Pancakes! Are Your Stand-Ups Focused?

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So, your standup should go something like this…

1) Invite as many people as possible

You need to make sure everyone you work with is doing their job, so you might as well do it all at once. Nevermind that a majority of the meeting will be irrelevant to each attendee individually. Bonus points if those people never work together!

2) Schedule at least half an hour

Each person’s update is going to take at least 2 minutes, maybe more if any questions arise, so make sure you allot enough time for everyone. You’ve got everyone in same place so this is also a great time to do any solutioning. And if you happen to finish early, start talking about anything. Let the conversation flow; everything is relevant. With 10 people at $50 an hour, this meeting costs $250 a day, but it’s worth it.

3) Make sure you have plenty to say

The less you speak, the more it will seem like you’re not doing your job. Talk about every meeting you’re going to, every problem you had, read your calendar out loud if you need to. Also, interject into other people’s updates so you appear engaged and informed.

By now, you should have realized I’m being sarcastic and if any of this sounds familiar, then you are doing it wrong.

Daily stand-ups are a common practice in many technology companies, but I have rarely seen it done right. It usually turns into people trying to justify that they are busy, devolving into a 30-minute affair of no value. But when I joined the Galvanize Software team, I was surprised that our daily stand-up never lasted longer than 10 minutes.

Here are a few ground rules we’ve come up with that might help yours:

  • Everyone should be standing, encouraging a short meeting
  • The participants should all be on the same team, in order to keep the meeting relevant to everyone
  • No one should touch their computers. If you’re distracted, then why be there?
  • Your updates should be high level: What you did yesterday, what you’re doing today, and any roadblocks
  • Keep it to a few sentences at most. If you need to get into the details, do it afterward with the relevant participants
  • If your stand-up is more than 6 people, you should consider breaking it up or it will get too long
  • If conversation goes off topic, we say “Pancakes!” and we all immediately know to stop (don’t ask)

The best thing I’ve learned is that it’s OK to have no update. It’s better to have no update than spew nonsense for a few minutes in order to seem busy. No one doubts that anyone is slacking off, and even if they did, the daily stand-up meeting wouldn’t be the place to address that anyway.

A short stand-up is meaningful because it provides context and direction for the rest of the day. A long stand-up just leaves everyone frustrated and sluggish, giving the illusion of productivity when they are usually anything but. So start cutting your daily stand-up short or stop having one altogether. If you have to, stop the stand-up immediately at 10 minutes, even if everyone didn’t get to speak. Eventually, you and your team will get used to it and save time—time you could be using to do something instead of just talking about it.

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