EnergyI sometimes find that as people work together in a team for a long period of time they tend to start attending stand-ups on autopilot. Instead of being a laser focused status update for everyone regarding what is going on in the team, it becomes part of your daily routine BEFORE the real work starts (i.e. morning coffee, stadup, check e-mail, then the REAL work starts). People stop engaging, they’re not fully there and as a consequence the standup looses part of it’s value as people are simply waiting for it to be over. When you notice this happening in your team, it is time to do something different, change the format, change the location, change the time, the point is to find some creative way to snap people out of their groove and get them actively listening and participating in the standup.

The Traditional Standup

The traditional standup is when each member of the team in turn answers the 3 questions while everyone else listens.

  • What have they been doing since the previous standup?
  • What will they be doing before the next one?
  • Is there anything impeding them in their work?

While those questions are great, they do nothing to get people engaged and snap their mind to attention. If this is the format the team has been using for a while it may be partly responsible for putting everyone to sleep (this is the mind’s natural response to routine). This doesn’t mean we need to abandon the traditional standup format, but we do need to do something to liven things up a little. Here are some things that I would suggest.

  1. If you don’t already use it, try getting a speaking token. Rather than going around the room, throw a ball to each other, whoever has the ball – speaks. People need to focus in case they are next to get the ball, so the mind becomes more active as a result. This is good, but can quickly become routine as well, especially if you allow people to call for the token rather than getting the previous speaker to pick the next one.
  2. Introduce ‘homework’. I don’t mean anything fancy, but something like starting every standup with a joke is another idea. Every day a different person has to tell a joke to start the standup. It forces people to think about the standup outside the standup itself (they need to prepare a joke after all). The joke also snaps everyone else’s mind out of their groove and gets them listening, you will be able to complete the standup before this effect wears off. As a side-effect it also promotes team bonding.
  3. Get peoples minds working by introducing a random twist into the standup order every day. For example, one day ask the people to talk in alphabetical order by last name, they will need to work this out and are engaged as a result. Next day get them to do it by height. Next might be in order of time of arrival at work etc. The point is to not let people coast on autopilot and get their minds active.
  4. Lastly as I mentioned previously, who says the standup has to be in the same place, or even at the same time all the time. You can, for example, decide on a different standup time or place at the start of every iteration. One iteration is not long enough to get people into a routine. Try having a standup to end the day, rather than to start one, or maybe right before lunch, nobody said it HAD to be in the morning (of course changing standup time and place every day is not a good idea for obvious reasons).

Of course you don’t need to follow the traditional format at all if you find that you get little value from it or if people are simply bored with it.

Doing It Another Way (Story Focused Standups)

One of the different ways to have standups that has been suggested was to make them story focused rather than people focused (see this post by Dave Nicolette and this infoq post). Here, rather than each person reporting on what they did, will do etc. The team gathers around the task board and examines each of the cards that are in play at the moment. Dave calls this “_walking the board_”. One of the ways to do this is to designate a ‘champion’ for each card. It would be their job to report on the progress of that card while it is in play. Of course you could also just try and make this organic where anyone who has something of relevance to say about the card just pipes in. The danger to guard against here is lack of focus (trying to solve the issues then and there), remember that it is still a standup, so keep it short and to the point. Regardless of how you do it; it is certainly a different way to have your daily standup which can revitalize the experience and up the level of engagement if you find that your team is lacking energy during your daily standup.

Do you know of/use other ways to hold a standup that are different from the traditional approach? Or maybe you have more tips to make a traditional standup more fun. If you do, please share your thoughts in the comments.

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