed to provide focus and accountability. It’s like waking up in the morning and saying, “Wow! I got this done yesterday! Today I’m going to accomplish this other task, but I do have this problem on my hands.” Before I share some secrets to using standing meetings well, we need to review the basics.
A Scrum standing meeting is a short (typically 15 minutes), regular (typically daily) meeting where team members answer three questions:
- What have I accomplished since our last meeting?
- What do I plan to accomplish next?
- Are there any problems that are keeping me from moving forward?
That’s it. Short and sweet! Having covered the basics of the traditional Scrum standing meetings, it’s worth noting that other meetings can be held standing up.
Andrew Knight and Markus Baer, of the Olin Business School at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri are conducting research on how standing up impacts meeting productivity. According to Knight, “A workspace that encourages people to stand up is going to lead to more collaborative and more creative outputs.”[i]
Here are nine keys to using standing meetings well:
Understand the purpose of your meeting.
If you are holding a traditional Scrum meeting, follow the rules. Stand up, answer the right questions, etc. If you are holding another kind of meeting and standing, you still need to know what the objective of the meeting is.
Stick with the right questions. Don’t talk about other issues.
Regardless of whether you are holding a traditional Scrum meeting or not, stick to the plan. Talk about the right subjects and don’t let the conversation veer off on tangents. Create a “parking lot” – a place to record issues or ideas that arise so that you can deal with them later.
Solve problems later.
When project managers are routinely unable to clear the impediments out of the way, it is de-motivating. You may find that team members will stop disclosing problems when they feel like there is no point, because the problems never get solved.
Encourage honesty and transparency.
For teams to improve their effectiveness, they have to begin to trust each other. When team members don’t feel comfortable sharing problems or admitting they need help, teams can’t build a culture of honesty, transparency, and accountability.
Be aware of power dynamics that might arise because of someone’s size.
One of the benefits of standing meetings is improved collaboration and accountability, but if someone in the group is particularly small or large, it can show up in the power dynamics in play. Be aware of that. If you see someone not speaking up (regardless of their size), ask for his or her input. We can be more effective when everyone’s ideas are heard.
Relentlessly focus on moving the work forward.
Regardless of whether you are working towards delivering working software or working towards a new strategic plan, product development, or marketing strategy, what value are you planning to deliver to the client (or your management) in the next few days or weeks? How can you keep the meeting time focused on that work, and making it happen? Standing meetings are not rant sessions, or the time for detailed planning or problem solving. Focus on moving the work forward.
Get the right people there.
It’s hard to have effective meetings, standing or seated, when critical team members are not present and engaged. You have to start by building a commitment to attendance. Or, people will find reasons to schedule something else during that time frame.
Talk to your team members. Don’t report to your boss.
When you look around the room during a Scrum session, are the people talking with each other or do they appear to be giving a report to the project leader (or Scrum master)? The long-term goal of holding frequent, recurring standing meetings is to build a collaborative and effective team. When you see people reporting to the boss, it’s a pretty good indication that the team is not moving towards self-organization.
Create positive vibes.
There are many ways to do this. Start and finish on time. Consider a starting and closing ritual that is positive. Have a quick check-in (thumbs up, down, sideways) at the beginning of each meeting to see if there are any significant personal concerns. Encourage self-management. Avoid micromanagement. Make complimentary remarks. Laugh a little. Have fun!
If you thought these tips for using standing meetings well were helpful, please share this blog with your friends and colleagues.