Smelly Stand-ups: 9 Issues you may Encounter


I just got done helping coach my son’s basketball team. They are playing a summer league and to say they are a little rusty is an understatement. They throw a lot of bad passes and miss numerous easy shots. As a parent, we are not supposed to say they are bad, but they have a lot of room for improvement. Of course, they could say it is the coaches fault and they are probably right!

Similar to my basketball coaching ability when I started as a Scrum Master my stand-up meetings weren’t too good. Like Ty Webb said to Judge Smails, “Don’t sell yourself, short Judge, you’re a tremendous slouch.” As our team began to get its agile legs we began to make some strides and get better. It didn’t go up consistently though. We hit many of these issues that we are going to talk about here.

Marathon Updates

Working with different groups you occasionally run into people with rambling updates. It reminds me of a guy I knew in college. Someone described him as having diarrhea of the mouth and constipation of the brain. He would talk endlessly about his favorite topic, himself! Make sure to remind your people of the three questions they all should be answering. That shouldn’t include how your cat is doing on its latest prescription.

Off topic specialist

In every team, you find someone who tends to drift off topic. Maybe they have a hobby they like to discuss or family drama. Once someone starts it can lead others astray as well. The Scrum Master needs to keep things focused on the work. One or two sentences it is okay but, after that, it turns into story hour. I find it works best to talk to a person one on one. People many times are not aware of the times they share too much.

Status Meeting in Drag

When you switch from waterfall to agile you may have some habits leftover. One Scrum Master who was formerly a project manager would hold his stand ups like a status meeting. I jokingly said, “this is like a status meeting in drag.” Which got a few laughs and some funny looks. After the meeting, I spoke to the Scrum Master about this. I told him that we seemed to be acting agile but, not embracing it.

Only Team time

Teams need time together to bond strongly. If the team only meets at the standup this can cause the discussions to go long as they point out in this post from Pinnacle Projects. “Ken Schwaber is clear in the Scrum Guide that a daily standup meeting eliminates the need for many other project meetings. However, if this is the only time the team gathers as a whole then you’ll find it difficult to constrain discussion to those topics on the limited agenda of the standup meeting”. I would agree with these sentiments. Make sure there is ample team time during the week.

Timing

Make sure to start and end your meetings on time. For some people who have other meetings scheduled you don’t want to run over your allotted time. Make sure to remind everyone to get there on-time too. One or two important stragglers can make the meeting run long. Or they may miss important updates that someone already shared.

Standing

Jason Yip shared many good suggestions in this article. One of the most important is standing part. We stand simply to keep the meeting short. It doesn’t seem that earth shattering but some don’t get it. The simple act of standing up keeps most conversations shorter. Keep it short and simple and stand up!

Who Attends?

Keep the meeting attendance to the team directly involved in the work. Don’t invite others to drop by from other teams or leaders. They can view it but, they are not part of the team and don’t need to talk.

What do we talk about?

There are really three questions your update should answer. What did you do yesterday? What are going to do today? And what roadblocks do you have? If you have something else to share keep it for another time. Or talk to the concerned parties after the standup meeting is complete. Applying these simple guidelines can help keep the meeting short.

Where and when?

The standup meeting should take place where the work gets done. It should not be in a meeting room. Especially if it is ways away from where everyone sits. When I first was a Scrum Master I tried scheduling conference rooms. That alone was a huge roadblock. Once we got everyone sitting together and having our meetings there we had a much better response. We also made sure to have a consistent time. Always at 9 am or whatever time you choose.

So we have a few suggestions for crafting a good startup. I know I wish I had some of these suggestions when I first started. What other issues do you have with your stand up meetings? Please share them in the comments.

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