Nona Blog

Standing Up – Remotely

Standups are an integral part of the agile process. How do remote standups differ?

I think a lot about agile ceremonies and their evolving context in a fully remote environment. Some of my previously (strongly) held beliefs about what matters in these meetings has changed.

In this post I want to focus on the Daily Stand Up meeting that all teams at Nona, and many around the world, use as part of their agile software development practices.

We’ll chat about it in four sections:

  1. What is the daily stand up?
  2. What is the purpose of this meeting?
  3. Which rules are important?
  4. What changes in a fully remote context?

What is the daily stand up?

The daily stand-ups give project teams a chance to check-in and discuss progress and challenges.

These are short sessions designed to foster communication and to help us bring up important points related to the project, earlier rather than later. 

In many teams they take the form of three questions:

  1. What did I do yesterday? #Accomplishments
  2. What am I doing today? #goals
  3. Do I have any blockers or impediments to completing my work? #obstacles

Note: The answer to the first question should only be a brief mention. Far more time should be spent talking about current tasks and the issues you may face! Forward Focus!

Note: You are not “reporting in” to your Project Manager. Keep your eyes on your team members (the screen), and give your update up to them. The Project Manager, where relevant, can give a stand up to the team just like every other team member.

What is the purpose of this meeting?

The main purposes of the daily standup are to raise issues early and unblock team members who are currently stuck. To ensure that the system is flowing freely and correctly and maximum maintainable velocity.

It encourages collaboration and alignment of team members as well as working on the same tickets/stories. That way people can work toward their common goals as efficiently as possible.

It is not a progress report for project managers. It is not to check in if people are actually working. There are other mechanisms in place for this.

The meeting is for the team, between the team to remain aligned, focused, forward looking and unblocked.

Which rules are important?

Over many years of running agile software development teams I had settled on the following rules being the most important for ensuring a successful daily meeting. I’ll write them down as they were and will discuss in the next section which of these have changed since moving to a fully remote environment.

  • Tickets should be visible for EVERY ONE of us while talking!
  • The last person to talk nominates the next person to talk OR people self nominate to speak next. No one should delegate who is to update when as this removes ownership.
  • Stick to a max of one minute each for your update.
    • When there is more to discuss this happens at the end of the meeting.
  • No multitasking EVER – 100% full attention on the meeting
  • Everything you say should be valuable to everyone in the room. Individual talks can happen at any time of the day aside from the stand up meeting.
  • No waiting for people – we start the meeting at the set time every time.
  • Don’t introduce new ideas in Standup meetings – STICK TO THE THREE QUESTIONS!
    • Discussions and new ideas AFTER standup. These can still include the whole team.
  • Everybody should be ready for standup at least a full minute before stand up so that the meeting can begin exactly on time.
  • One stands up during stand up.
    • Standing up engages and energises the team, keeps energy high, keeps the meeting short, try this if you aren’t – trust me.
  • This meeting is for the team, by the team and not a reporting meeting.
  • The full meeting should run for under 15 minutes. Likely only for 5.

What changes in a fully remote context?

Firstly, it’s worth noting that the value and intention of the meeting remains the same. These meetings are perhaps even more valuable for a team that isn’t colocated to keep everyone rowing in the same direction.

But there are some things that change:

  1. Although I tried my hardest to keep physical standing up happening while remote – this is not always best. It can be more awkward than useful to stand up while on a video call. It is worth doing sometimes to shake things up but most of the time it’s better to allow folks to be positioned correctly with their faces visible and close to the camera.
    1. Eye contact and facial expressions are so important that the benefit of standing up does not compare and can hinder facial expressions being clearly readable.
  2. The length of the meeting can extend. Remote teams aren’t exposed to many or any spontaneous collisions daily with their teammates. The stand up is likely the only daily meeting with everyone on the call. Time for bonding is thus minimised and this meeting can be used to help with that. One should still stick to the original meeting structure and length but then don’t try and hop off the call as soon as possible, whether the post standup discussion is relevant to you or not – try and remain online, chatting, being social, asking questions and bonding with your team.
  3. One person should be sharing the digital tickets (whether that’s Jira or Asana or whatever tool you use). Updates and conversations should be held about specific tickets.
  4. No multitasking becomes even more important as everyone is already sitting in front of distracting devices. Try and develop a practice around having everyone mute all notifications and minimise all windows except the call. Focus is key here and can really lead to better ideas, more progress and a closer team.
  5. Don’t be too strict on the 5-15min time requirement. Allow for some additional contact time between the team. We have deliberately scheduled 30mins for our max 15min meetings to allow for additional conversation thereafter.
  6. We’ve also found that our discipline slipped being completely remote and that we have a greater need to remind each other to stay on topic and stick to the format of the meeting than we used to in the past.

There you have it, those are my thoughts on how things have changed for the Stand Up in a fully remote context.

I’d love to hear thoughts from other people who run or participate in the same meeting. Any great tricks? Tips? Recommends for how you do this effectively?

Let me know in the comments below?

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Ed O'Reilly

Co-Founder and COO at Nona.