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May 28, 2015

Agile Gotcha: The 3 Ways to Achieve 10-Minute Stand Ups

One of the key components in the scrum agile software development methodology is a daily stand-up meeting where each team member answers three questions:
  1. What did I work on yesterday?
  2. What am I working on today?
  3. Are there any impediments to my progress?
A stand-up is supposed to start on time, whether everyone is present or not, and not last more than fifteen minutes (ten minutes is better). The gotcha occurs when either of those constraints is not observed. Laggards delaying the start of the meeting inevitably lead to ones that extend beyond their allotted time. When stand-ups last more than fifteen minutes, they stop being checkpoints to ensure the team is on track, becoming instead dreaded time sinks that eat into productivity. When stand-ups go wrong, they become sessions of code review, architecture negotiation and technical discussions that can last forty-five minutes to two hours each -- while expecting the whole engineering department to attend the entire session every day. I know from experience (not at Apperian!), the stand-ups like that slow the development process, rather than enhancing agility. There are three things that need to be done to avoid having stand-ups become a destructive element in your agile methodology: 1. Break the engineering department into small teams focused on well-defined tasks.  Teams of 3-5 developers each can breeze through a stand-up, ending with a clear understanding of where everyone is working and how the work is progressing.  When your teams get to be 10 or more, answering the three questions in a reasonable way becomes difficult within the allocated time. 2. Stick to answering the three questions, without going into a lot of detail.  A stand-up is not the place for a technical discussion - if a need for more in-depth communication comes up from the presentation in the stand-up, take it off-line, meet after the stand-up - which will almost always be a smaller group than the whole team.  That lets the other members get back to their own work, leading to better productivity. 3. Follow the schedule:  Start and end the stand-ups on time.  Maintaining the discipline of the focused meetings will make it easier to stay focused on achieving sprint goals.  It might seem like a trivial point, but patterns do persist.  Try it, you’ll like it! Well-run daily stand-ups are a critical part of the agile development methodology.  If you let them get sloppy, your progress will fail to meet expectations.  Keep the stand-ups on track, and your team will have a far better chance of consistently delivering quality software in response to evolving business requirements.  That can only lead to good things.


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