Jakob Anderson

Fighting for Performance and Craft at the Front-lines

Virtual Stand-up Meetings

2016-04-22 3 min read

There should be as little process as is helpful in your work life. We already don’t feel we have enough time to get projects done on time, and never enough to work on improving our technical skills.

There is simply not enough time.

Then, in comes a daily marathon-long standup meeting. These break Agile specs, which say stand-ups should be “[…] timeboxed to between 5 and 15 minutes, and take place with participants standing up to remind people to keep the meeting short and to-the-point.” If this meeting takes too long, it hurts team communication, or especially, kills that precious morning momentum, and makes teammates less productive in their day, it becomes the opposite of Agile, and should be changed immediately.

Don’t get me wrong. I feel it is very important to give and receive status updates for your team, to communicate and remove blockers for each other, but the meeting doesn’t need to freeze you from working until it’s over.

Standing in-person, and physically waiting for others to talk is also a time-wasting, synchronous flow pattern. What if you could complete all of the helpful functions of a stand-up meeting, but doing it asynchronously, and in less time? Here is a solution: Host Virtual, Async Stand-ups.

  • Schedule a calendar event or other reminder for the same time each day.
  • Schedule it for 15 minutes.
  • Invite your team
  • Have each member share a single, brief team chat message of what you think the team needs to know.
  • Visually distinguish your standup message from the other chats in the room that day. “STANDUP: “ or something like that will work
  • Once the team has reported, you may delve into afterclass items, and those not involved may check out and go back to work. You can pull them back with an @user message at any time.

Here is an example standup message: Virtual Stand-up chat example image

That’s it. This works as well or better than communicating physically in a room if adhered to strongly. Treat the event like a real meeting. Be sure to religiously post status on time, and treat it as if it may be taken away at any time if not used effectively. After doing virtual stand-ups for a bit, the threat of holding an IRL, Synchronous, Physical meeting again will serve as a strong motivator to make this work even better. You should end up communicating better, and you will get so much time back, you will thank me.

Further notes and helpful hints:

1) If you want to follow the formal pattern for your standup message, you could start with these:

  • “What did I do yesterday?”
  • “What will I do today?”
  • “What problems are preventing me from making progress?”.
  • List any calendar items or changes in availability. It may be helpful for scanning to denote these different items with emojis if you like. (I use :calendar: for calendar items, and :weight_lifter: for current work items).
  • Also, be sure to send non-blocking calendar invites your teammates can mark as “tentative/maybe”, so they can also refer to their calendar when asked about teammate’s schedules

2) If you need afterclass sessions that don’t involve the whole team, try to hold them as new chat groups, inviting only those who need to be involved, down to 1v1 chats when needed. This way you don’t interrupt the rest of the team, and you keep the standup-time area of the chat log much cleaner for future reference and visual parsing.