How to Run an Effective Daily Stand-up Meeting

I was recently requested to suggest how to run an effective daily stand-up meeting. It dawned on me that we had not articulated the process in our own company so all the more reason to explicitly formulate this important morning staple.

The Goal
The goal of the stand-up is to ensure team alignment; and to that end the following objectives: to keep everyone abreast of current events, to increase communication among team members, to verify and celebrate progress, and perhaps most importantly, to share challenges that are preventing team members from advancing.

Be proactive
A daily stand-up is only effective if the team members autonomously take responsibility for preparing, sharing, and most importantly, respecting (showing up on time). Ideally the stand-up should be limited to small teams of eight or less. Once you get beyond eight, the ritual loses its fizz. It gets long and flat.

Many companies have two or three stand-ups traversing the layers of management.

Leaderless is best
The ultimate stand-up is leaderless. Since you are all standing, you will be in some sort of circle, so it does not matter where it starts. Once all members are present, someone can begin. Even if not all are present, the meeting begins when the second-hand reaches the 12. This is why I am emphatic about showing up on time.

Precision drums up excitement
Done correctly, it is high energy and sets the tone for the day (an important reason to do it in the morning and to be on time), and the culture. Those who find this attitude too militant have not tried it for a month and do not understand the excitement of precision. You do not have to be this fastidious for every meeting, but a ritual like a daily stand-up requires dedication to detail. If you disagree, then find out what limits work for your team.

Preparation
Each team member needs something to write on. I suggest a notepad and paper, but if you are amazing on your small device, so be it.

Three rounds.
I like to divide the meeting into three rounds:

Round 1: What obstacles are in your way?
Round 2: What did you accomplish yesterday?
Round 3: What are your one to three priorities today?

Answers (bullet points) to the questions should be written out by each participant in advance. There is no time for jogging memories. If someone cannot attend, at a minimum (unless it is due to illness) they should mail in their answers to another attendee. Each answer should not have more than three bullet points. I.e., if you accomplished more than three things, name the top three.

Trello
We use a Trello board (Kanban) to list each individual’s top three priorities (which, by default, also shows their previous day’s accomplishments) so that everyone on the team is informed. Obstacles are also noted on the cards. This is much more efficient than having discussions about what individuals are prioritizing at any one moment – just go to the board and see the entire teams’ top priorities for the day in one snapshot. It also has the added value of being a permanent record. The Trello board is an extremely powerful support for the stand-up.

When explaining the obstacles include what countermeasures you have tried in order to avoid, “I tried that already” responses to “Have you tried…”. Avoid discussing lengthy solutions to challenges in the stand-up; instead, a team member can suggest a quick fix or discussing it after the stand-up.

The last question of the stand-up – asked by the last person to share, is: How can we improve the stand-up? Once you have done many stand-ups, you can ask that question on Fridays or even once per month.

Word of the day
To mix things up, consider starting Friday stand-ups with the “word of the day”. A word that is inspirational in nature (not tired or frustrated) that has a back-story attached. Keep the explanation/story to 10–15 seconds or less unless it inspires an important conversation, then leverage that into a mini team building session. Do not be concerned if people find this hokey at first, it will grow on them.

General Guidelines:
– Although it should be obvious, everyone is standing throughout (unless there is something impeding that, in which case everyone is sitting for even more obvious reasons.)
– Everyone should keep answers short/succinct
– Everyone is listening with intention to the one answering the questions
– If you have a question, write it down in advance to ensure flow.
– Do not interrupt the flow unless it is to give kudos (applause, high-fives)
– Keep the stand-up fast paced.  A team of eight should complete a stand-up within 10 to 20 minutes depending on the number of participants.
– Remember this is not a typical meeting. The format is as important as the content in order to make the ritual fun and rewarding
– The tighter the meeting, the more enjoyable it is for everyone
– End the stand-up with a slogan-like ritual action

Take this and edit/improve on it at will.

Michael Hoffman 

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