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Effective remote stand-ups

Last week I was speaking with a friend about zoom calls and some hilarious videos circling the internet. We were talking about how he has started to dread zoom calls, especially his morning stand-up with his team. When I asked why, he said that the morning stand-up ends up being more than 30 mins sometimes, with people losing interest or continuing to talk for hours.

When I told him about all the standard agile practices of making sure people stick to their 2-minute allotted times, tokens, etc., he said that those practices work well for their team when they are in an office together. However, translating these practices online doesn't work so well. For example, cutting someone off while they are speaking seems uncomfortable online. Also, since team members don't see their co-workers all day, they treat the stand up as a daily round-up. All of these problems are understandable, but at the same time, it is even more critical in these weird times, that we make sure every team member is using their time as efficiently as possible. This includes daily stand-up calls.

To do that, here are some ideas you could use to make sure your stand-ups are well organized and seamless for everyone involved:

  1. Set expectations: It seems obvious, but you would be surprised how many teams don't do this. Make sure you set expectations about being on time, being dressed appropriately, and being prepared for the stand-up. Make sure each team member has read the rules of engagement for your daily stand up.

  2. Assign a facilitator: This is super important for remote teams. A facilitator should ideally be someone on the team who has experience working remotely. A facilitator's main job is to make sure the meeting stays on track and does not veer from the stand-up agenda.

  3. Screen share: In a physical stand up, a team typically stands in front of the scrum wall to discuss the statuses of cards. With remote teams, the same thing can be done by screen sharing your online scrum wall. This might sound like a simple solution, but I have seen loads of teams not do this. Your scrum wall helps keep the team focused and creates a sense of achievement for the team members, so don't skip this step.

  4. Double down on asynchronous communication: If your stand-ups are too long, or too chaotic, it could be a symptom of a bigger problem, which is that your team probably isn't communicating a lot during the workday while working remotely. This is why, even though everyone is aware of the stand-up schedule, they feel the need to speak about other things. Encouraging your team to communicate more through collaboration tools and messaging services like Slack is a great place to start. Ask your team to work 'aloud.' This means that instead of having to wait for their daily sync up, they should discuss things on Slack, just the way they would if they were in an office together.

  5. Set up stand up bots: I love using stand up bots to make sure your daily stand-ups run as efficiently as possible. I have used Standuply in the past, and it has worked well for us, especially for teams in different time zones. This ensures that team members enter their stand up updates before the daily stand-up. Everyone reads these before they log onto the stand-up call, and then the call is more focussed on highlighting blockers, and essential tasks for the day. I also have used I done this in the past, which I have liked as well.

  6. Holding up colored cards: Yep, you read that right! Instead of interrupting someone to let them know they overshot their time limit to speak, hold up a red card (a piece of red paper) to let them know without having to interrupt them politely. You can have similar cards ready to go for things like 'unable to hear you,' 'poor connection,' or even 'great job!'. It just makes the stand-ups run a bit smoother.

  7. Frequency of stand-ups: If you are doing all of the above, maybe revisit the need to meet daily for a stand-up. Some teams might be perfectly happy meeting once or twice a week because they are using other online collaboration tools efficiently, and do not need to meet up daily. Discuss with your team if you need to meet online for the stand-up every day.

I hope you have found this useful. Let me know if you have any questions or feedback!

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