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Things I learn at standups

A few days ago, someone told me that they felt that standups do not bring a lot of value for their team. It got to a point that his team members were getting disengaged.

I've always been a big proponent of this meeting and feel kind of lost when I miss it for a few days. So I took this as an good opportunity to explore what makes me feel that way and wanted to share with you:

  1. Why it’s an important part of my day.
  2. A few tips to make the most out of those 15 minutes.

Wizard of oz

The team, going to a standup

A valuable standup

We often evaluate if we should keep a meeting by comparing the value it brings to the time spent. Standup being the most recurring meeting, it's understandable that it needs to help the team quite a lot to be worth it. However, I do feel like it has some real hidden benefits for a team.

It's a social event

My team has remote developers and we're not all working on the same things. The standup is sometimes the only opportunity of the day we get to see and interact with each other. It's a mini team-building moment where we get to:

  • Share our problems.
  • Get support from the team.
  • Congratulate each other on achievements.

Team cohesion becomes a critical factor as your team grows and takes on bigger projects. It helps boost morale, streamline exchanges and helps pursuing the common goals of the team. Most of us spend our day working on a piece of code with headphones on. I do believe we need these kind of moments to create cohesion.

Everybody is available

Being forced to all stand in the room has some perks, the first of which is that everybody is ready to listen to anything that is said. It makes it a perfect moment to bother people with small things that don't require interrupting a teammate during the day.

"Do you have 5 minutes to demo that to me today?",
"Can I send you this PR? I'd like to have your opinion on the pattern I used."

These types of questions are all easier to ask (and do get better answers) at a standup than if they were sent as slack notifications. People can also ask for more details and get their answers instantly: it's interactive and fun :-) .

Pull requests do not cover the full story

I used to think that I could know everything that's happening within my team just by reading the pull requests and RFCs. While those artifacts cover the result of peoples' work, they don't always cover how the author got there and what he/she plans to do next.* It's also unlikely that everybody on the team is reading all the PRs-Emails-RFCs. At standup, you can be fairly sure that people are listening.

I learn a lot from hearing what my teammates tried before choosing a final implementation, and I also find it easier to understand the "next steps" when a teammate is explaining them out loud.

*: Unless the team writes amazing pull request descriptions, in that case: bravo.

My teammates have secret talents

And our projects have secret dependencies.

Hey! I worked on something similar, maybe I can help is my favorite thing to hear at a standup. Sometimes I forget that somebody worked on the subject, or discover that they worked on the same thing at their previous company: in either case it's a welcome help.

The other side of that coin is the infamous
Be careful I'm working on the same file, we'll probably have to handle conflicts. Not as exciting to hear that one, but it's still better than learning about it when authors are in rebase hell trying to get their PRs merged.

It helps me structure my days

I take a minute before the meeting to think about what my priorities of the day will be. I feel like this is a good habit and it helps me focus on what's important.

As a way to make sure the meeting stays beneficial as we grow, I usually give our new hires a few pointers before their first standup.

Making the most out of 15 minutes

Also known as: our internal guidelines to a successful standup.

Be precise

You should never say the same thing two days in a row. If you are working on the same subject, then give some details on what you did yesterday that was different from the day before. Your coworkers are all familiar with the context, it's okay to expect them to understand detailed explanations on your subject. The more precise you can be in the time you have, the more value you bring to your teammates.

Make it interactive

Being precise opens the discussion for questions and interactions. The meeting has more value when everyone can ask questions or ask for some details on the part that interests them the most. It makes the meeting more lively and keeps people interested, it's also a good way to discover dependencies or how people can help.

Of course the goal is not to discuss something for 30 minutes. If the question requires a long answer, it should be postponed to either the end of the standup-so the uninterested can leave and get on with their day- or be scheduled as a separate meeting.

It's okay to have a bad day

Sometimes you don't have much to say because you had a bad day for any number of reasons. It's okay to not have a lot to say at standup, it's not a performance review. As long as you're precise about whatever you did yesterday your team will still get value from hearing you. In fact, sometimes explaining why you had a bad day might give your teammates an insight that would allow them to help unstick you.

Focus on the team

I try to highlight the part of my day that was related to the team. If I write a new feature and do a candidate interview, I'll focus more on the pull request because the team is directly impacted by that change.

Own your standup

I hope this can help other teams enjoy that moment as much as I do.

I highly encourage you to spend time making sure your standup meeting is as valuable as possible for your team. It's often a required meeting anyway.
Write your own guidelines, try things, iterate #devopslife

Top comments (2)

piyukore06 profile image
Priyanka Kore

Really well put together πŸ™ŒπŸ» I am glad it works for you..

but I think it works if you have smaller teams otherwise the meetings tend to extend.. I was always of the opinion that it’s important to meet the team once a day just to get some perspective. But currently we are not doing the standup thing.. we just write what we are going to do today in a slack channel. It works much better, nobody is bound by time and everyone is informed of what the other person is doing..

nioufe profile image


I agree that while this has worked well for us, there is a limit to how the meeting can scale in it's current form. One thing I like about having something written is that you can easily go back to it if you forgot what somebody said :-)
I think I would miss the social component though.