James Monger Computers, cars, cynicism

Stand Ups: Throw, don't pass!

Daily stand ups are an integral part of a modern Agile team. A short, typically 5-to-15 minute meeting which normally takes part in the morning, where the team discusses any issues that they may have, and communicates their progress to management members or other stakeholders.

So why is such an important part of an Agile team taken in such a lethargic way? A 9 a.m. meeting where you stand for fifteen minutes and listen to people monotonously talk about their day can be excruciating.

When I joined my current team, the stand ups were in a circle in front of the Kanban board, and went round in a clockwise circle. Everyone got a chance to talk about what they’d done yesterday, what they would do today, and any blockers in their way. We had a small red stress ball that we’d get at the start of our turn, and pass on to the next person.

There was a noticeable lag between someone getting the ball and saying what they’d done. People were zoning out while others were talking, especially if they were two or three people away from them. They knew that they had time to wait until it was their turn. Some were thinking about what they were about to say, but others (I’m sure) were thinking about their dinner plans.

The solution to this was simple - we had to make it unpredictable. A person in the circle had to know at any time that they could receive the ball and have to take their turn next.

To do this, we still stood in a circle around the board, we still spoke about yesterday and today, we still used the red circle - but we threw it to a random person at the end of our turn.

The stand ups were immediately more lively. The ball was getting thrown around all around the circle and people were diving to catch it and then respond instantly. The stand ups took less time and they felt much better.

All thanks to a little change in direction!