There is a side effect to ready-made processes: people stop questioning purpose. This is especially true from things coming from scrum, and a perfect example is stand-ups.

Most I’ve seen are in the format of a circle, next to a board, and everyone goes in turn: “yesterday i did x, today I’m doing y, thanks for your attention, you can go back to sleep now”. When I ask someone : why are you doing stand-ups, the most common answer is “so that we know what other people are working on”1. Yet, when you ask at the end of the stand-up what someone did the day before, and they don’t work closely with them, they usually can’t answer2.

I don’t think this kind of stand-up has any use. I think at best it’s a daily reporting to the manager/master/lead/rest of team. It has the appearance of reinforcing communication, while at the same time not accomplishing anything. It has no goals, therefore no-one really knows what to do and why.

You can easily spot a dysfunctional meeting in that people will gladly skip it if everyone pretend they forgot about it. No obvious outcome = no motivation.

There is no secret to getting something to be useful - the first step is figuring out what use if fulfills.

One way I found particularly useful for the teams I work with, is to use the stand-up to prepare the action plan for the day. For each work item, what is the next action we’re gonna take to make it move to the right, and who is taking that action today? As we’re trying to keep wip low and release things fast, we start from things that are close to be released, then move our way to things that are in earlier stages of the process.

Physically from the right-most column, then moving left. Right to left stand-up.

This serves two purposes:

  1. get organized
  2. groom our board

The additional benefits we get from it are:

  • we are sure that nothing will be left abandoned for more than 24h. Since we review everything everyday.
  • If statuses are incorrect, we fix them during stand-up3, so we know things on the board are up to date to a minimum scale of a day
  • If WIP is getting high, we immediately notice it, since stand-up is taking more than its usual 5 minutes…
  • ..stand-up is fast. We don’t tell our life everyday and waste everybody’s time. The goal is clear so we know when a conversation is drifting out of the scope.
  • it’s more natural. The conversation is less around “I don’t have anything to do today” and more about “how are we gonna work as a team to accomplish the task at hand”
  • since it’s purposeful, people don’t dread it as much.
  • it works particularly well in times of stress. Anything on the board that is not tied to the current focus can be ditched, then the board gives us clarity. We know all that needs to be done. We’re sure that there’s not that thing is sedimenting somewhere, that no one wants to take responsibility for.

Right to left stand-ups are not a silver bullet. Finding the purpose for something you’re doing daily almost is. If you don’t find a purpose to your stand-up, stop doing it.

Notes

  1. followed closely by: scrum says so 

  2. no blame intended 

  3. on that note, one team should have one board max, either physical or virtual. It’s hard enough to maintain one correctly. Physical boards are nice and trendy, but they require team to be collocated and physically present to be of any use.