How to run a GREAT daily stand-up meeting

Paul Doerwald • October 25

You're likely reading this because you already do stand-up meetings. Many teams do, but not all stand-ups are created equal. After many stand-up meetings of my own and a bunch of research on the subject, I've compiled ideas for how to take your daily stand-up meeting from “whomp” to “wildly productive.”

“Stand-up” meetings are progress update meetings for teams. As the name implies, all attendees must stand for the entire meeting. Being uncomfortable standing is how meetings stay short. At the end of a successful stand-up meeting, all attendees are up to date on each others' progress. Stand-up meetings are not a replacement for planning meetings.

Stand-up meetings are popular among software development teams, but all teams can benefit. I emphasize “teams” because everyone in the stand-up should be on the same team, working to the same goal.

Structure of a stand-up meeting team

The membership of a stand-up meeting is critical to the stand-up’s success. If you get the attendee list wrong, your stand-ups will be boring and ineffective. Get the list right and stand-ups will be well attended, smooth, efficient and effective.

Everyone in the stand-up should be on the same team, working toward the same goal. If you have more than 10 people, you can most likely split into two stand-ups.

Name one person “leader”. The Scrum methodology calls this person "Scrum Master". The leader’s sole job is to remove blocks. For example, if a developer needs a design asset, it’s the leader’s job to talk to the design team. This is NOT a management position, nor is it formal in any way. The leader is a servant to their team, to help them finish the project on time. Rotate the leadership to another team member every 1-2 weeks to share the load and avoid burnout. Every team member should be capable of serving as leader.

In larger businesses, stand-up members should be in the same discipline. For instance: software devs, marketers. In smaller organizations, stand-up members could be cross-functional. This could be the team responsible for delivering a website: the copywriter, graphic designer, and web developer. In both cases, the complete membership of the meeting has to care about the progress of each member. If anyone is reporting and no one is listening because no one cares, then that member shouldn’t be in the meeting. Organizations with many cross-functional teams working on lots of projects (common in small agencies) should either have lots of stand-ups (one for each project), or stand-up meetings are not a fit for your organization.

The stand-up meeting is not for updating upper management. Even project managers don’t have any business at the stand-up, except as observers.

What should we discuss?

A stand-up meeting lets all team members know what every other team member is working on. Being aligned helps the goal of delivering the project.

In a proper stand-up, there are only 3 questions to answer:

What did I work on yesterday? Your answer shows your teammates if you’re working on the wrong thing, spinning your wheels, or going down a rabbit hole. Sometimes you’re too close to your own work to see the bigger picture. Your teammates can help steer you in the right direction, and identify when you need help.

What am I working on today? Your answer shows that you understand the big picture of the project and how you fit in. If your answer for today’s task is the same as yesterday, you haven’t broken down your tasks into small enough chunks.

What’s blocking me (if anything) from completing work? Are you waiting for a design asset? Running into a bug? Need a response from a client? Think hard about this question, because the stand-up meeting is your best opportunity to remove friction. It can be helpful to keep a notepad open so you can quickly write down blockers. Your stand-up leader’s job is to remove these blocks.

Stand-ups are not for planning, ideation, or design. They are only for project updates for team members.

Avoid discussion

A stand-up isn’t a place for discussion, except between the speaker, the leader (a.k.a. “Scrum master” — the person responsible for fixing blockers), and the blocker (if applicable). Everyone else listens. Conversation and follow-up can happen out-of-band.

Be prepared — every day!

Everyone in the meeting must come prepared. No waffling. No thinking on the spot.

The death of a stand-up meeting is when someone says “Yesterday I uhhhh… I worked on… uhhh… oh yeah!” and then a few minutes later “Oh, and I also worked on…”

Come in having reviewed what you did yesterday and with a clear idea of what you’re going to work on today. As you review yesterday, try to think of anything you couldn't finish because you’re blocked.

Pro tip: It’s hard to remember what you did yesterday. Your time tracking tool is a great resource to help answer that question. Plus, you’ll also be completing your timesheets.

Your team could explore a penalty for unprepared people. For instance, they could drop $1 in a jar if they’re unprepared — or $10 if you’re a manager who should know better! Another great penalty is having to clean the office kitchen.

Absolutely no sitting or leaning

Absolutely no sitting*, or even leaning against a wall, even if you’re remote.

