Thursday, October 06, 2011

Stand-up efficiency and effectiveness

I attended a user group meeting last week where a participant asked the question: “How do I keep my stand-ups from going so long?”. He cited greater-than 30-minute time for 10 people.

I didn’t get a chance to talk to him, but here is my advice.

First, discuss the topic with the team. Ensure that there is agreement that long stand-ups are negatively impacting the team. It may be (but it’s unlikely) that the content of the long stand-ups is important to everyone,

Determine root cause. I find a couple of causes that can be addressed in different ways.

Long-winded people offering irrelevant input or input that is relevant to only one other person: Record the contributions of each of the long-winded folks and review with them. Identify specific content that is not relevant to the team.

You’ll often find paycheck rationalization offerings (e.g. “I had my one-on-one with my manager yesterday”).

Or you may find someone simply regurgitating their calendar (managers are likely to be the offenders here).

Or it could be politically driven public thrashings that are more appropriate to share in private (“David – you seem to be checking code in without any tests. Remember, we agreed that we would write tests”).

I’ve seen stand-ups where multiple team members will regurgitate events in which the whole team participated. If the whole team attended the iteration planning meeting, there is no need to mention this in the stand-up.

Start timing folks. If anyone talks more than 2 minutes, make them stand on one leg, or ask them to extend their arm holding a heavy book while talking. Or use a timer (obnoxious alarms are best).

Conversations that are not relevant to the whole team: Institute a “parking lot” flip chart or white board where topics for further conversation can be captured for discussion after stand-up. Ask the whole team to help identify potential parking lot items when they occur; add them to the parking lot when identified and move on. Ensure that those follow-on conversations occur (else you run the risk that folks will continue to insist on in-stand-up dialog).

Use a speaking token and ask the team to be rigid about not talking when they don’t have the token. As conversations occur, the token passing will make it obvious that a conversation is occurring, which should help folks to self-identify opportunities to use the parking lot.

Explain to the team that the stand-up is not the only opportunity for conversation during the day.

Use a laser pointer to have folks point out the relevant stories/tasks on the physical card wall as they speak. They will be less likely to pontificate on irrelevant details if they have no card to point to.

I’ve attended stand-ups of over 40 people that have taken less than 10 minutes. That’s less than 15 seconds per person. Granted, these were teams that were pairing, so oftentimes the contribution of the second of the pair was of the form “ditto Joe”. Still – if a team of 40+ can get it done in 10 minutes, there’s no reason why your “2-pizza team” cannot.

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