Standup meeting variations

Some time ago I have joined a team that was practicing a standup meeting more or less by the book: everybody is standing up in a circle, each one taking turn to update everybody else about what has been done and what’s left on her own user story, some people are observers and they just listen without intervene. The meeting was always short and sometimes it triggered discussions to be followed up shortly after. Everybody was happy.

It’s a wonderful life, isn’t it? Well, not exactly…

After a while I’ve started to realize that there was something wrong going on with the standup, but I couldn’t figure it out at a first glance. Maybe what I was perceiving as a by the book standup meeting wasn’t really what it looked like on the surface. I just remember that when there was the time of the meeting I’ve started to think: “Oh, no, it’s time for standup, what a bore!”
It was kind of shocking for me because I’ve always found the time spent at the standup meeting to be very useful and it should not have been a problem in this case due to its brevity (always less than 15 minutes, more often around 10 minutes for a team between 10 and 15 people).

So I’ve started questioning the mechanics of the meeting and comparing what was happening with some experiences and recommendations over the net. To a certain degree, I’ve started to think very soon that the meeting was too short: it was already pretty much weak in content when the team was around 10 people, and it became even worse when the size of the team increased up to around 15.
Almost every person had the opportunity to say only what they were working on yesterday, sometimes just the name of the user story, without spending time on what was actually done, what was left and any roadblocks that they have encountered. Don’t get me wrong, everybody was acting in good faith, but the rule of keeping the meeting short gradually became an end rather than just a mean. It’s also worth noting that because of the round-robin style coupled with pair-programming and a pair rotation not more frequent than a day, half of the people attending the meeting were basically saying: “Already covered by mr. Pink”, where mr. Pink was the guy I worked with yesterday and who has already spoken before me. Quite annoying, isn’t it?

In a previous experience I was used to have a pretty unorthodox standup meeting where the team members, rather than standing up in a circle, were talking in front of a computer commenting what they have done, with the browser showing yesterday’s entry for the project’s daily journal.

    Note: I’m not sure where I have taken the concept of the daily journal. It’s something that I’ve started in the team I was working with quite some time ago. I think it was end of 2001 or beginning of 2002. I’m not even sure where I’ve taken inspiration for it. Maybe XP Installed (it’s briefly mentioned there, although it seems for a different purpose), I really don’t remember, maybe from a conference (if some of my old fellows is willing to contribute here I’d really appreciate it). I’ll blog about it in the future.

I’ve tried to introduce the daily journal in this reality as well, with different purposes, but it didn’t work out quite well. So I was looking for something that anyway could direct the team towards a more effective communication.

I suddenly had the idea of moving the meeting outside of the development area into a boardroom with a computer connected to a projector. Because the team was tracking its time and planning stories through xplanner, it was easy to think to start from the effort being tracked on xplanner the day before. Instead of going in circle, we have used the order of stories in one of xplanner reports: the person in charge of the story had to speak up and whoever was working with him during the day had a chance to complement and integrate her words.

Honestly, it was kind of a bet. I didn’t know if it was going to be successful, but I was willing to give it a try and to look carefully for feedback. The team was used to do it the old way, so why bother? Obviously somebody else was probably feeling bad as well, because I haven’t encountered much resistance. There were doubts, yes, especially about the role of the facilitator (I’ve played it for the first two meetings, but I’ve soon left it to somebody else, somebody different every time, so that it was not bound to myself as the proponent). The VP of Operations confessed me that she thought it was going to take a lot of time and being quite ineffective.

After months of application I can say it was a great success. The level of communication has increased tremendously, without compromising the amount of time, rarely beyond 15 minutes in total. I’m quite pleased and somewhat surprised with the result. I wasn’t expecting it to work so well even after just a few days. What was particularly good was watching little discussions actually starting during the meeting between different team members, nothing extensive and overflowing in terms of time, but genuinely dense. The level of energy has almost always been kept significantly high.

If you are used to track your effort daily and you are willing to give it a try I would be curious to know how it has worked out for you.


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