Communicating with Your Team: Stand-Ups

I think we can all agree that being in communication with our developers is hugely important for the productivity and health of our team, but the real question is what communication should look like in order to be productive. There are all types of models, new and old, for team communication so let’s take some time to look at them, how they work, and then some pros and cons of each.

There are four main communication patterns I have come across and plan to cover: stand-ups, retrospectives, 1-on-1s, and reviews. Let’s jump into stand-ups in today’s post.

The “Stand-up” Meeting

What is it?

I first heard of the stand-up meeting along with the popularization of the Agile software development method. The concept comes from the idea that standing for extended periods of time is uncomfortable and forces the length of meetings to stay short. I believe these meetings tend to lend themselves to a bit more of an informal atmosphere that mimics “water cooler” conversation.

How do they work?

The goal of a stand-up meeting is to allow team members to share challenges with their work and to coordinate efforts among team members where it makes sense. Let me hit some bullet points on the structure of these meetings:

  • Meetings occur daily at the same time and place each day, usually the office kitchen or a conference room. For both entirely or partially remote teams, a conference tool like Zoom, appear.in, or Skype are helpful solutions to allowing everyone to attend.
  • Attendance should be required of all employees, but absences or tardiness do not result in a canceled or postponed meeting.
  • The meetings have a hard start and stop time and last no more than 15 minutes.
  • The meetings are intended to be an uninterrupted (no phones, laptops, etc.) communication opportunity between team members, not a time for status updates to management.
  • The goal of a stand-up meeting is to spark follow-up communication and to identify issues before they can have a significant impact.

A typical stand-up should pose the following three questions to each team member and should be answered within a maximum of 60 seconds (the duration of each response may vary by team size but should total to 15 minutes maximum):

  1. What did I do yesterday that helped the team meet its goals (for the sprint, deadline, launch, etc.)?
  2. What will I do today to help the team meet its goals?
  3. Do I see any blockers that prevent the team or me from meeting its goals?

What are the pros and cons of this communication method?

Pros

  1. Stand-ups open the lines of communication and allow for knowledge transfer between team members.
  2. As each team member shares the answers to their three question, the entire team can get an idea of where the company is moving as a whole. This open sharing helps prevent the feeling of isolation within a particular project or feature.
  3. Stand-ups are time limited to prevent them from dragging on. This restriction helps eliminate soapboxing or diving into specifics and keeps it from being just another meeting.
  4. They serve as a great time to make quick introductions of new hires to the rest of the team. Breaking the ice for new team members makes them feel welcomed and gives everyone a chance to say “hi.”

Cons

  1. The stand-up is not an adequate level of communication for a Tech Lead to have with their team members but may be just enough to fool them into thinking they can check off their “team communication” task for the day.
  2. The development mindset often has a hard time distilling down the intricacies of their previous and current day to at most 60 seconds.
  3. Team members may be inclined to wait to express their concerns and blockers until the next days stand-up meeting rather than communicating them immediately.
  4. If you have a flexible start time or employees spread across different time zones, it can be hard to find a mutually agreeable time that is non-interruptive for everyone.

I highly recommend all teams implement daily stand-ups. The benefits are substantial and the cost to implement them is low.

In my next post, I’ll be discussing retrospectives, how they work, and the pros and cons of implementing them into your team communication strategy.

 

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