Agile project teams are all about collaboration and cooperation -- working with each other, not working for the project manager. This guideline explains how to use one common agile technique -- standup meetings -- to get team members into the habit of keeping each other in the loop without spending hours every week in endless, agonizing status meetings.
What this is
This technique brief contains suggestions and recommendations for facilitating a standup meeting. Standup meetings are a highly effective, low overhead way for team members to coordinate their work.
Why it's useful
Standup meetings provide a simple means for team members to keep each other up to date without spending a lot of time in meetings or having to write and read piles of status reports. Standup meetings focus on quick discussion of progress, plans, and problems. This allows team members to get timely updates about others' progress while the project manager quickly determines their tasks for the day by virtue of the team's obstacles. At its core, this technique is really a collaboration mechanism for the team.
There are two key aspects of the technique that, when practiced correctly, make it a very powerful collaboration tool. The first is in the name of itself-standup. Standing encourages concise discussion of progress, plans, and problems. When sitting, people often get comfortable and see no problem expanding unnecessarily on some points of their update. When they are standing up, on the other hand, there is a feeling of urgency-of a quick hallway conversation-and team members will tend to focus on the really critical bits. Why is this important? If these daily meetings are short, concise, and full of information, team members will see value in them, and not try to avoid them like they do the traditional once a week, three-hour marathon, death-by-status-report meetings some teams are subjected to.
The second aspect is more subtle but just as powerful, and will start the team down the path of richer collaboration: encouraging team members to provide updates to each other, not the project manager or meeting facilitator. By doing this, the team starts to see the Standup Meeting as a tool for coordinating their work and keeping up to speed with what others are doing, rather than a necessary evil endured only to silence the constant "are you done yet?" questions.
How to use it
This technique is most effective for small teams working on projects with enough momentum that there will be significant updates for each standup meeting. In agile approaches, the standup meeting is usually suggested for collocated teams, but when those teams become highly effective the need for a standup meeting may disappear (because the team is in a state of continuous collaboration and updating each other). Distributed teams can use this technique with some modifications, such as teleconferencing.
Kent J. McDonald, partner and co-founder of Accelinnova, has more than a decade of experience guiding successful projects and designing business solutions in a variety of industries, including financial services, health insurance, performance marketing, human services, non-profit, and automotive. By addressing common questions about project leadership, Kent demonstrates how agile practices can be applied in organizations, focusing on his "Words To Lead By: Collaborate; Iterate; Serve The Team; Consider Context; Practice Excellence; Reflect And Adapt; Deliver Value."
Kent has a Bachelor of Science in Industrial Engineering from Iowa State University and an MBA from Kent State University. He is co-founder, and Treasurer of the Agile Project Leadership Network, is a founder of the Agile Iowa Group, and is on the planning committee for the Agile 2007 Conference. He welcomes questions about project leadership with a focus on value at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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