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Thomas Hansen
Thomas Hansen

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Standup meetings

Yesterday we hired 6 interns in Aista, and I feel responsible for them, wanting to give them a great and valuable experience, that can provide them with lessons they'll need as they enter a real job later after university. However, since there's 6 of them and 1 of me, I have to be a little bit "creative" in regards to how I follow up on them. This is why I'm writing this article, because I want to teach them about standup meetings in such a way that I do not have to repeat myself, and also providing other (students) with valuable lessons as I teach my interns our processes.

The history of Standup Meetings

Standup meetings were originally created as a mechanism to reduce waste of time. The idea was that it was illegal to sit during a standup meeting, because this would ensure the participants felt uncomfortable while being in the meeting, which again would reduce irrelevant chatter to a minimum. The assumption is that humans wants to sit, and the faster the meeting was conducted, the faster they can go and sit down. Hence, in a traditional standup meeting you are not allowed to sit - Literally!

The idea was really brilliant in its time. However today with most people conducting meetings over zoom, the basic idea has kind of played its role. However, the primary objective still stands (pun!), and it is as follows.

FINISH THE MEETING AS FAST AS POSSIBLE!!!!!!!!!!

Did you get it ...? ;)

If you want to, you can print out the above quote and hang it over your monitor to remind you of the standup meeting's purpose. A standup meeting is conducted every day, typically early in the morning, and it has 3 primary questions.

  1. What did you do yesterday?
  2. What do you plan to do today?
  3. Are there any obstacles preventing you from finishing your work? (optional)

The reason for the above questions are as follows.

  1. Accountability
  2. Planning
  3. Orchestration

A team of software developers is like a Swiss watch when it's working. Each cog in its machinery works in synchronicity with all other cogs and moving parts. However, to make the watch tick perfectly, it is important to make sure nobody is waiting for anybody else. Implying, if you've got 3 tasks, and one of your tasks needs to be done before 2 other team members can continue on their tasks, this task should be your priority, to ensure the team's velocity is as high as possible. A software development team is only as fast as its slowest team member, hence the purpose is to make everybody become as fast as possible.

This is the purpose of a standup meeting, as in making sure all parts of the "Swiss watch" runs as smooth as possible. However, each minute in a meeting is non-productive time, so it's crucial that you're able to finish the standup meeting in as short amount of time as possible. Internally at Aista, we've held a successful standup meeting if we can wrap it up in 15 minutes. If we spend 16 minutes, we've failed! We do our standup meetings every morning at 9AM.

The way we do our standup meetings is that we've got one "orchestrator" (Mo, our Head of Product Development). Mo asks all participants to present the answer to the above 3 questions. If two people needs to collaborate, they continue "offline" afterwards. Offline here implies they can communicate with each other after the standup meeting is over. This is to prevent half the team having to wait for two people to solve whatever problem they need to collaborate on solving. A standup meeting is only for the common information, that everybody needs to know, in order to see the direction of the project as a whole. Never, ever, ever allow two people to start discussing a problem that's only relevant for them in a standup meeting. This should be done after the meeting. A standup meeting is only to identify such problems, not to solve them. Continuing one on one after the standup meeting is perfectly legitimate for the record, but going one on one in the standup meeting is a cardinal sin!

Sometime next week, I'll invite all of you into one of our standup meetings as listeners only (mute yourselves), such that you can see how a real standup meeting is performed. Before that time, I'll conduct a standup meeting with you all myself to teach you the basics. However, please read this article, preferably several times to understand the purpose, and search for more information about standup meetings. A great standup meeting is like the "oil in a machine", ensuring the machine as a whole runs as smooth and perfect as possible.

Punctuality

One thing you've probably notice about standup meetings, is that they're all about reducing waste of time. If you've got a meeting, and you're late to it, and 5 people are waiting for you to join. Then imagine these 5 others being senior architects, or project leads, maybe working as consultants sometimes, maybe living in London, then these people sometimes are making 250 EUROs per hour. This is a cost to the company of 5 people multiplied by 250 EUROs, divided by 6 if you are 10 minutes late. Basically, 208 EUROs down the toilet.

DO NOT BE LATE TO A MEETING!

In school being late is OK, and nobody really cares. If you're late 5 times in a row to a meeting as a professional software developer, you might as well deliver your resignation the 5th time. Sure, sometimes you have a really good excuse, and I'm not always on time myself, but please realise that every minute you are late to a meeting, implies everybody else are "dead weight" waiting for you to drop by, incapable of producing, implying the company as a whole suffers.

At Aista we're typically able to finish our standup meetings in 15 minutes. If we spend more time we've "failed our objectives" for the meeting that day. The point is to ensure everybody is at their maximum production capacity as much of the time as possible. Meetings are in such a regard a necessary evil, we have to do to orchestrate and plan things, but the point about standup meetings is to make them as short as possible.

Discussion (3)

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andrewbaisden profile image
Andrew Baisden

Fortunately, stand-up meetings over teams are quite relaxed at my company.

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polterguy profile image
Thomas Hansen Author

Being relaxed is OK, the question is how much time they require ... ^_^

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hardik2611 profile image
Hardik Goyal

Yes, I wholeheartedly concur. Eliminating long meetings keeps us more productive, and occasionally a phone conversation will do.