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Most Engineering Managers Don’t Prepare for Standups — it’s Time to Start

Alex Oliveira

By: Alex Oliveira
September 16, 2021

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In the classic standup meeting, the onus is on individual contributors to come prepared. Questions are asked of the group — questions like “what are you working on?”, and “what blockers are you facing?” — and each team member has a turn to answer. Though this approach is theoretically designed to help facilitate alignment and detect possible issues before they derail sprints, it often results in non-engaging, ineffective meetings. 

It’s not enough for a manager to pose broad questions and expect ICs to come prepared to discuss their work. To run a truly impactful standup, the expectation needs to be flipped. To ensure an engaging, high-value meeting, the Engineering Manager is the one who needs to show up prepared.

It’s Not Reasonable to Expect ICs to Surface All Potential Issues

When an IC is engaged with their work and invested in the outcome, it should be easy for them to show up at standup and give a status update. It’s getting to the next level that’s often difficult. 

Even when you’ve done the work to foster psychological safety on your team, developers may still be hesitant to surface an issue or ask questions in a public forum. It’s not necessarily that they fear punishment or don’t want to appear uninformed — they may simply want the satisfaction of solving a tough problem before they share it with the team. Or, they may lack the context to realize that their teammates are working on a similar problem and that all of them would benefit from some discussion and collaboration. 

And in the most blameless of cultures, where a developer feels comfortable flagging an issue or asking a question about their own work, it’s likely that same developer will hesitate to publicly bring up an issue that directly involves a teammate, for fear of being seen to call that teammate out. 

Why it’s Critical for Engineering Managers to Show up for Standups Prepared 

When an Engineering Manager walks into standup prepared, they can help guide their team past surface-level updates, towards higher-value conversations. A prepared manager has context — they understand how units of work fit together, and know when a team member’s work has critical downstream impacts, or when one developer has previously worked through an issue similar to one that another developer is struggling with. 

With that perspective, it’s possible to make connections and facilitate conversations and collaboration. In a typical standup, a team member might just say they’re almost ready to ship a particular feature. Yet if the Engineering Manager comes prepared to that same standup, they’ll be able to have more informed conversations about the work. They might note that the developer’s work bounced back and forth in Code Review more than normal, and ask them if it would be helpful to take a step back and review the architecture. Or, they may flag an uptick in Rework, prompting the developer to volunteer that they’re working through a bug, and opening up an opportunity to pair them with a teammate who recently had a similar issue. 

The information Engineering Managers need to prepare for standup is already there, in their VCS and project management tools. A Software Engineering Intelligence platform can help make it more accessible, pulling together data on everything from Code Review to Rework, and highlighting Pull Requests that aren’t moving through the development pipeline as expected. 

If Engineering Managers take the time to review that data and gain context before standup, they’ll be able to help their team skip past the status update and spend their valuable meeting time having more impactful conversations — conversations that not only help move the work forward, but which improve alignment, foster collaboration, and help their team excel. 

Reach out to our product specialists to find out how Velocity’s Workstreams report can help you walk into standups prepared, so you can get more out of your meetings. 

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