We were all in meetings that were about 30 minutes too long.
We laugh at “this could have been an email” GIFs, sigh, and move on with our days.
The truth is, however, unnecessary meetings cost us far more than just time. The 2019 Doodle State of Meetings Report estimates that poorly organized meetings cost US companies $ 399 billion.
One or two unnecessary meetings a week may seem insignificant, but if you look at a whole year’s meetings, the impact is significant.
As more companies move to remote work, the number of meetings also increases. How can teams make sure their meetings stay productive? Stand ups are one way to solve this.
What is a stand-up meeting?
A stand-up meeting, also known as daily scrum, is a short meeting (up to 15 minutes) in which each team member presents their current priorities and obstacles. It follows the agile software development framework, which is intended to streamline project workflows and improve cross-team collaboration.
To understand why stand ups exist, you first need to understand the agile methodology.
Many companies have long used a waterfall model for projects. This meant that the teams would take the projects step-by-step, assuming that the requirements would stay the same as they developed. The problem with the waterfall approach is that:
- Teams are not always aligned.
- Unclear requirements often delay progress.
- Testing only begins after development is complete.
Agile is based on iterative development, which means that teams are more closely involved in project progress. Teams work in a sprint and stand-ups solve problems quickly and efficiently.
Stand ups are usually daily. However, some teams have them less often. To maintain the benefits of the process, a stand-up meeting should be held no less than once a week. The main reason is that it is more difficult to track everyone’s progress and remove obstacles as they arise.
We also know that business priorities can change quickly. If the stand-ups are too far apart, it can lead to information gaps between teams and slow delivery times.
Stand-up meeting format
During a stand-up meeting, each team member should answer the following questions:
- What have you been working on since the last meeting?
- What are you working on now
- Are there any blockers hindering your progress?
Regular updates help team members and executives track everyone’s progress and assess what needs to be done to meet sprint goals.
Take my role as a writer on a blog team as an example.
During a stand-up, I would say, “Yesterday I finished writing the X article and finished my second draft for the Y article. Today I will be working on getting the Y article into the Content Management System (CMS) upload and draft two outlines for new articles. My current obstacle is that I’ve lost access to the CMS and have to connect to someone from IT to regain access. ”
From there, my manager could suggest connecting me to a specific technician on the IT side and contacting me after getting up. If you follow this format, everyone in the meeting will have a clear view of what you’re working on and how it will affect the sprint.
Best practices for stand-up meetings
1. Keep the meeting brief.
If your stand-up meeting lasts for an hour, you’re doing it wrong. This type of meeting is designed to keep all team members informed. It is not a meeting for planning, problem solving, or brainstorming.
Ideally, your stand-up will last between five and 15 minutes. That sounds short, but it works well when everyone stays at work. Therefore everyone should prepare what they will say beforehand and stick to the script.
To keep the meetings productive, let your Scrum Master or team leader keep an eye on the time and intervene if necessary to move things forward.
2. Follow-up after the meeting.
As mentioned before, stand-up meetings have very defined goals: getting to know everyone’s main focus and identifying obstacles that can affect the sprint.
Once problems have been identified, follow-up meetings with smaller team members can be scheduled to resolve them, whether they are brainstorming solutions or their solution.
For example, let’s say your team’s UX designer says they have a roadblock with app design requirements during your stand up and need further instructions from the product owner. While it’s great to mention the problem, the stand-up is not the time to go into the details. Skip problem solving and save for a follow-up meeting with the product owner.
3. Keep it consistent.
Imagine attending a meeting every day and having no idea what to expect. It’s unsettling at best, chaotic at worst. In stand-up meetings, three things have to stay the same:
- The agenda – There are only three main areas a stand-up should cover: yesterday’s results, today’s priorities, and current obstacles.
- The frequency of the meeting – If the meetings are irregular, how do team members stay on the same page? If you skip meeting days, things can fall through the cracks and create more problems in the sprint.
- The length of time – Fifteen minutes is the magic number for stand-ups. Make them a lot longer and it turns them into something else that probably won’t be that productive.
Ideas for stand-up meetings
1. Actually get up.
Have you ever let out a sigh the first time you sat down for a meeting? Not because you fear it, but because you know it will take a long time and you make yourself comfortable.
This is exactly what you want to avoid during a stand-up meeting. The reason they are called stand ups is because they are meant to be quick. So fast you could get up. If your team is struggling to stay at work, go without chairs.
Have everyone stand up while each person presents. This will help everyone get to the point and not stray from the topic.
2. Use a prop.
Have someone start with a prop, e.g. A ball or a squeaky toy instead of following the order in which it walks around the table. Once they have presented, they will give it to someone else. It will keep going through the room until everyone is gone.
Props can be very useful during meetings as they help attendees get involved. The expectation of getting the prop next can keep anyone busy. It’s easy to drift off when you know you’re 10 minutes away from your turn. This strategy promotes concentration and is fun.
3. Integrate an icebreaker.
Most of the stand-ups take place daily. However, if your team does them less often, it can help to use an icebreaker to loosen them all up.
It can be a joke, a puzzle, a question, or a GIF. On the HubSpot blog team, a rotating team member asks a question to start the meeting. The questions of the past ranged from “What is your dream vacation?” to “What would your memoir be called in six words?”
Every meeting starts on a light hearted note before moving on to the details of the work.
4. Use an asynchronous stand-up messaging system.
If you have team members in different time zones, you may not be able to find a time that works for everyone. Messaging software such as Slack or Microsoft Teams are ideal here.
To set it up, create a bot or buy an external bot tool (like GeekBot) that you can use to:
- Send daily prompts to your team based on working hours.
- Gather their responses and send them to the team channel.
The great thing about this approach is that everyone stays on the same page while working within their schedules. Automation also saves a lot of time and streamlines the process.
Text-based stand-ups also help everyone stay on the job. Face-to-face meetings, whether face-to-face or virtual, can easily deviate from the topic and waste a lot of time. By limiting the number of questions members receive, you can stick to the point and get the key information needed to stand up.
In this sense, they prevent secondary discussions that can derail the conversation. Team members can send messages to each other or start a thread that doesn’t disrupt the flow of information.
Following the stand-up format may not eliminate the need for lengthy meetings. However, this can improve communication between your teams and keep everyone focused on the goals of your projects.