Project management

Why devs hate lengthy standups and what you can do about it

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Standups, aka your daily status update meetings in agile software development, drive teamwork and transparency. They foster knowledge transfer between devs and keep everyone on the same page. For a standup meeting to be really effective, however, certain constraints have to be met. These, among others, include strict timing.

Standups usually clock in at just 10 minutes, and not keeping tight reins on the time box can make the meetings tedious and ineffective. Since the amount of detail in status updates may get out of hand at times, the timing rule is particularly difficult (but not impossible!) to enforce.

How it should look

Ideally, a standup should take just 10 minutes (well, 15 at most). To keep it this short (and effective), make sure you stick just to three basic questions for every person:

  1. What did I accomplish yesterday?
  2. What will I do today?
  3. What obstacles are impeding my progress?

The actual reason standups are so short is it keeps people in maximum focus just before everyone disperses to their desks. This is also why people, rather than sitting down, meet standing up — this position naturally causes physical discomfort when the meeting stretches out for too long. Which is good.

Standups should be small, too. There is no specific recommendation for the number of people, though. Understandably, however, having 100 people speak one after another would never fit in a 15-minute time-frame. A standup is a time when all devs give their status reports on the tasks from the previous day and compare real-time against estimated hours. They also say which tasks they’re going to do during the day.

What happens if standups take too long

Understandably, when a standup meeting spins out of control and takes a tad too long, people lose focus. And getting drained of energy is a really bad way to start off the day. We’ve all been there: our minds wander in long lectures or meetings, and there is not much we can do about it other than… keeping the meetings short and concise.

Nothing kills your enthusiasm more than listening to colleagues droning about their stuff for too long. This may result in your peeps not liking standups all that much. They may consider them as taking up the precious time they might otherwise spend on actual day-to-day work. The result? Developers start to hate the project manager and ultimately, the morale of the team drops.

This means you are doing your standups wrong.

Why standups take too long

1. Lack of preparation 

As the main culprit, there is lack of preparation. People can’t remember what they were doing the day before, and would rather plan current tasks ad-hoc. This is natural but only takes some practice to eliminate.

2. Distractors 

When your team members bring computers and smartphones, you are certainly doing it wrong. This is distracting. Unless it’s absolutely necessary, don’t bring your devices.

3. Taking notes or recording 

Bringing laptops is not just bad because it distracts people. Laptops in a standup meeting usually involve taking some notes. And people always involuntarily stop memorizing once they know they can read it later. This happens even when just one person takes the notes. Anyway, typing is much more time-consuming than just listening carefully. Remember: a standup is not a dictation session. This is no time for taking minutes, or worse, repeating stuff several times for the slow typers.

4. Discussing big problems

Don’t bring up problems during the standup. Since the standup session should take just 15 minutes at most, discussing major challenges in detail is a bad idea and may result in people losing focus. This may also exclude a part of the team from the discussion, simply because the problem concerns just one developer and the PM.

Problems should be solved immediately and directly between respective team members, even if it means holding a separate meeting dedicated to it (after the standup).

What should the Project Manager do to make standups shorter

1. Cut off topics

But do it with all which are irrelevant or might consume way too much of your precious time. Issues which need special attention should be “taken offline” (outside the standup) for further discussion. Nominate people to deal with the issue, and move on to the next person.

2. Prioritize tasks

Make it a good practice in all your meetings. Teach others to do the same. To facilitate this, always come to the meeting with a prepared list of questions you want to ask your devs. Do not over-analyse problems. Follow the simple, standard standup template as much as you can. Encourage I’ve done this and I have a problem with that type of communication.

3. Hold your standups same place, and same time

Don’t waste time on changing time and location of your meeting, and informing all participants about it. Make sure the time and place suits everyone, but do not change it too often. Keep it simple: same time and place will foster coming on time and attendance. Do not wait for latecomers, to encourage punctuality.

4. Do not waste time on deciding who should speak first

To make it easier, you can choose a simple, consistent method of choosing the person who starts every meeting. The last arrival speaks the first rule is a good idea, but only one of many possible methods.

5. Signpost the end of your standup

Do not expect everyone to know when the meeting is over. Once the last person has spoken, cut in with an energizing phrase like Thanks, guys. Good luck! Treat it as an off-to-work hand-stack. Without proper signposting in place, the standup may end on an awkward, low-energy note. You don’t want this to happen, right?

Easy, right?

The conclusion is simple: in standups, there is no time to waste the time. The tips above are not very difficult to implement but can make a huge difference to your daily team meetings.

So what other obstacles are impeding your progress? Off to work!

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