How to Make Your Daily Stand-up Outstanding

Jen Skene ·

What’s the most important meeting of your day? For everyone involved in building your product — product managers, developers, designers — it should be the daily stand-up. Where else can you learn what your coworkers are doing, get your work unblocked, and get energized, all in 10 action-packed minutes? 

Outcomes of an effective daily stand-up

Here’s what each daily stand-up should accomplish: 

  1. Everyone on the team knows what everyone else is working on. 
    • Product manager knows which stories the developers are working on — and can speak up if devs are not working on the highest priority stories.
    • Developers know what stories other devs are working on — particularly important if their work intersects, so they can avoid duplicating each other’s work, find productive pairs, and can unblock each other. 
    • Designers know when they need to pair with development or prep just-in-time assets for dev.
  2. Each team member has a plan for what they’re doing today. They can articulate this plan to other people. This is the first step in getting s**t done. 
  3. The meeting injects the day with productivity and energy. This is the most important meeting of the day, and it’s how many developers start the day. This meeting has a strong impact on team morale and individual productivity.

Which stand-up format is right for your team? 

There are two popular formats for running daily: each person provides their own update, or the team reviews the list of work that is in flight. 

Each person gives their own update

This is the fastest, most high-energy way to run daily. Use this if your team is focused and is moving through their work.

  • Each person gives a structured update: Yesterday, today, blockers. First, state what you accomplished yesterday. Next, state what you plan to accomplish today. If you’re blocked, tell the team. Then call on the next person. 
  • Each person picks the next person: tag team! Start with one person who volunteers to give their update. When they finish, they tag the next person to give their update. This keeps the group on their toes — you must listen in case you are called next, and you must remember who has already been called upon so you don’t call on someone who has already gone. This works great for remote teams. We find that tag-teaming works better than having one leader call on individual people in a seemingly random order or going around in a circle — it’s faster, and people are more engaged. 
    • By pair: If you’re pairing with someone, call on them to give their update right after you. Back-to-back updates mean your partner doesn’t need to repeat what you just said, which saves time. 
    • By office: Say you have two offices. Start with one office, and go around the room: once you’ve finished your update, call on the person located next to you, rather than ping-ponging around the room. When everyone in the room has spoken, move on to the next location. 

The team reviews a list of work that is in development

If there is a lot of work in flight, and people have a tendency to pick up work and then let it languish, you may need to hold the team accountable for each unit of work. Here at Carbon Five, we divide our work up into user stories. Hereafter, I’ll refer to stories, but you can think of them as tickets, issues or tasks — whatever noun you use to describe a unit of work (joules??). 

  • Choose a leader for the standup. They’ll read the title of the story and ask for updates. You can have a different leader for each day, so it doesn’t feel like everyone is reporting to the PM or team lead. Daily is for the whole team’s benefit.
  • Start at the top of the list. 
  • Don’t skip stories. Pay attention to which story you discussed, and then discuss the next story on the list. 
  • Question when a developer is working on multiple stories simultaneously. Each dev should work on only one story at a time, unless their primary story is blocked or in PR, and they’ve picked up something to work on in the meantime. When a dev has multiple big stories in flight, in reality, they are working on a single story — which might not be the highest priority story. Ask them to unassign themselves from the other stories so those stories can be prioritized appropriately and picked up by another developer. 

Which format is best for your team? If your team has a tendency to pick up a lot of work at once, have the team review a list of work that’s in development. This will surface tasks that are ostensibly in flight but aren’t being actively worked on, so your team can prioritize the work that’s truly most important. If you have a large team, have each person give their own update — it can be much faster than going through a list. Try out each format for a week or two, and see what fits your team best. 

Tips for an efficient daily meeting

Regardless of which format you use, these tips will help make your team’s daily stand-up run smoothly. 

  • Each person prepares for daily ahead of time. Before daily, update the status of your stories in your tracking tool (we like Pivotal Tracker). Think about what you’re going to say, so you can communicate clearly and succinctly. Avoid hemming and hawing. Be focused and prepared. Consider setting a Slack reminder in the team’s channel, about five minutes prior to the meeting, to encourage each person to spend a few minutes collecting their thoughts.
  • Start on time. Stand-up waits for no one! It is expensive and disrespectful to spend everyone’s time waiting for latecomers. If someone is late, start without them; skip them and their stories and come back to them when they finally arrive. If the meeting ends before they arrive, they can provide an update in Slack. If some people are frequently late, i.e., their prior meeting always runs over, change the meeting time.
  • Put longer discussions in a parking lot. If discussion erupts around someone’s update, don’t spend time resolving the issue during daily. Put the topic in the parking lot to discuss at the end of daily, or perhaps in a separate, smaller conversation. This keeps the meeting rolling, and ensures that only the people who need to be part of the conversation will spend time in the conversation. 
  • If a story’s status needs to be updated, the developer should update it. People should not update other people’s story statuses. It makes the history/audit trail confusing and inaccurate. Each developer should take responsibility for their story, from start to finish. 
  • Don’t wait until daily stand-up to surface blockers. If you are blocked, you don’t need to wait for daily to let people know. You can share in Slack or have a conversation with someone, so you can be unblocked ASAP. 
  • Actually stand up. This keeps the energy up and encourages people to be succinct. If your team has a problem with long-winded updates, pass around a heavy object (large book, kettlebell), which each person must hold while giving their update. This will encourage them to be brief. 
  • Provide an asynchronous update if needed. If you miss standup for some reason, post your update in Slack, so your team knows what you’re working on. Some teams don’t ever run a stand-up — everyone asynchronously posts their update in Slack. This is not optimal, because the team doesn’t have an opportunity for face-to-face connection and discussion, but it’ll do in a pinch. 
  • End on time. Be respectful of people’s time. 

Right after stand-up

Stand-up is for providing updates and surfacing blockers. Save everything else for after stand-up. You may want to take advantage of the fact that everyone is all together.

  • Parking lot discussions. Remember the topic you said you’d talk about later? Now that stand-up is over, you should have that conversation. If the topic isn’t relevant for everyone, let some folks leave and get on with their day.
  • Point upcoming stories. If time remains after everyone has given their update and there are upcoming stories that are unpointed, you can use the extra time to point stories so they are ready for development.
  • Edit stories. Don’t spend time monkeying with the description, blockers, labels, etc. during daily stand-up — make those edits when you don’t have an audience. 
  • Sing Happy Birthday. Daily stand-up is an opportunity to inject joy into your team’s day. If there’s something to celebrate, sing about it while the team is gathered together.

With these guidelines in mind, your daily stand-up can be the most effective, most inspiring 10 minutes of your day. We’d love to hear what your team does to make daily stand-up efficient and awesome. Send us a note!

Illustrations by Lo Wheelwright.