Cockatoo Software

Standup Meetings

Published on 24 July, 2010 by Keith Pitty

Most developers can recall the frustration of being stuck in a project meeting that seems to last way too long, lose focus and not achieve much. Once the size of the team gets beyond about three the likelihood is that people will feel that their time is being wasted because the discussion doesn’t seem relevant. However, there is a better way.

Keep it brief by standing up

The fundamental idea of a standup meeting is to keep it short and to the point. Allow enough time for each member of the team to succinctly let the rest of the team know what they did yesterday and what they plan to do today for the project. Fifteen minutes maximum. That’s why participants are expected to stand up. After fifteen minutes they’ll want to sit down!

How a standup meeting works

The daily standup meeting is typically convened near the start of the working day, once everyone has had a chance to settle in and perhaps get their morning coffee. Then it’s time to focus. Time to prepare to share what you’re doing without digressing. Time to stand up.

The meeting kicks off with one member of the team giving their brief report. And it should be brief. In a nutshell, it should be suffice to say what was achieved yesterday and what is planned for the day ahead. Full stop. Any elaboration should be taken off-line for discussion afterwards amongst only those who need to be involved. It is natural to expect some conversations to ensue from individual reports. The key is to notice when that happens and collectively agree to pursue any issues raised later.

As each person takes their turn, it is customary to allow them to “have the floor”. When everyone is co-located, this can be reinforced by the use of a “talking token”. Several years ago, I remember a soft toy football being used for this purpose. Of course, this is not strictly necessary. Just yesterday morning I was a remote participant of a standup meeting. There were four of us standing up in three different locations. Were we all standing? Yes. Skype kept us honest. Anyway, the point is that each of us was mindful of the importance of taking turns and keeping what we had to say brief and to the point.

In this way the meeting concludes within 15 minutes at the absolute longest. If yours takes longer you need to practice sticking to the guidelines more rigourously.

Gaining and maintaining focus

A software development team works daily towards a goal. So why wait longer than a day to check where each person is up to? Holding a weekly status meeting is artificial. It makes more sense to bring and maintain focus to the immediate challenges by having a short, daily standup meeting. After all, what is the purpose of a project meeting? In my view it should be to guide the team to focus individually each day on what to do to contribute towards the team’s overall goal.

Shared commitment

I’ve introduced you to the rationale for standup meetings, offered some guidelines on how they should be run and promoted their benefit in gaining and maintaining focus. What standup meetings also do is encourage shared commitment amongst team members. The very act of sharing what you plan to do for the day is making a commitment to the rest of the team. For the rest of the meeting you are listening to others make commitments. I think that renewing this commitment on a daily basis is a healthy habit for collaboration.

Is your team practicing standup meetings? If so, I’d love to hear about your experiences. If not, and you would like assistance with improving your project management practices by instituting standup meetings, please contact us.

Update: An excellent reference for standup meetings is Jason Yip’s article, It’s Not Just Standing Up: Patterns of Daily Stand-up Meetings.

Keith Pitty is the owner of Cockatoo Software Pty Limited. He has over 30 years of professional software development experience and has a passion for providing software solutions that help people. Away from computers he loves sport, especially cricket, golf and Australian Rules football.