Stand up meetings: what other industries can learn from agile software

February 4, 2014

How to do a stand-up meeting

  1. Tell your team you’re going to try a new type of meeting that will get everyone energized, synchronized, and ready for accomplishment. If you’re not the team lead, talk to your team lead about this idea first.
  2. Get everyone in a circle and stand up. Standing forces people not to get too comfortable, thus the meeting goes quicker.
  3. Each person says what they did, what they’re going to do, and where they are blocked or need help. The third part about blockage is the most crucial as it helps people identify resources they need to move forward. Sometimes you don’t even realize it until you’ve said it out loud.
  4. Move clockwise in a circle. Each person should speak for about a minute at most. Help your teammates recognize when they’ve gone off on a tangent or when an issue pertains to a subset of the team only, but do it gently.
  5. Profit!

It’s the year 2000, and I’ve joined my first real startup; we’re building a platform for online education. Fifteen minutes after I show up for work on my first day, our team lead calls for a “standup”. The developers — there’s about ten of us, all stand up and form a circle. Is this a bizarre ritual?

The meeting is quick and to the point. Everyone rattles off what they’ve worked on, what they hope to achieve today, and where they’re blocked. There are a few words exchanged as team members nod to each other and say — “hey that thing you’re working on, I think I can help”. Micro-teams (we call them “pairs”) are formed based on people that need to work together to move their work forward.

Each person is efficient, and when they’re not, other team members point out that discussions can be taken offline — that means if it doesn’t concern the whole team, wait after the meeting and talk to other people individually.

10 minutes later, we’ve gone through all ten developers and everyone returns to their work, energized, committed to accomplishing what they set out to do, and with the support they need to do it, because everyone is aware of where their teammates are blocked, and are eager to help.

Why aren’t all meetings like this?

In the software development world, we (or at least those of us working for agile-based organizations, which I would hope is most of us) take stand-ups for granted. Being engineers of systems, we focus on efficiency — how can we figure out what we need to figure out quickly, and move forward.

I challenge you, reader, why not try stand-ups in your organization? Did it work? Let me know!