Three Mantras for Effective Standup Meetings

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Three Mantras for Effective Standup Meetings

Make your stand ups worthwhile!

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Standup meeting

Will the real Scrum master please stand up?
You may also like: Scrum Master or Daily Stand-Up Facilitator?
  • Are your daily stand-up meetings taking too long?

  • Has your daily stand-up meeting shaped into a roll call or status update only to the scrum master/leader, rather than a collaborative stand-up?
  • Are your people are not participating in the stand-up and also distracted while others giving their updates in the stand-up?
  • Are people becoming less interested and tend to not show up for the stand-ups?
  • Are people not updating your Scrum tool (JIRA, Sprint Board, etc) for status updates and is it becoming a nightmare for getting the accurate status on their stories?

If your answer is yes to any of the above questions, it may be worth looking back and reviewing your daily stand-up procedure.

Here are some workable tips; I have split this into three categories and prefer to refer them with Acronyms below, for easily remembering them as three core mantras:

1 —The KISSATO Mantra

"Keep it short simple and take it offline" is used for problem-solving, triaging discussions.

How Do We Practice the KISSATO Mantra?

Keep it Short and Simple

    • Time the meeting with an alarm...to 15 minutes. It can be a loud alarm for the Scrum team to hear or just the Scrum master can have a silent timer to track and then inform the team.
      • Timing is one of the most important aspects to enforce in the stand-ups — as this time factor will remind the team members to be crisp in their updates and therefore also to help them focus!
      • If it still turns out that your stand-up can’t be finished in 15 minutes or around that time limit, it may be time to split the scrum team and calls! Check if your scrum team size is beyond the maximum recommend one as in the scrum guide.
    • Remind people: Keep reminding people, as needed, to be crisp, simple in their updates and to see and/or talk to each of the others, rather than looking at/talking to only the scrum master; This is important, to help team members to understand each other updates, feel collaborative and be reminded that:

Take it offline: Clarifying questions on updates can be asked as part of the stand-up but not troubleshooting/problem-solving questions which should be taken offline after the stand-up.

    • Clarifying questions are the ones intended to make sure that the update, a member/scrum master received from other team members, is understood correctly.
      • Example 1: Member A to B — Mr. B, you mentioned that you have an error during testing your story. Is it on the cart page or the checkout page?
      • Example 2: Scrum master to Member C — Mr. C, was the update you mentioned for story # 3457?
    • Problem-solving questions are the ones that are intended to get more details and to try to solve a problem brought up by a team member in the stand-up.

Example stand-up conversation involving a problem-solving question:

Member D to E: Is that error you mentioned occurred even after adding the error handling code? In that case, it looks like you seem to have incorrectly handled the error?!

Member E to D: I followed the similar code that was already there. That code was calling method x() and doing the handling.

As seen above, this conversation deep dives into the details and trying to sort out the problem during the stand-up; others listening may either not be understanding the details of the discussion or may not be interested — as the Member E and D are trying to solve the problem which only they may know/understand. In these cases where socializing a problem/impediment happens, the conversation should be taken offline, by Member D contacting Member E offline, by saying ‘Let us take this offline after the stand-up’.

Problem-solving questions are typical to be taken offline after the scrum update as if a 16th-minute item.

Make it a ‘Stand-up’, literally (when possible): For in-person meetings, keep the meeting literally as a ‘stand-up’ instead of sitting; This may sound too literal, but ‘Standing up’ for updates have few advantages:

      • Members may find it difficult to multi-task by using their laptops — which typically is the case when sitting; instead, their attention may turn towards the stand-up.
      • Also, while standing, members tend to keep their updates shorter.

Make it visual: Keep the Sprint board in front of you — either electronically on a TV or shared via your laptop in a remote meeting or on a paper board when physically present, for people to visualize and talk about.

People tend to be more focussed when they see something to talk about and also understand better what others are talking about during their updates.

2 — The SICIT Mantra

"My status is currently in the tool".

How Do We Practice the SICIT Mantra?

Often, we could see that the team members don’t diligently update the tracking system - which could be an electronic tool like JIRA or it could be a physical Sprint Chart board. This becomes a nightmare for the scrum master/product owners etc to accurately read the sprint progress and adjust accordingly. When this happens, as the first step, make sure that the update process itself is not complicated and time consuming for the team members.

