Making Stand-Ups Better

I think most people in software are familiar with the daily stand-up meeting. Everyone literally stands up and then goes around the room answering three basic questions:

  1. What did you do yesterday?
  2. What will you do today?
  3. What is blocking you?

This little ritual exists to cut back on larger, longer, more tedious status meetings. People tend to be very good at answering that first question. Most people remember and have a pretty solid idea of what they did the day before. They sometimes have a pretty good idea of what they will try to do today, which usually boils down to, “Still working on it.” However, most teams are terrible at the 3rd question, and the answer to it is almost, “No blockers.”

So here is a change to the stand-up that, if used for a while, may help create an atmosphere of people searching out their team mates for help earlier and more often. Instead of asking the 3 questions, have the format become:

  1. Today I am working on <some problem> problem. Can anyone help me?

When I talk to team members about what they’re working on, and what problem they are trying to solve, they will go on and on about the problem, it’s intricacies, and how it’s pretty tricky. When I ask if they could use any help, they usually admit that having someone go over it would probably be good, but that they will absolutely figure it out. This, is the opportunity that is missed almost every stand-up. We have become conditioned to think that as long as we can eventually solve a problem that we won’t benefit from help.

The thought never crossed my mind that any team member I was working with would be unable to solve a problem they were given. I think the only thought that ever crossed it was, “Can we do it better?” Sometimes better is faster, but generally, better also means hearing alternatives. Both cases are solved by having someone come over and work on the problem together.

This little change should begin to encourage, with a little time, a team that begins to seek opportunities to bring their team mates in to make the work go better. Try it for a little while, and see if it helps.