26 June 2018

7 Simple Tips to Run Agile Daily Stand-ups More Effectively

Agile Best Practice
Agile Scrum In Action

When I first started off as a delivery manager at the Ministry of Justice, five years ago, I used to get anxious every time I ran a daily stand-up - a key agile ritual that allows the team to be in sync with how things are going and provides visibility of progress.

The main reason for this was the daunting fact of having to make decisions with a group of experts about their daily activity. Fortunately, over time, things started to change for the better.

In this article, I'll share some of my top tips for running an effective daily scrum based on my experiences in delivering multiple projects for governments, businesses, and organisations.

Mastering trust, avoiding Jack of all trades

I used to believe that I needed to fully understand the ins and outs of each delivery team member's subject areas to be able to provide all the correct answers to any issues/problems raised during the stand-up. 

As I delivered more projects, however, I built up experience in facilitating and running sessions for subjects that weren't in my field of expertise. This led me to become more comfortable with not knowing all of the answers and instead trusting in the expertise of my delivery team members.

I started to ensure that the right subject experts, with the knowledge required, provided answers to questions about their field of expertise. This truly enabled me to run the stand-ups more effectively than ever before.

Poorly run stand-ups = big delivery team risks

In the worst case scenario, poorly run stand-ups can lead to a number of issues including:

* The team not being clear on what each other are doing

* The stand-up becoming a chore, which results in poor discipline and low attendance

* The team using the ceremony as a kind of "formal meeting" because they don’t see the value/purpose of the stand-up.

* A lack of clarity and tasks not moving forward

A key role that delivery managers play is being the little "l" in the servant leader. Delivery managers, or "scrum masters", are required to facilitate project conversation and ensure that everyone can make the daily stand-ups. It’s the team who self-organise.

Our role is to simply ensure that people are talking to each other on a daily basis in the most effective way and not having to address the delivery manager during stand-ups. We're not there to make on the spot decisions, such as product/technical concepts, within the 10-15 minute timebox.

Now that we've covered the importance of trust and why effective daily stand-ups are important, let's look at some simple ways to ensure that your dailies run smoothly.

7 simple tips for getting the most out of your stand-ups

1. Get bums out of seats and get everyone on your team to physically STAND UP around your Kanban board or in front of their monitors for remote working teams. Being on your feet helps to remind you to keep the updates brief and only share what’s important.

2. Set reminders on calendars, Slack or any other collaborative tools that your team uses to notify the team when the daily stand-up is taking place at a particular, regularly scheduled time.

3. Set some Golden Rules, such as a time limit for the entire stand-up session, rotating facilitators, taking in-depth conversations offline/outside of the stand-up, punctuality, and no two conversations at one time. This helps instil discipline into the ceremony so that what's important gets covered.

4. Focus the daily updates on tasks rather than individuals. If you focus on tasks, the person who owns a particular task should provide an update on its progress. This allows you to keep stand-ups focused on the sprint and help tasks move along the workflow.

5. Get everyone on the team talking to each other rather than an individual i.e. the delivery manager. 

6. Use the ‘sidebar’ card. If you are expected to make a decision which you are unsure about, defer it for the next day. Use the time after the stand-up to grab the relevant colleagues to make the correct decision and update the team the following day.

7. Give each update equal airtime and keep the conversation moving along, giving yourself a few minutes at the end for any other business that needs to be covered.

Happy Standing!

I hope you find these tips helpful in making your daily stand-ups more effective. Again, just to reiterate, delivery managers are there to support, guide, facilitate and remove any impediments to the team. We do not impose the work, we just enable it.

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