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The ingredients of a winning daily stand up

It’s the boring stuff that makes or breaks businesses. Maintenance? Boring. Daily stand up? Boring. Data scrubbing? Boring. But if you’re not doing those things well and often, your product can crumble. We all love to focus on inventions and new features because they’re fun, capture our imaginations and can cue rapid growth stages… if executed on well. 

A handheld computer was a great idea, except the Palm Pilot was lousy. The iPhone executed on that premise brilliantly, and now Apple is a $3T company. Codie Sanchez has built a business (and content) empire on ‘boring businesses’ because she understands this simple fact — if you do the boring stuff well, you’ll make a ton of money.

When it comes to software development, one of those seemingly boring things is the daily stand up: It’s vital to successful development, almost no one talks about how to run a stand up well, and it can make or break your project.

So, here’s our 9-step guide to running a winning daily stand up:

1. Keep Time

Keep the meeting to 15 minutes, and set the expectation that everyone attends on time. If the team is looking at doing this every day into…forever, the least you can do is respect everyone’s time and make sure others do too. One important component of this is to have a moderator who can keep everyone apprised of the time and help direct lengthy conversations offline. Some teams have funny, quick consequences for when people arrive late (e.g. “recite an original poem”).

2. Icebreaker

Though some parts of the development process can feel robotic, remember your team is composed of human beings (and not all of them are morning people!). A quick icebreaker helps engage people’s minds, open communication, and maybe even get some laughs. Icebreaker suggestions:

  • Tell a joke (and ask if anyone else has heard good ones)
  • Ask a ridiculous “would you rather” question (e.g. would you rather have to eat peanut butter at every meal or never be able to drink caffeine again?)
  • Try prompts. e.g. Your superhero name is the word Super followed by whatever you focused on last at work — what’s yours?
  • Steer clear of open-ended questions or ones that could provoke a long-winded or too-personal answer

3. Get Updates

Task status updates are not actually the meat of the meeting; solving the issues presented during the update is. As such, you should find ways to get these three things as quickly as possible: what’s been done; what they’re currently working on; do they need help. Once you answer those three questions, you can move onto the meat portion — solving them.

It’s often difficult for folks to ask for help, so sometimes it can help to frame the last question a little more creatively, such as:

  • What could prevent you from completing what’s on your plate?
  • What issues are you facing?
  • How confident are you that you will get your part done? (This one is helpful because someone may say they don’t need help… and then also say they’re only 70% confident they can complete their work. In finding out about the 30% unsure, you can usually uncover the issue).

4. Remove Obstacles

The whole team should be involved in this, not just the product owner. This is where the combined experience of the team can shine. With everyone chatting, together, all that collective experience can help unblock individual contributors, solve different obstacles, and keep the project moving smoothly down the tracks.

One key is to involve everyone (including the quiet or introverted team members). Often these folks have value to provide but might need encouragement to participate.

5. Visualize Progress

A common way to give a visual representation of the software project’s status is a SCRUM board (for agile teams). We use Confluence for our teams. There are lots of software options for SCRUM (plus other distinctive options if SCRUM doesn’t fit your team). Make sure you have some kind of accompanying visual to represent where work might be stymied or piling up while also showing how far the project has come to date.

6. Protect the Meeting from Outside Influences

Set the expectation that nobody is on phones or computers during the meeting unless required to update the visual or answer a question pertinent to the meeting. Then, enforce the expectation. Leadership should model this behavior, and it should also be a stated rule. This is what ensures the 15-minute standup is effective and focused…and actually 15 minutes.

7. Ask for Feedback

A daily standup is only as effective as the people participating feel that it is. So be sure to ask for feedback from the team (individually and outside the standup time). Find out what they like and what isn’t working for them.

8. Invite Clients

I know some software developers and agency owners tensed up when reading this. Admittedly, it’s not for everyone. But we’ve found that transparency between our development teams and our clients is paramount to success. Sometimes they catch a critical issue that would have caused a rework later. Our clients know their customers and their organization the best, and we welcome their feedback throughout the design and build processes (in fact, most of our builds start with an Innovation Lab: a dialed-in, proven, effective workshop with our team and representatives from our client’s org.). Our clients are always welcome at our daily standups as well as all major planning meetings.

And now — the most important feature of an effective daily stand-up. (Hint: It’s in the name)

9. Daily

At some point during software development, daily standups are likely to feel tedious or even pointless. But just like a blood pressure pill, how well it works is often unseen and unfelt… until you stop. 

The same is true for daily stand ups — we can guarantee you will start to notice negative effects if you stop doing them (or the quality of the stand ups starts to deteriorate). 

Unfortunately, you may not notice those effects until a project has gone off-track (or after a simple miscommunication that would’ve been caught early has snowballed into a major rework). 

Do the standups, commit to doing them well, and do them every day.

So there’s only one thing left to say…I’d choose peanut butter. How about you?


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Jeff Francis

Jeff Francis is a veteran entrepreneur and founder of Dallas-based digital product studio ENO8. Jeff founded ENO8 to empower companies of all sizes to design, develop and deliver innovative, impactful digital products. With more than 18 years working with early-stage startups, Jeff has a passion for creating and growing new businesses from the ground up, and has honed a unique ability to assist companies with aligning their technology product initiatives with real business outcomes.

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