Monday, July 25, 2011

Sync up in 15 minutes: The daily stand-up

The more people involved in a project, the harder it is to keep everybody in sync.

Sending status updates by email sounds like a good idea until you try it. At some point (after about 2 emails) most people stop reading them; they seem so repetitious.

Having a meeting should work, but it is very time consuming, and to be effective everybody needs to be persuaded to arrive on time. In reality many people's minds start wandering during meetings, unless their specific part is being discussed.

What does seem to work is a daily 15 minute stand-up:
  • Daily: This way the updates are short and few, allowing people to concentrate.
  • 15 minute: This wastes little time and gives people an incentive to arrive on time, else they miss the entire meeting.
  • Stand-up: Once seated, people are happy not to move for a while, and meetings can drag on. When standing, people are happy to end the meetings quickly.
Where to do the meeting? We used to do the meetings at the Kanban board which had all the tasks laid out on sticky notes. This way tasks can be moved from the "pending queue" to "in progress" to "ready for testing", "in testing" and "ready to deploy".

What is the point of this meeting?
  • Status update: Who is falling behind and maybe needs help
    • Either help with the current task; shrink the scope, or add manpower or group thinking
    • Or else help with the task queue; hand over some future tasks so that the same person isn't an eternal bottleneck
  • Schedule update: When does it look like we may be ready to hit the next milestone
    • Milestones can also be redefined in real time if needed
  • Attendance: Who will be away in the coming days, who is on sick-leave and may need help with outstanding tasks.
  • Implementation feedback: informing the team how something was implemented (in 90 seconds) so that good ideas can be adopted team-wide and bad-ideas can be caught early on.
Invariably issues will arise that will take a while to discuss. After about 60 - 90 seconds, the Project Manager should make a note of the issue and then declare let's take this offline.

If needed, a meeting can be called to further discuss the issue. Otherwise, after the meeting has ended, the relevant people can be asked to stay on and finish discussing the issue. This allows most of the people to return to work, while those interested and/or involved can discuss the issue at leisure.

At the next daily stand-up, the conclusion of the meeting should be announced.

At Answers.com we often had 2 or 3 15-minutes stand-ups scheduled one after the other. This forces them to end on time.

After each meeting, the Project Manager must send around the meeting minutes. I used to reply-to-all to the same email every day, with a few updates.

Sometimes sending the same email with today's changes in a different color is effective.

A chart can be used with a new column for each meeting, with a maximum of 4 or 5 days worth of history in the chart at any time.

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