Everyone hates meetings. Everyone hates long meetings. The whole point about stand-ups is: They’re short.

On my current project, we recently noticed that our dailies got longer and longer. Fair enough: We are a large team of about 20 people, so there is much to talk about. Nevertheless, we managed ourselves to get each other updated within around 12 minutes. This significantly lowered the need for splitting up the team (or not having stand-up at all).

This post outlines some of the techniques which worked well for us.

Focus on the wall

I’m a fan of the three questions:

  • What have you done yesterday?
  • What are you going to do today?
  • What blocks you?

Yet within a group of 20, doing the full round is not feasible anymore.

Instead, we go through the wall. From Release to Analysis, we share what’s noteworthy for every story. While there is no fixed format, we tend to focus on updates and blockers.

Walking through the wall story by story provides a red line and orders the news according to priority. Even without much context on story, everyone gets a sense of what each pair is up to. Individuals learn just enough to notice when to facilitate a catch-up later. Also, time is saved since pairs don’t speak double.

All in all, this method helped us emphasises flow more: You notice quickly when cards get stuck due to the similar order of topics from one day to the next.

Move cards beforehand

Do you know these stand-ups where people start to shuffle all cards around hectically? It disturbs everyone and ruins the stand-up flow. If the only info you’ll get out of stand-up is “Yeah, that moved”, you might also just send around a picture of the wall.

Make sure to move your cards before stand-up starts. Your team will be grateful.

Have general announcements after moving through the wall

Ideally, all tasks the team is working on should be reflected on the wall, alleviating the need for an unfocussed round of “Oh, by the way…“’s. Yet, there are always some general announcements that don’t fit in here or there, yet the team needs to know about them.

Have general announcements after moving through the wall. When everything related to core work has already been said, people are less tempted to squeeze in less important facts or even delve into chatter.

Some time back, we started stand-up with general announcements, before hearing the actual progress in terms of stories. This sucked the focus out of the stand-up super soon: Rather unimportant yet mention-worthy chatter stole our focus. Some Manger-y team members would even dump all their announcements in a big batch and then leave.

Time each other out

When in such a big stand-up, the need for timing each other out is very important. Don’t worry, getting the T-shaped hand sign from around the room happens to everyone. Getting this feedback is an effective way of learning to shape your communication and be meaningful in general, far beyond stand-ups.

Use separate channels for details

With an average speaking time of under 40 seconds per person, important details will get lost. Therefore, several side channels started to emerge over time. These leave room for sharing updates with more room for background infos or questions.

These are the specialised announcement channels we currently employ:

  • Tech Huddle: After the board walk and announcements, the technical team gathers closely around the board. The team self-organizes the task distribution: Cards are pulled, avatars move and pairs rotate.
  • Analysis Huddle: Shortly before stand-up, Analysts and Product Owners gather to get an overview of the board. The discuss priorities for the day, blockers. The team benefits from a clear board and ready to play cards during stand-up.
  • Migration steam stand-up: For a good balance between the isolations of a team split and the overload of a single team, we categorise our work in 2-3 work streams. Currently, one of these streams is occupied with a complex data migration of an old system. Since this work requires close collaboration and frequent reorganisation, the stream uses a separate stand-up for their stories in addition to the regular stand-up.
  • Tech announcements via mailing list: These topics tended to become lengthy and get discussed, so we agreed to send them out via mail. Now, everyone can read them asynchronously whenever it suits them. Urgent announcements or gentle reminders are still part of the Tech Huddle.

No silver bullet

Naturally, our stand-up efficiency improvements also bears some risks to it. More silent people may get overrun during the fast-paced walk through the wall. Speaking in such a big round might be intimidating for some, compared to a smaller, more reasonably-sized team stand-up. These factors require attention; you might miss out important updates completely if people remain silent more than occasionally.

Whenever there are less people due to leave, we like to diversify the stand-up format and experiment with it - for example by going back to the good old three questions.

How do you keep stand-ups short in your team? Let me know in the comments!

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