Keeping aligned is really important to Agile teams and, according to the Scrum methodology, daily standup meetings are the tool of choice for that. When done effectively, they provide visibility and transparency to all stakeholders. Just as importantly, they help the team catch problems early.

Programmer pulling his hair with Scrum whiteboard in backgroundGenerally speaking, daily meetings bring a lot of benefits for the performance and communication of development teams. So, it’s no surprise that you can find lots of recommendations on “how to” lead them. Here is our very own contribution to this list:

  1. Focus on getting updates from the team

    According to Scrum, there are three key questions that every team member must come ready to answer,

    • What did you complete since the last meeting?
    • What are you planning to work on today
    • Is there any issue that may prevent you from making progress?

    To which we add a fourth question,

    • How confident are you that you are going to get “it” done?

    Admittedly, this really is another way of asking the “any issues?” questions but you’ll be surprised how many times somebody will say “no, no issues” and a minute later will say “well, I am only 50% confident I’ll make it.” And this gives the team an opportunity to figure out if there’s a real obstacle on the way.

  2. Always Be On Time

    The meeting must start at the time scheduled, no matter what. Everybody in the team must understand the importance of the meeting and commit to starting on time. One obvious way to enforce the rule is to start on time, even if you’re by yourself.

    Then, you can make fun of the late comers (in a nice way). For ideas look here andhere.

  3. 15 Minute Time-Box

    If these meetings take longer than 15 minutes, people will get bored and lose their engagement. Doing short meetings is a must. In fact, if the meetings are taking more than 15 minutes, then something else is going on during the meetings besides aligning on progress.  If the team is too big (i.e., more than eight people), then split it and you’ll have a better chance to keep the meetings on time and effective.

  4. Long Discussions

    Sometimes meetings lose focus and they start wandering all over the place. To make sure this doesn’t get out of hand, there must a person moderating the meeting and keeping the discussion on subject. The moderator doesn’t have to say much, “Excuse me, but let’s have that discussion offline,” will do.

  5. Make it visual

  6. Progress should be represented in a visual way. You should arrange the visual space in a way that the team can have a clear idea of all the updates: tasks that are done, those in progress, and the ones not yet started. We use Scrum whiteboard, visible for all the team members. We also use Mingle, JIRA and Rally with different client teams.  We are also evaluating VersionOne.

    Team members must report on their status every day. It is also very important thatthey have the opportunity to make their own changes on the board or whatever other tool you use.

    In the graph below, note that early in the sprint, we fell behind schedule almost right away. However, this fact became so obvious that it forced the team to deal with this situation just as quickly. For the rest of the sprint, we stayed below our estimates.

  7. Identify Blockers

    Identify and remove blockers as a top priority. The whole team is responsible for this, not just the Scrum master or the product owner.

    It is also important to identify who’s the right person to deal with each action item. Adding a blockers section may help you track blockers on the whiteboard. This way, they would always be visible and progress will be tracked.

  8. The Team Is Most Important

    The meeting is not intended to report to anyone in particular (e.g., the Scrum master). Actually, the meeting is to let the whole team know what each member is working on and whether you are running into any issues.

    The meeting is for the team, by the team.

    We don’t want people to behave as they have to report to someone. We see the “command and control” behavior as something that is not good for the health of teams.

  9. Don’t Blog or Email or … During Daily Meetings

    Be sure that during the meeting no one is in front of a computer unless is required to support the meeting itself (e.g., an online visualization tool). Meetings are for discussions and not typing, reading or doing something different than participating.

    Relax. Stop coding for a bit. It’s worth it.

Daily meeting are a good tool, but also they might turn into a time sync if not managed tightly. As much as people complaint about meetings, they are often all to happy to let them drift into the endless pits. The mantra of keeping them short and on target will reap countless benefits.  And maybe the practice will spread to other time syncs … er … I mean, meetings.