Inefficient communication is one of the most common problems in organizations today. We have all experienced situations in which:
- We attend meetings where people are late. Even if a few “courtesy minutes” are given, the inefficiency is brutal. Many times, attendees don’t get up from their desks to join the meeting until the meeting start time, rather than a few minutes beforehand to ensure they arrive on time. When a meeting with 6 people starts 10 minutes late, that’s 60 minutes lost. And since this can happen several times a day, we end up losing a lot of time…
- We attend meetings where we talk about things that were already discussed in other meetings, with the same people or others from the same team… are we living like Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell in “Groundhog Day”?
- We are always in meetings; we have the feeling that people are spending more time in meetings than doing what they are supposed to do.
- … And despite all these meetings, despite all this time invested, a lot of information comes to us in an unstructured way by the water cooler, or it doesn’t even reach us!
An alternative, which in my opinion is not optional, is the Daily Standup. The Standup allows us, through a short periodic meeting, to synchronize our teams and establish an adequate communication flow, including support and feedback from the teams.
What is a Standup or a daily meeting?
A Standup is a daily meeting for teams that allows everyone to gain relevant information about their work. It includes monitoring the status of the team, as well as monitoring the efficiency indicators of the services offered.
The meeting should last a maximum of 15 minutes and take place “daily”. Be careful with the word “daily” here: day means work cycle. It does not mean that it should be held at 7:00 AM; it means that it is held at the beginning of each work cycle. Could it be every 2 or even every 5 days? Yes, but most environments use 1 day work cycles.
What do you need for a Standup?
- A place to do it. Warning! A “place” does not necessarily mean a meeting room. Standups are short meetings (less than 15 minutes), so it doesn’t make much sense to change floors or travel a long way for this meeting. Don’t waste more time traveling than in the meeting itself. Preferably, it should be done somewhere in the work area. The recommendation is that it is done standing up (or even while walking!), not in rooms where everyone is sitting with their laptops or smartphones.
- A whiteboard and markers. I recommend an erasable whiteboard or a flip chart. On this board, the interesting items that come out of the Standup are noted in a predefined format. You can find several models on the Internet. I insist on the importance of using something manual, meaning you should avoid any technical tools as much as possible. In any change in habits, manual actions are an important lever. I know that those of us who are in the technical world (I am an engineer) will always be thinking about technological tools, but initially the more we use our hands, the better.
- Kanban. A Kanban board can work perfect for the Standup, but it isn’t necessary if you aren’t working in that environment.
- … And the team! Although it is true that the work team is not a material, it is very important to understand that the operational team (those people actually doing the work) must be at the Standup. It is not a meeting to report to the team leader; it is meant for synchronization, for information flow from and for everyone.
What roles participate in a Daily Standup?
- Facilitator or coordinator of the meeting: the person who is responsible for ensuring that the meeting follows the defined order and that the objectives of the meeting are met. They must ensure that the team does not fall into the capital sins of the Standup (see below).
- Team member: these are the team members participating in the meeting. They should help the information flow and always keep in mind that the goal is the optimal functioning of the team. As the saying goes, “If you want to get there fast, go alone, if you want to go far, go together.”
What should be discussed in a Daily Standup?
In the Standup, the following topics should be discussed above all:
- What happened since the last Standup? Talk about the relevant things that happened in the previous cycle, the things that are pertinent to the team or the service you are providing to your clients.
- What will happen next? Talk about the things that you consider relevant for the cycle that you are starting and that you think the team should be informed about. At this point, simple topics such as “remember that I am leaving at 12:00 today that I have a doctor” to “at 9:00 pm there will be maintenance on the X system and this will cause calls in the call center.” Information that is relevant to the operation of the team and the service.
- How are the team goals going? It is very interesting that the teams that have set objectives (hopefully all of them) can see their progress towards those objectives in each session. In turn, they can take measures that to reorient the results they are obtaining if necessary.
- Problems. The problems that hinder the team’s tasks or prevent them from achieving the improvement objectives or actions must be identified in order to be eliminated or reduced. These issues should go an Improvement Board.
- Team morale. If there is any relevant event that affects team morale, this should also be indicated on the Standup. In many companies there may be some reservations in making the team status public, but I consider it very important to understand the reality. After all, hiding a fact does not make it untrue.
The 7 Deadly Sins of Daily Standups
As many of you already know, some religions identify their capital sins. For me, the Standup is a religion, so I am going to identify its 7 deadly sins.
- My Book: This effect occurs when one of the participants provides information that is not important for the functioning of the team or is limited to recounting those tasks that they carry out but that do not provide relevant information to the rest of the team members. If the work I do every day is to send emails (for example), I should not say that I am going to send emails; the team already knows that. You should talk about relevant things that are of interest to those who participate in the meeting.
- Listening to Refute, Not to Understand: In meetings in general, not only at Standups, we need to listen to what others say. We shouldn’t try to refute their opinions, even if we don’t like them, but instead try to understand why they perceive it that way. When there are opposing opinions, it is not usually because of “bad vibes”, but because we see the same things from different points of view.
- Not Focusing on the Team: Work is done as a team, supporting ourselves as a team should allow us to improve continuously.
- Being an Alpha: We should be careful with those people who tend to monopolize the meetings to take them to “their land”. Standups are meetings where the team should speak as a whole; it is important that the facilitator of the meeting controls these moments and gets the whole team to participate in the session without a single member monopolizing most of the time.
- Reporting to the Boss: Standups are not “reporting to the boss” meetings where we talk in turns, informing them about what we are doing with each task. If we do this, our daily meeting will almost certainly not last 15 minutes, and the information from the meeting won’t be interesting for the rest – it will be interesting for the boss. If the tasks are progressing as planned and it is already established that they are going well, it is not interesting for everyone to hear that X and Y are going as planned.
- Not Stopping Problems that are too Difficult to Solve Quickly: Problems can come in different shapes and sizes. A problem can be simple and easy for team members to solve in less than a minute, or it can be one where we must invest more time and even ask for members in the organization who do not participate in our Standup to help. For this reason, when a type of problem that cannot be solved in one minute is detected, the facilitator should stop the discussion, write down the problem in a Post-it, place it on the board, and continue with the rest of the topics. At the end of the meeting, the facilitator is responsible for entering the problem in the “list of problems to analyze and prioritize” so that the resolution process begins. Of course, if it is something urgent, it should be dealt with immediately.
- Not Respecting the Time: The Standup should last a maximum of 15 minutes. For this, the leader or facilitator must ensure that no one loses focus on what should be discussed in the session, that it starts on time, and that time isn’t wasted on items that aren’t interesting to the group.
To sum up, a Daily Standup should be a quick, operational meeting that ensures the team has all the relevant information in order to provide their service in the most efficient way possible. In addition, the Standup should allow us to identify opportunities for improvement; it is, in fact, one of the origins of the continuous improvement process.
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