A common debate in the Agile community is how important or not Standups are, and what their structure should be.
In terms of frequency, some people believe Standups should happen every day regardless. Others believe they should be done every other day. Some accept a mix of meeting Standups with Slack and email updates. And there’s also who believes frequency should change over time according to the stage of the product.
When it comes to structure, most teams seem to follow some variation of the standard format: “What did you do yesterday? What are you going to do today? (and) Do you have any blockers?” While others believe Standups are more useful if centred on decision making and action points (which is a great read by the way).
Personally, I don’t think either option is better than the other. What I believe to be important is consistency and the ability to adapt to each team’s context.
When it comes to consistency, I believe that every change in the process should be deliberate, i.e., don’t make changes according to what’s more convenient at the moment.
For example, don’t keep changing the Standup’s frequency and time just because a few team members are unable to show up at scheduled hours — it should be a deliberate and reasoned decision.
This because I believe process is like a clock: it sets the pace of the team. And if there’s no consistent pace, there’s no good coordination. That’s why being consistent is important.
It’s alright to change the process as it is to change the time of a clock, but everyone needs to agree and be aware of it. Changes in process need to be deliberate.
Then we have adaptability. Adaptability is about the ability of the PM to read the environment the team is in — because good PMs don’t strictly follow what’s written in the books.
For example, a good Product Manager should know when having Standups on a daily basis no longer makes sense (if ever does). A good Product Manager should know what questions, besides the standard ones, he should ask during Standups.
Why does it matter to follow the standard format if the team continues to have other relevant questions unanswered? Why does it matter to follow the standard format if the team is unhappy or stressed?
Is your goal as PM to do good Standups OR to deliver the right product to the right people, while ensuring the wellbeing of your team?
Nonetheless, I think the Standup debate loses too much by assuming that Standups should be the most efficient meeting of the day (ironically, ending up described as one of the least). There’s much more to Standups than meets the eye.
Photo by João Barbosa
Yes, Standups should be for status updates, to highlight blockers, make decisions and/or note action points. That’s true. But Standups can and should also have other purposes:
Sometimes it’s ok to ask about other User Flows than the one currently being implemented, to ask questions about the business model, etc… Not only is it okay, but actually important for these other conversations to take place.
This because — in some cases at least — Standups are the only opportunity of the day for teams to “tap on someone’s shoulder” to discuss some aspect of the product. And more importantly, to have a quick discussion that everyone should hear.
This is especially important in remote teams. Tapping in someone’s shoulder when working remotely has a higher cost — both a blessing and curse — which makes it harder for serendipity to happen. In Standups we can discuss some aspect which doesn’t look relevant enough to start a Zoom call (but probably is).
Since I’ve started applying it to my teams, I’ve noticed that the level of synchronicity increased considerably: there’s more clarity about how what’s being done affects their own work, there’s better understanding about other aspects of the product (business model, user interviews, tactical decisions), and much less problems due to lack of communication.
Standups can be a great place for teams to connect and create bond with each other. And I do believe that in high performing teams this actually needs to happen.
Standups can be a place for teams to deeply connect with their teammates, and grasp their tone (especially useful to understand what those Slack messages actually mean).
For the case of remote teams, Standups are often our only “face-to-face” contact of the day, which makes this especially important for them.
That’s why standups should leave room for a joke or two, to ask about family, or what you did in the weekend. Standups should be a place to meet and better understand each other.
In other words, Standups should feel Human, and not an efficiency-focused bot-guided meeting.
Since I’ve started to leave more room for bonding during Standups, the level of empathy between team members increased, which as a consequence decreased the amount of friction between some team members and resulted in more fruitful product discussions. Bonding and connection is like the WD-40™ of high-performing teams.
Of course, we will always need to adapt to each product, to each team, to each situation. And sometimes we will need to go straight to business and leave no room for other conversations. After all, we don’t want to go extreme and let Standups become a messy inefficient meeting.
But in my experience, even if hard to measure, the collateral effects of making Standups more than an efficiency-driven status update, are important to have healthy and high performing Product teams.
There’s more to Standups than meets the eye.