Definitive Guide to Stand-up meetings

Stand-up meetings have become a sacred ritual for teams using Agile in any form. They are fantastic for keeping a company aligned and focused in the same direction. Although implementing them is not difficult, making the most of these daily gatherings with your colleagues requires practice and nonetheless, experimentation.

Over the course of the past few years, at Kanbanize, we have managed to gain a lot of experience regarding this subject. It is only fair to share with those in need our knowledge and provide you with stand-up meeting ideas that have worked particularly well for us.

Stick to the end to:

  • Learn what makes stand-up meetings important
  • Get some proven tips for enhancing them
  • Review a few mistakes that you must avoid at all cost

What is a Stand-up Meeting?

A stand-up meeting is a short meeting between a team that is held on foot. The goal is to go over important tasks that have been finished, are in progress, or are about to be started.

It is also known as a daily stand-up or daily Kanban to teams practicing the Kanban method, due to the recurring cadence of the meeting.

Initially, the daily stand-up meetings originated in Scrum but were quickly adopted by teams using various frameworks and methods related to Agile.

They are very typical for software development teams but are gaining popularity in other fields of work such as marketing, project management, product development, and many others as well. This is because holding a short stand-up meeting provides a fresh and most of all effective alternative to typical round-table meetings that are dreaded by a large portion of the current workforce.

In fact, a research published by the MIT Sloan shows that meetings have increased in length and frequency over the past 50 years, to the point where executives spend an average of nearly 23 hours a week in them, up from less than 10 hours in the 1960s.

The stand-up meeting is meant to be a more efficient substitution to a team’s round-up meeting.

The problem, however, is not only with the length of these meetings but also with the fact that they can easily go off course, even if there is a solid agenda set upfront. This results in wasting time, energy, and nonetheless, reduced workflow capacity.

How to Conduct a Stand-up Meeting?

The stand-up meeting is meant to be a more efficient substitution to a team’s round-up meeting. When conducting it, you should keep the meeting concise and straight on point. This is quite easier to achieve compared to traditional meetings because standing for long periods of time creates a feeling of discomfort.

Tip: To put it in a specific time frame, we advise you to aim for a length of 10 minutes, but anything between 5 and 15 minutes is perfectly fine.

To begin with, select a recurring time for the daily stand-up that is convenient for each person that is supposed to attend. We advise you to schedule it soon after the beginning of the workday. This will allow you to sync your plan for the day and avoid mistakes caused by lack of communication.

We advise you to schedule it soon after the beginning of the workday.

At the beginning of the meeting, gather around your Kanban board. Here you need to understand that there are 2 typical approaches to holding the stand-up:

  • Focusing on the process – more popular in Kanban
  • Focusing on the people – widely adopted with other Agile methods/frameworks

If you want to focus on the team, during the daily meeting each person, with no exception, must be able to answer 3 fundamental questions regarding their workflow:

  1. What did I accomplish yesterday?
  2. What will I do today?
  3. What obstacles, if any, are impeding my progress?

Please have in mind that this way of holding a stand-up meeting is effective for teams that are not visualizing their workflow. In the presence of a Kanban board, explaining you have done the previous day is not necessary as each task’s assignee is visible and the value of this approach to stand-ups is reduced.

If you choose the process-focused way of doing a daily Kanban, you need to put attention not so much on what was done the previous day but rather on what’s slowing down items that have been in progress for the longest amount of time. Put special attention to blocked cards and discuss how you can deal with any progress impediments. Maybe even take action to tighten the WIP limits on your process to reduce context switching.

Tip: Whether you are using Kanban or not, we advise you to focus on the process instead of the people. This way you’ll make sure that progress is actually being made because as we all know, being busy and being productive can be very different things.

It is important that all stakeholders participate, even if there are remote employees scattered across the globe. Be sure to have this in mind when choosing the time for the stand-up.

Everybody must understand that the stand-up meeting doesn’t wait for anyone. For example, if you schedule it for 9:15 am, you should start at this very minute. Do not tolerate being late and develop a stimulus mechanism to motivate your team to be on time.

A while ago, we changed the time of our marketing team’s daily stand-up. Due to the fact that it was pulled 20 minutes ahead, a problem quickly arose. Every day, in the course of a couple of weeks, somebody was entering the meeting late.

This brought tension between the team and we decided to take a rather drastic measure to fix the problem at hand. We agreed that whenever somebody comes in late, the meeting will be moved one minute ahead permanently.

Although you may think this is quite harsh, it brought immediate results. Nobody wanted the stand-up to start earlier and nobody wanted to harm the rest of the team. Since this measure was taken, we’ve moved the daily Kanban just 2 minutes ahead.

Another less stressful stimulus would be for the person who’s late to buy coffee for the whole team the next day or do something else in everybody’s favor to make up for not arriving on time.

Here it is important to say that you risk creating a safe environment for being late if the team thinks that they can buy their way out of being punctual. The best you can do is try to find a balance between the carrot and the stick.

How to determine the order of speaking?

To begin with, you need to determine who starts speaking first. A commonly-adopted practice is for the last person entering the meeting to have the honor.

A commonly-adopted practice for starting a stand-up meeting is for the last person entering the meeting to have the honor.

Also, you can start presenting clockwise or counterclockwise using the board as the 12 o’clock indicator. And of course, you may just keep this unregulated and allow anyone to start the meeting.