Updates in Scrum, shouldn’t be a burden to the team members and shouldn’t result in itself as an impediment. This process, therefore, should be reviewed; if the problem is detected to be with the update process itself, the scrum master can take ownership to review and adjust the process - so that it is simple for the team to adopt it, going forward.  

After these process adjustments have been reviewed and completed, in addition to the traditional three-point update (what did I do yesterday, what will I do today and do I see any impediments), include fourth point update from the team to imply ‘my status, comments or blockers are mentioned and they are currently in the tool/board’. This indirectly forces them to make sure that they keep their status up to date on the tool/board, before they come to the stand-up!

3 —The RIR Mantra

"Reward in retrospective."

How Do We Practice the RIR Mantra?

  • As also mentioned in the KISSATO mantra above, team members have to be self-organizing and cross-functional. Therefore, make reasonable encouragement to team to sign up for helping other people for blockers (so that they talk to the concerned people after the call); this will make the Scrum team to become self-organizing/cross-functional, eventually.
  • To get people motivated to sign up in the Stand-ups for unblocking others(and therefore keeping the call more engaged), Scrum masters can silently note down those who are signing up and providing unblocking contributions to others. The scrum master can then bring them up as rewards/shout-outs in retrospectives — which will further motivate the team members for even further collaboration. Also, be very careful to make sure this doesn’t turn things negatively, where some team members who don’t get rewarded may take this as demotivating.

Let's Take a Look at a Sample Stand-Up Based on the Above Mantras

Aisha: Yesterday, I worked on outlining the product screens; Today I need to create the HTML for the same; I don’t have blockers; My status is currently in the tool.

Rami: Yesterday, I started on the unit testing of my code; I discovered a blocker where I am unable to invoke the outbound service; I need help from someone; I have updated this in JIRA.

Joshua: Rami, Were you getting an error while invoking the outbound service?

Rami: Yes, a timeout error!

Joshua: Oh okay, I can work with you for the timeout error after the call to see if I can help. I faced one similar error in a past story.

Rami: Thanks, Joshua!

Joshua: Alright. Yesterday, I worked on reviewing the other members’ code. I created a coding standards document as well, and today I will continue with the design items and also work with Rami to see how I can help. My status is up to date in JIRA.

Scrum master: Thanks Joshua for helping Rami!

Joshua: My pleasure!

Regina: Yesterday, I tested all the stories that are ready for testing. Today I don’t have any stories; I need to work with someone to get an understanding of order placement stories. The test status is up to date in JIRA on those stories.

Victor: Okay, Regina. I have some ideas thereon order placement stories. I will help —

Going ahead with my updates: I got the code review comments from Joshua yesterday and will work on them today. My Jira updates are current; however, I need requirement clarification on one item time today — which is required for addressing the code review comment, what can I do?

Eventually, if Joshua/other team members know the answer, they can sign up to help Victor after the call; If it is still blocked, then scrum master sees through this and jumps in to facilitate help for Victor to as well.

As We Can See in the Above Example Stand-Up Conversation

  • The team members are talking and listening to each other actively- as the updates are short and simple to understand.
  • The team doesn’t try to solve the problems discussed, during the call — but only after the call.
  • Joshua and Rami are only engaging in a clarifying question during the process of the update but quickly decides to take them offline, to work in detail.
  • There is active participation seen from other team members as well and scrum master is going to be reached out when there are blockers that the team cannot resolve. The scrum master also has an opportunity to take a note about these volunteers signing up to help others and recognize them in the retrospective.
  • The team sees the stories on the board/tool as they speak — so they understand what others are talking about during their updates.
  • The team seems to also have a habit of talking about their updates in tracking tools as well — which helps scrum master to derive sprint status appropriately.

In summary — following these three mantras will get your stand-ups on track again and will not only be interesting to the team but also make them feel rewarding!

I always try to influence these three mantras into the different projects’ stand-ups I go and have seen positive results when I get the team to implement these mantras.

Now it’s your turn — share your experiences and tips below for others!

Further Reading

7 Ways to Tune Your Standup Meetings

Is There Value in The Daily Standup Meeting?

Managers: For Effective Stand Up Meetings, Do Your Homework

scrum (development), scrum coaching, standups

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