None the wiser after the stand up? Wrong stand up or chance to learn

Kim Daubney asked “What to do when stand ups leave you none the wiser”? What you do really depends on why you are “none the wiser”. Do you have a knowledge gap or is the wrong information being shared?

Knowledge gap

The stand up isn’t going to make much sense to folk who don’t have the context.

Most development stand ups are quite technical. Technical people talking about technical things. So anybody at the stand up that lacks that technical context is going to struggle. This is, for example, one of the reasons I favour project managers with a technical background.

Personally, although I have a technical background, I do find it gets stale over time and I start to miss key elements of what is being discussed. So every now and then I ask one of the developers to run me through the architecture and terminology. I supplement this by personal software projects at home. The combination gives me barely sufficient knowledge to understand what is going on.

The other likely knowledge gap is the domain. I’m less worried about this one. I’ve worked in a range of industries – internet security, digital media, transport, shipping, retail banking, radio, news – and, of course, when I start I don’t know a thing. I’m on a steep learning curve. That makes the stand ups quite a challenging experience because I don’t understand anything about the domain. At least at the start. Ironically the stand ups are also a great way to get up to speed. Attending the stand up immerses you in the domain – you start hearing the terms all the time and they become familiar. They also highlight the most important terms and you can follow these up after the meeting and find out what they are. It only takes a couple of weeks and what were mysterious cards become clear.

Team at Standup

Team at Standup

Wrong information

What Kim actually asked was:

What to do when stand ups leave you none the wiser…mainly because they are not addressing the stories….

Kim’s question also contains the answer.

The daily stand up is to plan the day. The focus must be the work – the “stories” – not the people. People are important, because they are doing the work, but the work has priority. And I’m not talking about everything the individuals are doing in the course of their day, I’m talking about functionality being developed to go live. I don’t really care about anything else, unless it is a blocker.

This is why I abandoned the three questions of the conventional standup: “What have you done since we last met? What will you do before we meet again? Any impediments?”. I don’t care if individuals are meeting HR, taking a half day, going for a run at lunch time – all legitimate answers to these questions. Along with these conventional questions I’ve also abandoned the round-the-room aspect of the daily Scrum.

I care about delivery. As fast as possible. With that goal in mind my questions are along the lines of: “This card <points> – how do we get it to the next step? Anything blocking it?” Very Kanban. Anybody, whether or not they have spoken before, can chime in on any card. This changes transforms the dynamic of the meeting. It encourages conversation about the work and generally gives the meeting more of a focus, an edge. This approach also provides a lot more useful information in terms of monitoring and control.

This post is part of my What do I do When … ? series. Please drop me a line or add a comment if you’ve got a question you’d like answered.

One thought on “None the wiser after the stand up? Wrong stand up or chance to learn

  1. nice post. regularly changing the stand-up routine is a good thing. one of the most interesting themes for a standup I experimented with was to let everybody answer the question “what did you learn yesterday?’. unbelievable how much info for keeping the project on track is derived from answers on this question.

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