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How to Ditch the Status Update and Run More Impactful Standups

Mike Koeneke

By: Mike Koeneke
September 09, 2021

Team meeting in front of board filled with sticky notes

Standups should be a vital ceremony for building trust and cohesion within a team. They’re meant to help your team remain engaged and adaptable, so they can keep work moving forward. 

The reality is, most standups do none of that. 

It’s not that standups aren’t a good idea in theory; teams should have a regular touchpoint that enhances collaboration and alignment. In practice, however, they fall flat. Too often, standups are held simply because they’re expected — they’re a cornerstone of agile, after all — not because they provide value to the team. They’re frequently maligned as boring and ineffective. 

Like all processes that exist because of a shared understanding of how things “should” be, standups are in need of an overhaul. 

To add value back into your standups, focus on the reason you’re holding them in the first place. Foreground those goals (alignment, adaptability, and engagement), and think about the particular dynamics of your team. How can you encourage your team members to contribute in a meaningful way, and to help fulfill the goals of the standup? 

Every team is different, which means every answer will be slightly different. You’ll likely have to iterate before you land on a process that works for your team. And you’ll have to continue to iterate as your team and its needs change. 

That said, there are a few broad strategies we here at Code Climate recommend:

Keep key questions at the forefront – Once you’ve decided on the critical questions that every standup needs to answer, make sure that information stays top of mind for all involved. We recommend pasting these questions into the standup calendar invite and revisiting them at the beginning of every standup, so they serve as a constant reminder to attendees and help keep conversations focused. The key questions we ask are: 

  • What did you work on yesterday?
  • What are you working on today?
  • Are you blocked on anything?

Don’t be afraid to ask follow up questions too, as long as they help further the goals for your meeting.

Prepare with data – To be impactful, standups need to surface the units of work most in need of attention and discussion. While you should create an environment that will encourage your team members to speak up when they need help, it’s not a guarantee that they will. An engineering intelligence platform like Velocity can help you spot bottlenecks and identify at-risk work, so you can walk into standups prepared. If your team members raise those issues, you’ll be ready to offer guidance. If they don’t, you can raise them yourself and help troubleshoot so that the sprint stays on track. 

Create a blameless space – Ensure your team members understand that they won’t be penalized for raising an issue or voicing a concern. This will help create a feeling of safety — when engineers know they won’t be punished for it, they’ll be more likely to surface potential problems and ask for help. 

Leave time for hesitation – Before moving on to the next person or topic, leave a moment of pause. Sometimes there’s an impulse to move through standup as fast as possible for efficiency’s sake. It may sound counterintuitive, but when you’re trying to keep standups efficient and impactful, moments of pause are key. If an IC is considering voicing a concern, but hesitating, you want to create an opportunity for them to speak up — often those moments of hesitation give rise to the most important conversations. 

Embrace fast follow ups –  Block off 20 minutes of time after every standup for follow-up conversations. If something comes up during standup that requires further conversation, you’ll have a block of time to have that conversation with the relevant teammates while things are still fresh in your head. You won’t need to derail standup for a deep dive that doesn’t impact the rest of your team, but you won’t delay the conversation for too long either.

With these strategies, you’ll be on your way to running more effective, impactful standups. Your team will start the day of strong, poised to tackle their most challenging work and keep code moving through the development pipeline. 

To find out more about using data to prepare for your standups, reach out to one of our product specialists

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