The stand-up meeting, which we get from Scrum, can be one of the more magical, simple agile practices, helping the humans connect and collaborate and work as a team. But most of the stand-ups I observe fail to achieve the magic.

As any Scrum trainer will tell you, the stand-up is an improvement over a traditional, boring status meeting. But here’s the thing: the way most people teach the stand-up, it’s really just a status meeting that happens fast. I don’t recommend the traditional format at all, and haven’t for years. I recommend a format that I borrowed from kanban and that achieves the goal of helping the team collaborate on shared goals.

Textbook Stand-up = Fast Status Meeting
As a refresher, here’s the traditional way to run a stand up: Each person takes their turn and answers the three questions:

  • What have I done since the last time we met?
  • What am I going to do by the next time we meet?
  • Am I blocked?

There’s an elegance to the simplicity, to be sure. We don’t tell long stories. We do it frequently so we’re reporting on a short time frame. We focus on the problems that need solving. And of course we complete the meeting in 15 minutes, which is why we stand. (More accurate: We stand, to help us keep it to 15 minutes.) A quick meeting is possible because Scrum teams are small and because the questions are focused.

However, in my experience, most stand-ups feel an awful lot like short status meetings. By having each person take his or her turn and talk about his or her individual work., we encourage those humans to justify how they spent their time and show how hard they worked. We also are keeping the focus on individual contributions. We are asking them to ask for help, but the focus on the individual means we need certain amount of psychological safety and humility or maybe courage in order to ask for help. Finally, by having people talk about what tasks they did, we are keeping the focus on activity rather than on results.

I remember my very first scrum team; I was the Product Owner. We dutifully did our stand-up every day, looking at a printout of the task plan from Rally (because our stand-up room did not have a projector). We were shocked that we could make and meet task commitments every single day and yet every single sprint we failed to meet our shared commitment to deliver user stories. There ended up being a few reasons for that, but it certainly showed us the completing tasks is not the same as delivering value.

A Better Stand-up
So here’s how I really teach people to run stand-up meetings (and have for years).

First, make sure that you are all looking at the visualization of the work that you committed to as a team. Whether that’s a scrum storyboard or a SAFe program board or a team kanban board. Make sure that you’re looking at the level of meaningful value to deliver to customers and stakeholders and not individual tasks.

Walk the board from right to left, focusing on what has changed since the last stand-up. Obviously your board might look a little different, but something like:

  • Done/Accepted: Did anything move into ‘done’ that needs to be talked about?
  • Completed: Did anything move into completed and therefore needs a review by a product owner or stakeholder?
  • In-Progress: What of the in-progress work was touched yesterday and/or will be worked on today? Who needs to collaborate in order to move something forward? Are there any handoffs that should happen today? Is there anything keeping us from moving forward?
  • Ready to Pull: Will any new work be pulled in today?

As kanban taught us, if we want to achieve a good flow of work we want to prioritize finishing things over starting things. So, the stand-up should include a quick discussion of how to do that today.

This approach is still just a 15-minute meeting. It meets the promise of the original scrum stand-up: It’s our daily commitment together to move towards our collective sprint commitment. All the focus is on the value and the delivery, and the conversation is about how we’ll work together as a team.

‘But how do we know that everyone is pulling their weight?’ I’ve been asked by nervous managers. If your stand-up is the only way that the team can tell whether people are contributing, you’ve got bigger communication problems. if you’re using the stand up to figure out who’s working hard then your stand-up is a status meeting. Perhaps that’s why people dread it a little?

Change your stand up today! Follow this model and see what happens. Does it shift the energy? Does it help the team meet its commitments? Let me know, in this conversation on LinkedIn!