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Top 10 Ways to Spice Up Your Stand-Ups

By Don Sharp | Principal Consultant

INSIGHTS // Articles

7 Feb 2018

#Agile|#ProjectManagement|#TestManagement

INSIGHTS // Articles

#Agile|#ProjectManagement|#TestManagement

By Don Sharp

7 Feb 2018

One of the most recognisable Agile practices is stand-up meetings or just “stand-ups”. They’ve become so popular that even non-Agile workplaces have started using this lightweight, interactive way to start the day.

Top 10 Ways to Spice Up Your Stand-Ups

A great stand-up is fun, focused, engaging and leaves the team pumped up for a big day of working together. However, like anything, stand-ups can be wildly successful or fall flat as a pancake based on execution. 

If you’re involved in stand-ups that are missing the mark, these tips might help you spice things up:

Start ritual

It’s critical everyone is on time for stand-up. There’s nothing worse than waiting for a colleague who is late to stand-up because they’re making a coffee, browsing one more email or finishing a chat. 

TIPS:

  • Last person to arrive to a stand-up speaks first
  • Have the facilitator/Scrum Master round everyone up five minutes beforehand
  • Signal the start of stand-up each day with a familiar sound. I.e. Play a funky tune or go old school with a bugle call
No leader

Great stand-ups are a check-in for teams by teams. They’re not about reporting into a manager or leader.

What happens with a stand-up that’s a “report to one person” is a) it does not occur, or b) ends up bring half-baked when that person isn’t present.

TIPS:

  • As an Agile team member, look around and talk to the group when it’s your turn
  • If you are a leader or manager in a stand-up, consciously avert your gaze so that colleagues don’t talk directly to you. Remember that the stand-up is not about you but about the team
Have a ball!

A common way of making your stand-ups dull is to take turns speaking in a standard clockwise/anti-clockwise fashion.

TIPS:

  • One of the all-round easiest ways to breathe life into a stand-up is introducing a ball. It could be from either of the football codes, Aussie Rules or Rugby, but the only person who can speak is the one with the ball. 
  • When one person is finished talking, they throw/handball/pass it onto someone else at random.

Here’s the magic that happens:

  • Because no-one knows where the ball will go next, they are watching and engaged with the person speaking
  • Knowing who to pass to next means each person must be paying attention and taking into account who has already spoken
  • There is an automatic lightening of mood resulting from a sense of fun
  • The Agile team gets a sense of team and Scrum in its purest form!
Squeeze in!

One of the quickest ways to assess the health of a stand-up is to look at how physically close the group is to each other. Often the closeness of the group is the clearest sign of how tight that Agile team is.

TIPS:

  • Pick a stand-up space where everyone is reasonably close to each other. This is an important practicality in workplaces where you have multiple stand-ups going on
  • Call out anyone who’s “flying solo” by standing away from the group
  • Major exemption here for team members who are working remotely at home or overseas. Please don’t make them feel excluded because they’re as close as they can be!

At a glance you can usually spot a good stand-up

At a glance you can usually spot a good stand-up

Status board holidays

Holding your stand-up near to your Agile work tracking board (Kanban, Scrum, etc.) is an effective way to focus the group on tasks. However, like anything, it can be taken too far.

In certain teams, an excess focus on a board can take away from your stand-up’s effectiveness by removing personal connections and free expression.

TIP:

  • If your stand-up is a daily board review that’s getting stale, consider running non-board stand-ups occasionally
Be an open book

Stand-ups can’t work without honesty. They should be a place of trust where team members are comfortable being vulnerable about things such as mistakes they’ve made or obstacles they face.

TIPS:

  • Be prepared to talk about your mistakes or things you’re finding challenging (as a blocker). This will serve as an example to others and honesty will soon become a stand-up norm
  • Always assume the best of your team mates. Embed the mantra, “everyone is doing the best they can with the resources they have”
Actually stand up

It’s called a stand-up for a reason, because standing makes people more conscious of keeping things moving, which leads to a quick meeting. This purpose is defeated if people are sitting, leaning, or doing anything other than standing up.

TIP:

  • If anyone isn’t standing, the group could have a ritual around a funny call-out phrase. E.g. “Get up, stand up...” in the legendary tone of Bob Marley
Keep it punchy

There’s nothing worse than a long, waffly stand-up. This can happen for several reasons, all of which are avoidable.

TIPS:

  • If someone is trying to solve a problem, call them out and suggest the topic be taken “offline” after the stand-up
  • Apply the same approach if someone is starting a long monologue or if things are morphing into a long social catch up
Finishing flag

Similar to the start ritual, you need to end the stand-up on a high so people leave invigorated rather than exhausted or flat.

TIPS:

  • Use the same motivating phrase each day to mark the end of stand-up
  • Bring all hands or fists into the circle into a “go team” finale
  • If you’re into motorsports, wave a chequered flag
Rules of play

Whatever practices you choose to spice up your stand-up, make sure the rules are clear beforehand to anyone who might attend.

TIPS:

  • Publish your Rules of Play, perhaps in a calendar invite
  • Make sure any new members are walked through the practices of your stand-up
  • Be prepared to try new ideas, listen, learn and adapt as you go. Be Agile!

How many problems can you spot in this “stand-up”?

How many problems can you spot in this “stand-up”?

Get it right

Agile’s rapid iterative approach has meant it has found a growing role in today’s organisations that strive for realising value quicker. In fact, the importance of the methodology has grown to the point where it is used for more than half of all software projects.

For those who are new to Agile, it is important to implement good Agile practices from the start. This will ensure you avoid falling into bad habits that can significantly impact project delivery, quality and cost.

Our training teaches Agile best practices and includes practical exercises that ensure it is accurately implemented in the workplace. To learn more, visit our Agile training section.

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