If any one person sits down, it’s an invitation to everyone else to sit. As soon as one person is sitting, it’s an invitation for the meeting to run long.

Stand-ups work because everyone feels a little bit of discomfort during the meeting. The discomfort goes away when the meeting ends. As long as everyone is uncomfortable, no one is going to let the meeting go long.

Remote workers, it’s important that you stand too. If you have a sit-stand desk, use it, or call in standing using your mobile device. In fact, if you’re not only standing but also holding your phone at a flattering angle, you’ll have a double incentive to keep the meeting short!

Embrace your discomfort, so that the end of the meeting is a relief.

*For those who are unable to stand, this does not apply. It would be helpful if they could find their own kind of “discomfort” that the meeting’s end will relieve. For instance, not resting an arm for the duration of the meeting or sitting up straight with no slouching.

The right time of day

It is a challenge to time your stand-up right. Too early in the morning, and attendance will be a problem. Too late in the morning and no one will get to work until after the stand-up.

The ideal time might be 30 minutes after everyone shows up to work. Use those 30 minutes to prepare for the meeting, complete yesterday’s timesheets, or run late. It is important to use the time before the stand-up meeting productively.

That said, a stand-up meeting could happen in the afternoon. It just gets a bit harder to answer “what did you do yesterday?” and to not be tempted to answer “what will you be doing tomorrow?”

Your team could explore a penalty for people who miss meetings.

A note on penalties

The concept of “penalties” has come up a couple times in this article. Penalties can be very touchy because they can lead to a lot of resentment. Here are a few tips to make penalties work for your team:

The team membership must decide on all penalties and rules. Corollary: Management should never decide on a penalty or set any rules. Doing so only breeds resentment.

The penalty should be fun and should benefit the team. e.g. if a violation costs an individual $1, then the money should go to the next team social, to buy pizza, etc.

If any one individual is getting a lot of penalties, or the whole team is often in violation, you should review how you’ve structured stand-up meetings. The penalty is there to help everyone enjoy a smooth meeting, not suffer its consequences.

Rule of thumb: The penalized person should not feel ashamed by their penalty. They were a part of the decision about the penalty, and they enjoy the up-side of the penalty.

Alternatives to stand-up meetings

Stand-up meetings don’t work for every team or for every project. That’s okay. If stand-ups don’t work for you, stop doing them.

These are some reasons why stand-ups might not work for you, and what you can do instead:

Distributed, remote teams

Teams spread out across many time zones, have no common “start of day”. If everyone is within 8 hours of each other, you could have a stand-up at an arbitrary time. Be aware that some members will answer with “yesterday/today” and some with “today/tomorrow”.

Instead of a stand-up, you could move to an asynchronous tool like Slack. Answer the 3 questions on Slack every morning when you start work. Tag any people who are contributing to your blocks, or the stand-up leader if the blocker is outside of your team. As each team member reads the report, they respond with an emoji to show they’ve read it.

Small teams, and teams where members work on multiple projects

Stand-up meetings can be overly bureaucratic when a team is too small or when its members are not able to dedicate 100% of their time to a particular project. This is where your project management tool (e.g. Clickup, Asana, Trello) will help. Use it to show progress and identify blockers. Your project manager can function as the leader to un-block workers.

If you’re in this situation, resist the temptation to have stand-ups with more people. If you are in a team of 10, and you are working on project A along with 2 other people, the other 7 don’t care about your update because it doesn’t affect them.

Tools to make your stand-up awesome

One of the hardest things about stand-up meetings is answering the “What did you work on yesterday?” question. Most people can’t remember what they ate for breakfast yesterday (unless they eat the same thing every day), so how will they remember what they did during a busy day?

Use your time tracking tool to help you remember what you worked on. If you’re diligent about tracking your time, you’ll have the answer at your fingertips. If you’re not, the time before your meeting is a great opportunity to make sure your timesheets are up to date. The process of reviewing or filling in your timesheets will give you the information you need to walk into your stand-up meeting feeling relaxed and prepared.

For even more power, use Clockk’s automated tracking to help prepare for your stand-up. By tracking the apps you worked on, your email, Slack, and your browsing history, Clockk will show you which project(s) you worked on, and what you did. Clockk will even show you where you went down a rabbit hole to research a problem. Your stand-up report and finished timesheets are both a click away.

Sign up for Clockk’s free plan today.

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