There are quite a few stand-up ideas to determine the order of speaking at the meeting including:

  • Round robin – the next person on the left/right has to continue
  • Passing the baton – the person who is done presenting passes a sacred item (we used a plush hedgehog) to a teammate of their choice, and that person has to continue
  • Workflow state – go over the board and start with the Kanban cards that are furthest to the right, usually done or close to being finished. Respectively each card’s owner must talk about it

Each of these stand-up ideas is viable, although, if the people participating are nearing 10 people or even surpassing this number, passing the baton might not be a wise choice because somebody may easily be forgotten. Also, we would like to stress out that the third option is by far the most valuable to Kanban practitioners.

Tip: To consider the meeting successful, your team should engage in conversation about tackling the tasks at hand after the end.

Stand-up Meeting Ideas

If you put to practice everything that you’ve read about to this point of the article, you will be able to see an immediate positive effect from your daily Kanban. The following paragraphs contain stand-up ideas that we’ve implemented at some point in Kanbanize and have enhanced the value we get.

Schedule the meeting at a strange time

When scheduling the daily Kanban, it is a good idea to choose an unconventional time. For example, our RnD team meets at 9:18 AM; marketing at 9:52; customer-success at 10:08, etc.

When scheduling the daily Kanban, it is a good idea to choose an unconventional time.

By scheduling it for a strange time, you will make it more memorable. Even better, allow your team to suggest the time for the meeting when preparing to apply this Agile ritual for the very first time.

Raise the alarm

At the very beginning of my journey at Kanbanize, the marketing team had an alarm that started ringing a minute before the actual time of the stand-up. To give the meeting a positive connotation, we suggest you choose either a cheerful tone/song or some iconic music from a movie. A good example would be Queen’s all-time hit “We will rock you”.

Another way to put this stand-up idea to practice would to just set up a calendar notification to pop up just before the meeting. This way you can avoid the risk of annoying other colleagues working nearby or remind the teammate who’s always working with their headphones on that it’s time to go.

Even better, set up an alarm to indicate that 15 minutes have passed since the start of the meeting. It will serve as a timekeeper and will help you become more concise when presenting information during the stand-up.

Gather small teams

Running a 10-minute daily Kanban with 15 people would be quite the challenge and you would have a hard time getting any value out of it. Keep your meetings focused based on activity and break them down whenever a team grows too large.

When we were outgrowing the startup level, we drastically expanded our business unit. By this moment our marketing, sales and customer success teams were gathering for a joint stand-up. With a growing number of people attending, the efficiency of the daily kanban dropped significantly.

Soon after, we broke it down into 2 separate meetings and the situation changed immediately for the better. Since then we’ve made numerous experiments, sometimes even mixing teams based on specific projects that we were doing.

Tip: From our experience, the most effective daily stand-up meetings consist of 3 to 8 people.

Of course, everybody is welcome to these meetings as a spectator when they want to learn what a unit is doing, but they need to keep their questions for the end of the meeting.

Start with a physical activity

Nothing can get you as pumped up for the day ahead as an actual pump. This is a stand-up idea picked up from our founders, who always start their daily stand-up with a set of 20 pushups before going over their Portfolio Kanban board containing company-wide initiatives.

We suggest you choose some easy exercise like jumping jacks or squats and keep in mind the shape of your team when selecting the number of reps they should do. 🙂

Start according to priority

When starting the stand-up, we’ve found out that the best way to keep the team looking in the same direction is to discuss the items with the highest priority first. Our Kanban boards are split into two types of workflows:

  • Initiatives
  • Tasks

Shortly explained, initiatives are large projects broken down into multiple tasks and linked together. When holding the meeting, we always talk about the initiatives and only mention individual tasks that we’ve done if they’re not linked to an initiative but were with higher priority.

A good example of that would be when an expedite card arrives on our development team’s board and they have to leave anything else to fix the problem asap.

By going only through the initiatives, you will be able to stay up to date with progress on the truly important activities and not get distracted by insignificant personal tasks, which are an inevitable part of the workday.

Stand-up Meeting Mistakes to Avoid

So far, we have covered plenty of good practices, but of course, there are such that you’d better avoid if you want to have a positive experience from your daily stand-up meeting.

Don’t turn it into a status report

This is by far the most significant mistake you can make. Your goal is to keep the team aligned, not report status to whoever’s in charge in the room (executive, manager, lead, etc.).

Avoid detailed explanation about each card (task) and stop team members that do so, in a polite way, of course.

As mentioned earlier, the daily Kanban can be considered successful if teammates engage in a discussion after the meeting, not during.

Give the stand-up a positive connotation

At first, stand-ups may seem intimidating, especially for introverted people.

*I still remember how stressful it was for me when I joined Kanbanize and had to participate in my very first daily Kanban with all these new people looking at me. 🙂

Even though team members should be comfortable talking to each other, when having to discuss their work publicly with the whole team, including the manager, some people can become really nervous.

Give the stand-up meeting positive connotation

Avoid judging and giving negative feedback publicly during the meeting. Remember positive feedback has the greatest effect when given in front of everyone, negative feedback can harm people’s reputation, morale, and self-confidence greatly in the same situation.

Sitting down

Last but not least, remember why the meeting is called stand-up. I was shocked to hear that some teams actually hold their stand-ups while sitting down comfortably around a table.

Remember why you are switching to this type of daily meetings and if necessary, remove all the chairs from the room where you are gathering each day.

In Conclusion

The stand-up meeting is one of the most popular and widely-spread Agile practices. It can help you achieve better alignment between your teammates and keep everyone focused in the same direction.

Stand-up meetings can provide relief from the long round-table gatherings with questionable value and improve communication across your whole company.

Although they might seem quite simple to implement, there’s a lot more to them than meets the eye. We hope that by reaching the end of this article, you’ve managed to gather a few action items for your own team.

P.S. If you want to share some of your personal experience with stand-up meetings, we encourage you to do so in the comments section below.

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